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Hydrocolloid Dressing

What Is It, Uses, and More

Author:Lahav Constantini

Editors:Anna Hernández, MD,Emily Miao, PharmD,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, RN

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:David G. Walker


What is a hydrocolloid dressing?

A hydrocolloid dressing is a special kind of wound dressing used in the treatment of mildly exuding wounds, like minor burns or bed sores. These dressings are waterproof, and unlike simpler dressings, they provide a moist and insulating environment to promote wound healing

Hydrocolloid dressings have an inner layer of gel-forming agents called hydrocolloid particles, which include carboxymethylcellulose, gelatin, and pectin. This inner layer promotes wound healing by absorbing exudate, which is a type of drainage made of water, white blood cells, and proteins. This feature provides a moist healing environment, which allows for faster healing and reduced scar formation. 

The outside layer is waterproof and made of polyurethane foam or film, which shields the wound from bacteria, foreign bodies, and debris. Any bacteria and debris that might accumulate are trapped in the dressing and removed when the dressing is changed. In fact, these dressings facilitate wound care because they can be left in place for up to a week and, therefore, typically don’t need to be changed as often as other dressings unless they are malodorous, soiled, or saturated. In addition, they are easy to apply and allow for easy washing and bathing due to their waterproof nature. Because the dressing doesn’t adhere to the wound, its removal is mostly painless, making it particularly suitable for the pediatric population. Finally, although quite rare, skin irritation or itchiness may occur as a side effect of the dressing application. 

Enlarged illustration of a hydrocolloid dressing.

What is an example of a hydrocolloid dressing?

Hydrocolloid dressings are available as sheets of various shapes and sizes as well as powders, pastes, or granules, which are used to fill deep wounds. Hydrocolloid wound dressings are made by several manufacturers, including DuoDerm and NU-DERM.

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What is a hydrocolloid dressing used for?

Hydrocolloid dressings are used in the treatment of non-infected, mildly exuding wounds, such as minor burns or pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores. Because these dressings are flexible, they can be used for difficult-to-dress areas, like the elbows, heels, or knees. Conversely, hydrocolloid dressings are not recommended for wounds with exposed bone or tendon as well as those with abundant drainage since they may be displaced. Although their ability to absorb high levels of exudate has improved over the years, other products such as foams and alginates are better suited for the treatment of highly exuding wounds.

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Related links

Skin anatomy and physiology
Wound healing

Resources for research and reference

Armstrong, D. G., & Meyr, A. J. (2022, March 18). Basic principles of wound management. In UpToDate. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/basic-principles-of-wound-management?search=Basic+principles+of+wound 

Britto, E. J., Nezwek, T. A., & Robins, M. (2021, June 5). Wound dressings. In StatPearls. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470199/# 

Harding, M. M., KwonG, J., Roberts, D., Hagler, D., & Reinisch, C. (2019). Lewis’s medical-surgical nursing: Assessment and management of clinical problems (11th ed.). Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hess, C. T. (2003). Product file: Hydrocolloids. Advances in Skin & Wound Care, 16(4): 172. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/aswcjournal/fulltext/2003/07000/product_file__hydrocolloids.5.aspx

Hydrocolloid dressing. In Science Direct. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/hydrocolloid-dressing 

Jin, Y., Li, J., Wu, S., & Zhou, F. (2021, January 15). Comparison of polyurethane foam dressing and hydrocolloid dressing in patients with pressure ulcers: A randomized controlled trial protocol. Medicine, 100(2): e24165. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7808478/  

Labib, A., & Winters, R. (2021, December 29). Complex Wound Management. In StatPearls. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK576385/ 

Suhng, E. A., Byun, J. Y., Choi, Y. W., Myung, K. B., & Choi, H. Y. (2011). A case of allergic contact dermatitis due to DuoDERM Extrathin®. Annals of Dermatology, 23(Suppl 3): S387–S389. DOI: 10.5021/ad.2011.23.S3.S387