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What Are the Different Types of Adhesive Bandages?

By Angela Brady
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are many different types of adhesive bandages available to treat a number of different injuries and cuts, but one of the most common ways to divide them is by size. The standard and perhaps most traditional bandage measures about 3 inches (7.6 cm) by 1 inch (2.5 cm), and is made up of a thin rectangle of gauze fixed to an easily removable strip. Smaller and larger variations of this basic style are usually available, and different shapes can also be found with some regularity. Bandages can be round or oval-shaped, as to cover things like pimples or blisters, for instance, or they can be winged, as might be useful on an elbow or knee. Bandages can also be categorized based on whether they contain medication or not, as well as by what they’re made of. Latex is often the mot common material, but plastic, cotton, and other flexible fabric strips are also available in many places. Patterns, designs, and colors are also common, particularly in bandages geared to children.

Basic Concept and Brief History

Adhesive bandages were invented in the 1920s as a way to protect small cuts and scrapes without the bulk and inconvenience of a full-sized bandage. The overall design has not changed very much since then, but individual product features have evolved to provide specific treatment for smaller or larger injuries, injuries on joints or limbs, and even specialized burn care. There are even certain types of adhesive bandages that are saturated with medicated ointment in order to prevent infection and speed healing.

Treating Minor Cuts and Scrapes

The most familiar form of adhesive normally comes as an individually packaged strip. By far the most versatile style, this type of bandage is used for everyday minor injuries, and is most effective for small, shallow cuts and abrasions in places where the bandage can lay flat. When wrapped around knuckles, which are bent many times throughout the day, the bandage tends to wrinkle and the adhesive may fail; as a result, some manufactures also make a butterfly-shaped bandage designed especially for flexing joints. Newer rectangular designs also feature tapered ends to allow for finger-wrapping as well.

Miniature Bandages

In some situations, a standard adhesive may be too large or obtrusive. For tiny wounds like a hangnail or a pimple, miniature bandages are often a compelling choice. These are normally available in 1 1/2 inch (3.81 cm) by 1/4 inch (1.27 cm) strips. Miniature bandages frequently also come in a 1-inch (2.54 cm) round, which can be good for wounds located in awkward places where there may not be room for a rectangular strip.

Covering Larger Wounds

Adhesive bandages are also available in larger sizes, up to 6 inches (15.4 cm) in many cases, for wounds that cover more surface area. Commonly used for abrasions, these bandages are mostly absorbent pad with a small margin of adhesive around the edge. The thicker pad allows for more blood absorbency, and the square shape effectively covers a larger area than a rectangular bandage of the same size. Although not recommended for wrapping around flex joints, a larger square bandage will normally cover an entire adult kneecap or shoulder, and will usually stay put as long as strenuous movement is avoided.

Medicated Options

Most bandage companies also offer medicated bandages in various shapes and sizes. The pads of these bandages are usually treated with antibiotic or antibacterial ointment to prevent infection and speed healing. Some of the more advanced bandages have thin strips of silver nitrate woven throughout the pad to help stop excessive bleeding.

There are even adhesives made specifically to treat burns. These large, normally clear plastic bandages are filled with a medicated gel that helps cushion and cool the burn while it heals.

Types of Material Used

Adhesive bandages are commonly made of latex, although the rise in latex allergy awareness is moving the industry to develop alternatives. Companies have developed proprietary latex-free plastics, and fabric bandages are popular. Major adhesive bandage manufacturers offer most shapes and sizes in different plastics that are waterproof, breathable, sheer, or even see-through. A large shift in the bandage industry is toward a thin neoprene, which combines all of the advantages of the specialty plastics into one bandage.

Specialty colors or designs are also available in many places. Some are fanciful, often featuring popular characters or bright graphics that are primarily designed to be attractive to children. Others are designed to be functional. In the food service industry, for instance, workers in many places are required to wear special blue bandages if they have a cut or scrape. Not only are these bandages quickly identifiable to managers and others, they are also plainly visible if they fall off into food, which can cause serious contamination.

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Discussion Comments

By Gigicat — On Mar 29, 2021

Also, for some reason the round bandages creep me out, like maybe I have a phobia of them, and not because of the stickiness, but because of how they look! Even if I see them pictured on boxes. I'm not scared of any other kinds of bandages, though, luckily.

By Gigicat — On Dec 27, 2020

If I even have the tiniest wound, I refuse to wear bandages that are smaller than 3/4 x 3 inches, because this size is small enough for small wounds, yet big enough to stay on, so I always feel secure. Plus, the pad is bigger, so it's harder to miss the wound during the application process. Round spots, junior strips and 5/8 x 2-1/4 inch strips just fall off, so I always prefer bigger bandages. It's not like I would use a 2 x 4 inch for a paper cut or an injection, I only need a 3 inch strip, again, no smaller than that!

By SteamLouis — On May 19, 2014

Has anyone used a butterfly bandage before? Apparently this is a thin strip that keeps the ends of cuts together so that it heals faster.

By fify — On May 19, 2014

@SarahGen-- The type of adhesive bandage I use most often are fingertip bandages. I don't know how, but I always get cuts, scrapes and burns on my fingertips. Regular bandages don't work for the fingertips at all. They first crease and then fall off soon after. Fingertip bandages are the perfect size and shape and never fall off. I buy these in a set along with knuckle bandages, and those are great too. They're both very useful.

By SarahGen — On May 18, 2014
I'm surprised to know that there are bandages of so many shapes and sizes. At my home, we only have the three inch by one inch bandages and we try to use it for everything.

Sometimes this type of bandage works and sometimes it doesn't. I discovered that there are larger and smaller bandages available recently. I got a flu shot last week and they gave me a very small, round bandage to put over it afterward. I think I'm going to buy a box of bandages of assorted shapes and sizes. It would be better to use bandages according to the size of the injury and the body part it's located at.

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