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Wound Dressings | Silicone - Alginate - Hydrocolloid - Collagen - Hydrogel - Foam

Wound Dressings have evolved significantly over the past few decades. Formerly, different variations of gauze dressings were the staple for wound care. Although gauze dressings are still widely used and effective, there are many new advanced dressings designed to solve specific issues with wound treatment. These modern developments over the past few decades better address specific wound types and their corresponding care. Five major functions for wounds dressings currently exist. These functions are Debridement, Moisture Management, Wound Protection, Infection Management, and Odor Control. Click on the link "When to Use Wound Dressing" to view different types of dressings and their use. At the bottom of this page is a description summary of the types of wound dressings and a Dressing Selection Chart that displays the different versions of each dressing, types of wounds they are designed to serve, dressing properties and the top selling brands.

Finding the Right Wound Dressing


The right wound dressing encourages healing and prevents possible infection or harm. Wound dressings are different from bandages in that they come in direct contact with the wound and are used to absorb exudate, maintain a moist environment, seal out external contaminants and accelerate healing. Bandages are generally used to hold wound care dressings in place and are often referred to as a "secondary dressing". Medical dressings can have a variety of functions for wound management, depending upon the type, severity, and location of the wound. Wound dressing products serve to stem bleeding, absorb exudate, ease pain, debride, protect and reduce stress.



Debridement is the process of removing damaged, dead or infected tissue from the wound. Debridement can be selective or non-selective. Selective debridement removes necrotic tissue without affecting living tissue. Enzymatic debridement uses chemical agents to break down necrotic tissue. This is usually accomplished with an enzymatic wound application. In the United States, collagenase ointment is commonly used for this function. SANTYL is the most popular collagenase topical ointment with the active ingredient collagenase clostridum hystoliticum. SANTL requires a prescription to purchase.

Non-selective debridement removes necrotic tissue and adjoining living tissue. This type of debridement is accomplished through mechanical or autolytic means. Mechanical debridement may be accomplished through surgery, aggressive irrigation or the use of dry or moist dressings that are replaced often. Gauze dressings are the most used for mechanical debridement. Autolytic debridement uses a semi-occlusive or occlusive dressing and is used for wounds with light to medium exudate. Best selling dressings that provide autolytic debridement include foams, hydrogel, hydrocolloids, alginates and transparent film. Below is a chart that displays a continuum of dressing treatments that provide debridement.


Dressing Selection Guide by Debridement


Moisture Management

A certain amount of moisture at the wound site is advantageous to heeling. Too little or too much moisture can increase the heeling time and cause complications and infection. The growth of new cells requires moisture to divide and migrate. Exudate or the moisture that naturally seeps from a wound site, serves as a transport medium for a variety of enzymes, growth factor molecules and hormones. Exudate also provides the immune system with an ideal medium to destroy invading pathogens. However, wounds with heavy exudate that leak to surrounding tissue can disrupt peri-wound skin and cause maceration. Enzymes in chronic exudate may cause skin excoriation. Absorbent dressings are designed to absorb exudate and keep it from festering upon the wound and skin. Most are multi-layer dressings comprised of either a semi-adherent or a non-adherent layer. These layers are usually made up of fibers that absorb the exudate. Some absorbent dressings use a substance that converts to a gel on contact with exudate, trapping them within the confines of the dressing.

Below is a chart displaying the different types of dressings and how they serve in managing moisture in the wound environment. This continuum of absorption management portrays the high absorption products on one end and the low absorption products on the other. The products in the middle are somewhat balanced between heavy and low absorption properties. Some products span two properties, such as hydrocolloids. The dressings are also divided by the level of occlusion--sealing the wound from the external environment.


Dressing Selection Guide by Moisture Management



Made from seaweed, alginates are contact dressings. When alginate comes into contact with exudate, it turns into a gel. Alginate can absorb up to 20 times its own weight and are an excellent absorbent dressing.


  • Promotes a moist environment.
  • Helps to reduce pain.
  • Absorbent.
  • Suitable for bleeding wounds.
  • Autolytic debridement.


  • Not for dry wounds.
  • Requires secondary dressing.
  • Sometimes offers stinging or discomfort.

Cellulose Fibers

Made from carboxymethylcellulose, this product absorbs exudate and prevents damage to surrounding skin. It is a good choice for heavy to moderate exuding wounds and may be used for extended periods.


  • Promotes a moist environment.
  • Provides autolytic debridement of slough and necrotic tissue.
  • Protects surrounding skin.
  • Conformable to the body.


  • Not for dry wounds.
  • Can adhere to the wound if not enough moisture.
  • Requires a secondary dressing.


Foam dressing are made with many different materials that provide good absorption. These products provide wound protection and help to maintain thermal temperature. They are highly conformable and are available in many shapes and sizes. They are also available in cut-to-fit sheets and wound filling shapes. Some are also available with an adhesive border to anchor in place. They are often combined with other dressing types such as alginate and cellulose fiber.


  • Promotes a moist environment.
  • Provides autolytic debridement.
  • Highly absorbent.
  • Offers wound protection
  • Offers thermal protection.
  • Conformable to the body.


  • Not for dry wounds.
  • May cause maceration if allowed to saturate.
  • Sometimes requires a secondary dressing.


These products are made with gel-forming agents. They offer water repelling and are self-adhesive. They absorb exudate and are available in many different shapes and come in different thicknesses. This product should be changed every 3 to 5 days.


  • Promotes a moist environment.
  • Provides autolytic debridement.
  • Highly absorbent.
  • Waterproof.


  • May promote the growth of anaerobic bacteria.
  • Not the best choice for patients with fragile skin.
  • May be difficult to stay in position.
  • Sometimes produces odor.


These products are made with materials that have high water content. They help hydrate the wound and offer autolytic debridement. They are used on mild to moderate exudating wounds. Hydrogels are available in several different formats, including flexible sheets, impregnated gauze and gel that is applied by a squeeze tube.


  • Promotes a moist environment.
  • Provides autolytic debridement.
  • Offers moderate absorbency.
  • Helps reduce pain.
  • Some applications provides visual of wound.
  • Rehydrates necrotic eschar.


  • Do not use for heavy exudating wounds.
  • May cause maceration to surrounding skin.
  • May require a secondary dressing.


These products are made with solid silicone that is soft and tacky. It easily adheres to the skin and to difficult body areas. They are easily removed without producing pain and can be reused. They are available in foams with and without adhesive borders. Silicone also comes in sheets and semi-transparent films.


  • Easy to apply and remove.
  • Reusable.
  • Atraumatic to the wound and surrounding skin.
  • Anti-scarring properties


  • Does not manage moisture.
  • Does not offer debridement.
  • Expensive.
  • Some people have allergies to silicone.
  • May require a secondary dressing.


Wound Dressing Use Chart

Dressing Use
Absorbers heavy exudate absorption
Alginates autolytic debridement, heavy exudate draining, infection management
Antimicrobial disinfectant, antiseptic, antibiotic, biocide to inhibit or kill microbes
Cadexomer Iodine exuding wounds, sloughy wounds, infection management
Cellular Matrix porous matrix of bovine tendon collagen and glycosaminoglycan, promotes capillary growth
Charcoal odor management
Collagen stimulates new tissue growth
Composite multi-layed dressings with a combination of wound treatments
Films autolytic debridement, light exudate draining
Foams autolytic debridement, heavy exudate draining, infection management
Gauze mechanical debridement, heavy exudate draining
Gelling Fibre absorbs and retains exudate, 
Honey infection management, debrides slough, rehydrates necrosis
Hydrocolloids high moisture vapor transmission, autolytic debridement, light exudate draining
Hydrofibers autolytic debridement, heavy exudate draining, infection management
Hydrogels autolytic debridement, light/moderate exudate draining, infection management
Iodine infection management
Island adhesive border with dressing pad for dry or light exuding wounds
Non Adherent dry wound beds, light draining, will not stick to wound bed
NPWT negative pressure wound therapy, vacuum dressing, removes exudate
Occlusive seals the wound from external contaminants, promotes moist environment
Odor Management charcoal absorption, dry wound bed, 
PHMB polyhexamethylene biguande, infection management, antibacterial,
Protease modulating dressing, aborbs exudate, removes cofactors, releases inhibitors, reduces protease
Saline Gauze autolytic debridement, light/moderate exudate draining, infection management
Collagenase enzymatic debridement
Silicone reduces hypertrophic and keloid scars, less wound trauma from dressing changes
Silver infection management, antibacterial
TNP topical negative pressure, draws wound edges together, removes exudate, promotes granulation
Transparent wound observation, medium to light exudate
Wound Filler maintains moist environment, manages exudate, made with creams, foams, gels, pads, powders....



Top Brands for Debridement and Moisture Management

Heavy Absorption and Autolytic Debridement

FoamsTegaderm, Coflex, Copa, Dermaform, Xtrasorb, Polymem, Respara Restore, Mepilex, and Allevyn.

GauzeExcilon, Dynarex Surgical Sponge, Dynarex Advantage, Advant, Post-Op, Curity Cover Sponges, Sorb-It, Dumex, and ReliMed Gauze Sponge.

Alginate – Medihoney Calcium Alginate, Biatain, Sorbalong, Maxorb Extra, Restore Calcium Alginate, Curasorb Calcium Alginate, AlgiSite M, Simpurity, CollaSorb, DermaGinate, Allevyn, Melgisorb, Tegaderm Alginate, Sorbsan, Nu Derm, Cutimed Epiona, Kalginate, and Maxsorb Extra.

Gelling Fiber – KerraCel, Durafiber, and Manukamed Manukahd Lite.

Protease – Mextra and Sorbion Sachet.

NPWT – Argentum, Restore Contact Layer Flex, Acticoat Flex, Medela, Genadyne, and Safetac.


Light Absorption and Autolytic Debridement

Impregnated Gauze – Activon Tulle, AquaSite, and Mesalt.

Hydrogels – SoloSite, Skintegrity, Multidex, Triad, DermaGran B, DermaGran Hydrophilic, Hypergel, Tegaderm Hydrogel, TheraGauze, DermaGauze, Regenecare, Aquaflo, B6, AquaDerm, Carrasyn, elta Dry, Hydress, CarraGauze, WoundPal, and DermaGel.

Hydrocolloids – Comfeel, Duoderm, Medihoney, Xtrasorb, Flexicol, Restore, Exuderm, and Nuderm.

Transparent Films – Tegaderm, Polyskin, DermaView, Repara, Hydrofilm, and Opsite.

IslandTelfa Island, DermaView II, McKesson, TheraBond, COPA Island, Rayon Poly, and CompDress.

Non-Adherent – Xeroform, Telfa Ouchless, Telfa AMD, Medi-Pak Performance, Adaptic, Conformant 2, Cuticerin, Curad Non-Stick, Drawtex, Versatel, Advazorb Silfix, Tegaderm Contact, and Allevyn Non-Adhesive.


Wound Protection

The ability of a dressing to seal out external contaminants is offen refered to as its occlusive property. An occlusive dressing seals the external enviroment from the wound. Occlusive products include impermeable films, polymer oils like petrolatum and paraffin and many dressings with a combination of adhesion and a barrier layer. Occlusive dressings provide a moist wound environment that promotes healing. They are impermeable to water vapor while simi-occlusive allows moisture vapor to escape. Semiocclusive also offer many advantages to wound healing by permitting vapor evaporation. Air inteface during the final maturation of the stratum corneum offers better healing results. Rather than relying upon a single solution for the entire wound healing process, beginning with an occlusive dressing during the early healing stages, followed by a semiocclusive dressing for the later healing stages appear to offer the best wound management.


These types of products often incorporate foams that offer a thermal barrier as well as protection against accidental bumps. They provide excellant absorption of exudate but are not condusive to healing in the latter stages when the wound is drier. Adhesive bandages are very useful to seal out contaminants while securing an absorptive dressing against the wound bed. Impregnated dressing create a liquid or gel barrier against the wound with sealing properties and well as creating a moisture environment.


Gauze is the most popular dressing in use. The newer transparent film dressings offer greater management and control of the wound environment to keep out external contaminants while allowing excess moisture vapor to escape. They also provide for wound observation to allow dressing changes when they are actually needed.


  • Reduces wound surface necrosis.
  • Prevents wound desiccation.
  • Promotes wound healing.
  • Decreases wound pain.
  • Wound protection.
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Minimizes Eschar


  • In a few cases increases infection rates.
  • More frequent dressing changes.
  • Sometimes may delay healing.

The chart below displays a visual breakdown of the permeable and impermeable dressing choices.


Dressing Selection Guide for Infection Management


Infection Management

As mentioned in moisture management, healing occurs best in a moist environment. However, amoist environment also supports the growth of bacteria, leading to infection. Antimicrobial dressings are mostly used when an infection has already occurred. Medical honey is the exception in that it inhibits the growth of pathogens and may be used for at-risk patients to prevent the occurrence of an infection as well as treat. These dressings are impregnated with one of the four common antimicrobial agents. These agents are a derivative of iodine, silver, honey, or polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB).


Popular iodine treated dressings include Cadexomer, Providone, Iodophor or Polyvinylpyrrolidone. Cadexomer is particularly noteworthy because of its absorptive properties. As fluid is absorbed, iodine is slowly released to kill bacteria. This allows a gradual release of iodine over a prolonged period of time for increased infection fighting effectiveness.


  • Conforms easily to wound bed.
  • Absorbs exudate.
  • Progressive release of antimicrobial agent.
  • Reduces pH.
  • Removes slough.


  • Contraindicated for pregnancy, lactation, thyroid disease, iodine sensitivities.
  • Not effective for large wounds.
  • Transient stinging or burning.
  • Requires secondary dressing.

Prominent Iodine Products: Idoflex Cadexomer, Betadine Povidone, Iodosorb Caderxomer, and Skincote.


Silver is an agent for broad spectrum antimicrobial effectiveness. It is applied to many types of dressings, including foams, films, hydrogels, gelling cellulose fibers and alginates. It has anti-inflammatory properties and may be used to treat wounds for 2 to 3 weeks.


  • Broad spectrum antimicrobial.
  • Anti-inflammatory.


  • Easily dries.
  • Cannot be used with other antimicrobials or normal saline.
  • Sometimes masks signs of infection.
  • Short period use only.

Popular Silver Products: Mepilex AG, Sivercel, PolyMem Silver, Biatain AG, Algicell AG, Acticoat Flex, Aquacel AG, Allevyn AG, and Tegaderm Silver.


Medical grade honey is comprised of carbohydrates, enzymes, and amino acids that promote healing. Additionally it has acidic pH properties that inhibits many pathogens. It is used in gels, ointments and sheets.


  • Promotes a moist wound environment.
  • Provides autolytic debridement.
  • Antimicrobial.


  • Perceived risk of costridium botulism.
  • Sometimes painful.
  • Sometimes leads to skin maceration.
  • Requires secondary dressing.
  • Should only be used for short periods of time.

Well Known Medical Honey Products: Medihoney, Activon, and TheraHoney.


PHMB is effective against a wide variety of pathogens, including HIV. It is used on many types of wounds, including partial- and full-thickness wounds, exudating and dry wounds.


  • Effective against many pathogens.
  • May be used on both dry and exudating wounds.
  • Antimicrobial.


  • Should not be used to prevent infections.
  • Restricted to 2 weeks duration.
  • May lead to resistant bacteria.

Respected PHMB Products: Kendal AMD PHMB and Covidien Telfa Antimicrobial.

The infection management chart below displays a continuum for antimicrobial dressings.


Dressing Selection Guide for Infection Management


Odor Control

Odor from wounds is created from the release of volatile molecules released. Certain types of wounds are more likely to produce odor. These wounds include leg ulcers and cancerous lesions. The most effective way of dealing with malodorous wounds is to prevent or eradicate the infection responsible for the odor usually with an antimicrobial. It has been found that bacteria fighting dressings are not always the best solution. In the mid 1970’s the use of a charcoal cloth within a dressing pad or gauze was found to be effective against odor producing wounds. These wound products are designed to act like filters or traps to absorb odor-causing molecules. Charcoal absorbs unpleasant smells from wounds and is a widely used as a deodorizing agent. It works by absorbing odor molecules onto the surface area of the activated charcoal.

Honey has also been found to decrease odor and is effective in treating abscesses, diabetic foot ulcers, leg ulcers and fungating wounds. Honey provides antibacterial action in vivo and in vitro against anaerobic bacteria that causes odor. Honey also provides glucose as an alternative to amino acids created when serum and dead cells are metabolized by bacteria. As a result, lactic acid is produced as compared to the malodorous ammonia, amines and sulfur compounds that contribute to odor.

Cyclodextrin is another method used to neutralize odor. Cyclodextrins work optimally in the presence of wound exudate and requires a moist wound environment to work effectively. Cyclodextrins intrinsically have a longer active time of odor absorbing function. This compound works well when combined with a hydrocolloid dressing.


  • Reduces odor.
  • Absorbs exudate.
  • May be used as a primary dressing.


  • Cannot be cut to fit wound size.
  • Often requires a secondary dressing.
  • Requires frequent bandage changes.

Respected Odor Control Products: Actisorb Plus, Carboflex, Carbonet, Lyofoam C, Release, TheraHoney, Activon, Medihoney, and Exuderm.

The chart below displays a continuum showing how these three odor control products match with wound treatments protocols.


Dressing Selection Guide by Odor Management


Dressing Selection Comparison Chart

Dressings Image Versions Wound Types Uses Brands
Gauze Gauze dry woven
non woven sponges
without border
any mechanical debridement
moderate to heavy exudate
Alginates Alginate calcium
partial thickness wounds
full thickness wounds
filling cavities
autolytic debridement
heavy exudate
infection management
Sorbsan Flat
Collagens Collagen freeze dried sheets
partial thickness wounds
full thickness wounds
skin grafts
promotes tissue granulation and epithelialization
heavy exudate
Nu Gel
Foams Foam acrylic
partial thickness wounds
full thickness wounds
cover wounds with packing
autolytic debridement
heavy to moderate exudate
infection management
maintains moist wound
thermal insulation
accidental bump protection
Avitar Hydrasorb
COPA Hydrophilic
Comfeel Ulcer
Opti Foam
Tegaderm Foam
Hydrofibers Hydrofiber non-woven
sodium carboxymethyl cellulose
chronic wounds
acute wounds
risk of infection
infected wounds
autolytic debridement
moderate to heavy exudate
infection management
Aquacel AG
Versiva XC
Hypertonic Hypertonic impregnated gauze
necrotic tissue<br/>tunnel
autolytic debridement
necrotic tissue
all exudate levels
maintains moisture
Saline Gauze Saline Gauze Wound Dressing sinus tracts
deep wounds
types 2 and 4 pressure wounds
mechancial debridement (wet-to-dry)
light to moderate exudate
Hydrogels Tegaderm Hydrogel amorphous gel
diabetic ulcers
pressure sores
surgical wounds
skin tears
skin grafts
autolytic debridement
light to moderate exudate
infection management
maintains moisture
Actiform Cool
Carrington Carrasyn V
DermaGran B
Intrasite Gel
Restore Hydrogel
Tegaderm Hydrogel
Hydrocolloids Hydrocolloid gelatin
film backing
foam backing
partial thickness wounds
full thickness
autolytic debridement
light to heavy exudate
maintains moist wound
thermal insulation
impermeable to water, oxygen, and bacteria
reduces infection rates
Transparent Films Transparent Film grid
partial thickness wounds
stage II ulcers
dry, necrotic wounds
autolytic debridement
light exudate
maintains moistures
Cara Film
Collagenase SANTYL ointment infections enzymatic deridement SANTYL Ointment
Silver Silver foams
risk of infection
infected wounds
infection management Acticoat
Actisorb Silver
Algidex Ag
Allevyn Ag
Aquacel Silver
Biatain Ag
Elta Silvergel
DermaGinate Ag
Dermanet Ag+
Gentell Hydrogel Silver
InterDry AG
Mepilex Ag
PolyMem Silver
Restore Silver
SilvaKollagen Silver
Tegaderm Silver
Honey Honey sheets
infections debriding necrotic tissue
infection management
Iodine Iodine pads infections infection management Idosorb
PHMB PHMB pads infections infection management Kendall AMD
Charcoal Charcoal layered odorous wounds
heavy exudating wounds
odor management Actisorb Plus
Lyofoam C
Contact Layers Contact Layer thin non-adherent sheets partial thickness wounds
full thickness wounds
infected wounds
donor sites
split-thickness skin grafts
protect wound from contact with other agents or dressings
exuating wounds
can be used with topical medications
Curity Nonadherent
Petrolem Gauze
Telpha Clear
Vaseline Impregnated Gauze
Wound Fillers Wound Filler ropes
full thickness wounds
wound cavities
infected wounds
exuating wounds
wound cavities
Gold Dust




Product Videos


Selecting Wound Dressings Review Video (58:54 minutes)



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