I’ve seen this many times. People talk about using superglue to quickly close up a small cut or stop bleeding on an abrasion. Today we’re going to tackle why that’s a bad idea in four parts. First we’ll talk about just what superglue is, the problems with using it on skin, what the difference between store bought glue and medical glue is, and finally what you should do instead.
What is superglue?
Super glue is a type of cyanoacrylate adhesive discovered during the second world war in an attempt to make high clarity acrylic glass for use in reflective gunsights. Cyanoacrylates are a family of acrylic resins consisting of acrylate molecules that undergo rapid polymerization when they come into contact with the water in the air. There are several different types of cyanoacrylates but this entry will only cover the two types relevant to us right now: Ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate (Krazy Glue) and 2-octyl cyanoacrylate (Dermabond).
Why shouldn’t I use Krazy Glue?
Ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate is an ethyl ester (meaning it is derived from an acid reacting with an alcohol) of 2-cyano-2-propenoic acid. Like many others in the cyanoacrylate family of adhesives it releases cyanoacetate and formaldehyde when it polymerizes. This is why you don’t want it on your skin, both of those chemicals are tissue irritants that can further inflame the wound, slowing healing. The polymerization of these glues is also exothermic which can cause burning around the application site.
But one time I went to the hospital and they used glue on me. What gives?
Good question. They were using a different kind of cyanoacrylate entirely. 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, often referred to as “Derma Bond,” or “SurgiSeal” is a type of glue developed specifically for medical purposes. These glues are less exothermic and emit less irritating chemicals when they polymerize. The polymer is also more flexible and durable than ethyl and methyl cyanoacrylates, allowing it to bend and stretch with the skin and keep the wound closed longer. It’s also less toxic inside the body so ingestion through the mouth or contamination of the blood isn’t an issue.
What should I do instead?
To be blunt? Use a BandAid. Buying expensive medical glues isn’t worth the cost and using Krazy glue isn’t worth the risk. If the bleeding is severe enough that a cotton bandage won’t cut it, call an ambulance and use rolled gauze to pack and hold effective pressure. Next week we will cover the subject of holding effective pressure and wound packing.