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There’s an ongoing debate about whether letting cuts air out is healthier and promotes faster healing time than bandaging cuts and using antibiotic ointment. In general, the medical community tends to encourage protecting cuts, and using antibiotic ointment, particularly to keep wounds from scarring and getting infected. It largely depends on the size of the cut. A tiny scrape may merely require a little cleaning, since these can heal virtually overnight. It may be riskier to let cuts air out that are much larger.
The principal risks of small cuts are infection and scarring. There are greater risks if you have conditions like diabetes and suffer small cuts to feet, since circulation to the lower extremities is impaired. If you suffer from diabetes, be sure to get instruction from your physician about care of any injuries to the feet.
In general, it is medically accepted that cleaning cuts, treating them with antibiotic ointment and then covering them with a bandage will reduce risk of scarring and infection. If you want to protect yourself from scarring from small cuts, you shouldn’t expose cuts to air. There’s more debate about whether antibiotic ointment is useful or effective.
In most cases, antibiotic ointment may not harm, but won’t accelerate wound healing. It can prevent some but not all infections. Many medical practitioners suggest its use only when cuts are severe. Most agree, however that to let cuts air out without protective bandaging tends to create greater risk of reinjury and infection. After washing a cut, using an appropriate sterile bandage to cover it, will reduce the chance of breaking the cut open again, and will help keep it from getting dirty. Bandages should be changed at least once a day, unless a physician otherwise instructs you. If you plan to do any work like gardening or cooking, and you have a cut on your hands or fingers, consider wearing protective gloves too.
The body does create its own protection of cuts or openings of the skin by forming scabs. When these scabs first form, they’re fairly vulnerable, and can easily be dislodged. After a few days, a scab hardens, and is a natural bandage. At this point, to let cuts air out is generally fine, since a scab protects your skin. If the cut is very large, though, or in an area of the body where the scab might break open, such as at a knee joint or elbow, it might be a good idea to keep providing the extra protection of a bandage.
Very small abrasions that cover an uneven surface area, as from a rug burn or a fall on asphalt, are extremely hard to cover with bandages. If you’ve got tiny scrapes all over a knee or shin, bandages can hurt more than they help, since you may have to attach part of the adhesive to the injured skin. Pulling these off can be painful and re-damage the injured area.
As long as these are surface cuts, to let cuts air out is usually fine after the area has been appropriately cleaned. If you’d like to use an antiseptic or antibiotic spray, these are both fine choices, and dry quicker than an antibiotic ointment. Many also have a mild topical pain reliever, which can reduce discomfort of these types of cuts.