We’ve all had a nurse smooth rubbing alcohol on our arms before getting a vaccine. I’m sure you’re imagining the sharp, musty smell even now. But since alcohol is used without hesitation at the doctor’s office, you may be wondering: Can you put alcohol on wounds?
Let’s imagine the scene. The whole family is over for Thanksgiving, and you’re settling into catching up after a long time apart. Just as it’s time for turkey, this year’s designated carver misjudges their strength and cuts their finger with the knife.
Of course, everyone wants to help. Opinions abound.
Someone suggests rubbing alcohol will do the trick and runs to fetch some.
Someone else asks: “Can you put alcohol on wounds?”
You try to remember if it’s something you read somewhere or if it’s a myth. You scratch your head. Can you put alcohol on wounds?
Let’s set the story straight once and for all. We’ll discuss if you can put alcohol on wounds, and if not, what the best options are for reliable wound cleaning and healing at home.
Can you put alcohol on wounds?
The short answer: Even if you can put alcohol on wounds, you definitely shouldn’t.
Getting alcohol in a wound actually does more harm than good.
Some people argue that you can put alcohol on wounds because they believe it will protect the wound from infection. Alcohol is indeed used in some medical procedures, and its position as a disinfectant is well established.
That being said, the use of alcohol in the medical world is limited to exterior use only.
When alcohol, such as rubbing alcohol, is used on the surface of your skin, it can effectively neutralize infection threats. This is why the nurse uses rubbing alcohol on your arm before administering a shot - to make sure no unwanted pathogens are introduced to the injection site.
While this might make you think you can put alcohol on wounds, you should think again!
Why you shouldn’t put alcohol on wounds
Our skin, the largest organ in the human body, is tasked with keeping the inside in and the outside out. Built strong and flexible thanks to its collagen make-up, its protective outer layer can handle rubbing alcohol to allow it to become clean.
Can alcohol cleanse skin that isn’t cut? Yes.
Can you put alcohol on wounds? No.
Alcohol shouldn’t enter your body through wounds or cuts.
The human body is a delicate and complex combination of skeleton, organs, bone, and muscle, and a variety of resources are in constant demand to keep it functioning effectively. Imbalances in resources, pH levels, nutrition, and a whole host of other factors determine the body’s ability to function effectively.
Alcohol is one of those factors.
When you put alcohol in a wound, it will absolutely neutralize infectious threats effectively. But in addition, it can interrupt and damage soft tissue cells that are attempting to recover the wound at the same time.
That’s because rubbing alcohol is powerful and corrosive. This might be beneficial on the surface of your skin, but once it’s inside your body, it can wreak havoc.
Sadly, alcohol does not distinguish between attacking infectious bacteria and attacking your own wound recovery system. In fact, it can negatively affect all stages of wound healing, starting with coagulation.
When you first receive a wound, the immediate priority of your body is to stop the bleeding.
Blood coagulates in your body thanks to platelets that form a scab during a process called hemostasis. You shouldn’t put alcohol on wounds because alcohol can negatively affect coagulation.
So if someone asks you: “Can you put alcohol on wounds?”, you now have the answer.
It’s definitive. You shouldn’t put alcohol on wounds. Using alcohol for wounds can inadvertently create a situation where you find your wound not healing.
But if you can’t put alcohol on wounds, what are you supposed to use? Let’s look at how to clean a wound without rubbing alcohol - using medically-supported wound healing techniques.
How to clean a wound without rubbing alcohol
Allowing alcohol in a wound is damaging to the soft tissue inside the wound site, but luckily, there are safe and effective ways to clean out a wound.
Instead of alcohol for wounds, consider water and a gentle soap.
Hold the affected area under cold running water and wash the wound gently for a few minutes. This is what a trained medical professional will do if they are on-site when an accident takes place.
The cold water and mild soap wash away debris that may have also been present when the wound was suffered, and the cold temperature of the water will assist constriction of local blood vessels, which can help to slow down the bleeding.
If you want to keep your wound clean, it’s important to apply a bandage to protect it from the outside world. You may even opt to try an antimicrobial healing ointment to ensure the area stays free from infection.
Of course, it’s also important to make sure the wound stops bleeding, otherwise, the rest of the healing phases cannot take place!
How to stop your wound from bleeding
It’s important to know how to stop your wound from bleeding, especially if you’ve already put rubbing alcohol on it before reading that you shouldn’t put alcohol on wounds.
Although alcohol for wounds is a bad idea, here are a few tried and tested techniques to assist someone (or yourself!) in the first stage of wound healing:
Place a clean (alcohol-free), dry piece of material such as a bandage or cloth on the wound and apply steady pressure. This will slow the blood from escaping and provide better conditions for the platelets to do their job.
Don’t be tempted to remove the pressure too soon to check on how the wound is doing. Trust the process and keep pressure continuously.
Elevate the area
Use gravity to your advantage. Less blood can spill out of a wound if its journey to the wound site was more difficult. Try to raise an affected area above the level of the heart.
Unlike alcohol, ice does have a use in wound healing. The cold temperatures stimulate blood vessel constriction just like cold water does, so less blood reaches the site of the wound.
Using these three methods, along with proper wound cleaning, you should be able to slow down the bleeding. If a wound shows no sign of stopping bleeding while treating it in this manner, you should call for immediate medical assistance.
Describe the circumstance of the injury to the operator for specific help with the unique wound you’re dealing with. Chances are, the medical operator will recommend continuing to keep the wound clean with water and soap until responders arrive.
Once bleeding is under control, and the immediate threat has been averted, the body will turn to defending itself from foreign microorganisms that can cause an infection.
Preventing infection is the argument given by people who answer “yes” to the question “can you put alcohol on wounds.” Unfortunately, they are sadly mistaken. Medical professionals will not recommend alcohol for wounds.
So how can you support the wound healing process?
How to safely assist wound healing
The human immune system is inherently picky about the processes that it undertakes to keep your body safe. In fact, once bleeding has stopped, the immune system steps in to evaluate the wound site on its own terms.
Rebuilding the collagenous soft tissue cannot take place until the immune system considers the site to be infection-free. To ensure this, the immune system infiltrates the coagulation groundwork with an agent referred to as neutrophils.
Neutrophils prevent infection and destroy bacteria around the site of the wound as well as damaged tissue. This is vital to wound healing, as acute wounds that have a bacterial imbalance will not heal.
Unlike alcohol, neutrophils only target harmful microorganisms at the wound site. They won’t damage healthy skin cells around the wounded area.
This second stage of wound healing is characterized by inflammation of the wounded area. Applying alcohol in this inflammatory phase of healing will interfere with the body’s wound healing effort rather than assist it.
The body has sealed off the wound so it can get to work, so it’s best not to interrupt that process physically. Instead, consider nutrition.
Medical nutrition for wounds
Can you put alcohol on wounds? No, but you can help your body to heal from wounds effectively through nutrition.
On a biological level, healing is hard work. Even if an injury has left an individual less mobile than usual, it’s important to keep up a solid caloric intake.
Depending on the size and severity of the wound that someone is recovering from, a nutritionist or health professional may recommend a caloric surplus.
A wound healing diet is a much more sustainable solution to the problem at hand. Instead of asking: “Can you put alcohol on wounds?”, a much more interesting question might be: Do wounds heal faster when fasting? or Do wounds heal faster covered or uncovered?
A doctor will help you understand the best ways to speed up your wound healing, and they can also steer you towards the best nutrients and supplements for assisting your wounds.
One thing they will recommend across the board? Increased protein intake.
Protein for wound healing
The form of nutrition that will become most sought-after by the body as it heals is protein. Specifically, that is collagen protein; the most abundant protein in the body.
It’s no wonder wound healing supplements usually focus on collagen protein.
That’s because after the inflammatory stage of wound healing is complete, your body begins to rebuild and fill in the wound site using collagen protein fibers. This stage, called proliferation, forms a swift and permanent closure to the wound.
The final stage, remodeling, is where the reconnected collagen is reinforced further so the wound has the majority of its previous tensile strength and flexibility restored.
With such focus on collagen protein for these important stages in wound healing, it’s important to fuel your body with what it needs.
You may not be getting enough protein from your diet alone, so liquid protein for wound healing can be a convenient way to add more protein to your daily diet.
The best way to support wound healing
Health practitioners have a wide variety of wound care solutions that they can turn to support you, but none of them include using alcohol for wounds.
Nutrition is a much more effective strategy for active wound management, and it’s certainly worth asking your doctor about. Supplying your body with the right nourishment that it needs to pass through each stage of wound healing sets your body up for success.
Wound healing supplements are a tried-and-tested way to potentially speed up your healing process.
As collagen protein is the main biological player in the proliferation process, taking collagen protein can help to ease you through healing.
Medical facilities across the United States use collagen for wound healing on a regular basis. Collagen may be used in special wound dressings, or as a daily supplement to aid wound healing.
Not all collagen supplements are created equal. Most supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so you have to check labels carefully to ensure your product doesn’t contain any additives or sugars.
If you want a medically trusted collagen supplement, look for medical-grade collagen products, like the ones from ProT Gold. These have been proven safe to use in medical nutrition and are trusted by thousands of medical facilities across the country.
So, can you put alcohol on wounds? Absolutely not. But you can certainly enlist the support of collagen.