Minor cuts are an ordinary fact of life, and nearly always heal on their own. There is no evidence that antibacterial gels and creams will help wounds heal faster, or prevent infection. In fact, by keeping the air away from a wound, these treatments might actually interfere with healing.
The best approach to minor wounds is also the simplest and most natural: clean the wound well, and keep it clean and exposed to the air. If signs of infection develop, such as redness, oozing, or swelling, a physician should be consulted.
Application of honey (or concentrated sugar preparations) to wounds might help prevent infection and possibly speed healing.15-27,30 Honey is thought to work primarily through its high sugar content, which directly kills microorganisms. However, trace substances contained in it might also be at work. Not all studies show clear benefit, however. One trial found that antibacterial honey (Medihoney) did not significantly improve wound healing in 105 patients suffering from mostly leg ulcers.31 Conversely, topical honey improved healing time compared to saline gauze and silver sulfadiazine in 2 trials of 140 patients with skin ulcers or burns.33
Highly preliminary evidence suggests that the herb gotu kola might have general wound-healing properties, as well as help to prevent or treat keloid scars (a particular type of scar that is enlarged and bulging).1,2,3
A small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and threonine applied as a combination cream could help the healing of leg ulcers.4 A variety of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and E, and zinc,5 taken both orally and topically, have also been tried as a treatment for minor wounds, and creams containing A and E are common staples in the hospital. A number of topical herbs have been tried as well, including calendula,6 cartilage,7 chamomile, chitosan,8 goldenseal, royal jelly,9 and St. John's wort, but there is no real evidence as yet that any of these approaches provide any benefits.
Numerous herbs (and their essential oils) have antibacterial properties, and for this reason might theoretically be helpful for preventing wound infection. However, this has not been proven. In addition, if a wound is serious enough that infection is a real risk, physician supervision is essential.
The gel of the aloe vera plant has a long folk history in the treatment of skin conditions. There is some evidence from human and animal studies that aloe might be helpful for wound healing,10,11 but one study found that aloe gel actually slowed the healing of surgical wounds.12 Also, a review of 7 trials involving 347 people did not find evidence that aloe can improve wound healing.32
In a well-designed trial, two concentrations of comfrey creams were evaluated for the treatment of fresh abrasions among 278 patients.29 A 10% comfrey formulation was compared to a 1% comfrey formulation, which was considered the reference or placebo cream. The topical application of 10% comfrey led to significantly faster wound healing than the reference cream after 2 to 3 days of application. Although the researchers reported no adverse effects in either group, the use of comfrey has been associated with severe, even life-threatening toxic effects when used orally, and its use over open wounds must be undertaken with extreme caution. Refer to the article on Comfrey ( Symphytum officinale) for more information on its safety.
1. Shukla A, Rasik AM, Jain GK, et al. In vitro and in vivo wound healing activity of asiaticoside isolated from Centella asiatica. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;65:1-11.
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3. Bosse JP, Papillon J, Frenette G, et al. Clinical study of a new antikeloid agent. Ann Plast Surg. 1979;3:13-21.
4. Harvey SG, Gibson JR, Burke CA. L-cysteine, glycine and dl-threonine in the treatment of hypostatic leg ulceration: a placebo-controlled study. Pharmatherapeutica. 1985;4:227-230.
5. Lansdown AB. Zinc in the healing wound. Lancet. 1996;347:706-707.
6. Patrick KFM, Kumar S, Edwardson PAD, et al. Induction of vascularisation by an aqueous extract of the flowers of Calendula offcinalis L. the European marigold. Phytomedicine. 1996;3:11-18.
7. Prudden JF, Nishihara G, Baker L. The acceleration of wound healing with cartilage-I. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1957;105:283-287.
8. Koide SS. Chitin-chitosan: properties, benefits and risks. Nutr Res. 1998;18:1091-1101.
9. Fujii A, Kobayashi S, Kuboyama N, et al. Augmentation of wound healing by royal jelly (RJ) in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. Jpn J Pharmacol. 1990;53:331-337.
10. Chithra P, Sajithlal GB, Chandrakasan G. Influence of Aloe vera on collagen characteristics in healing dermal wounds in rats. Mol Cell Biochem. 1998;181:71-76.
11. Fulton JE Jr. The stimulation of postdermabrasion wound healing with stabilized aloe vera gel-polyethylene oxide dressing. J Dermatol Surg Oncol. 1990;16:460-467.
12. Schmidt JM, Greenspoon JS. Aloe vera dermal wound gel is associated with a delay in wound healing. Obstet Gynecol. 1991;78:115-117.
13. Magro-Filho O, de Carvalho ACP. Application of propolis to dental sockets and skin wounds. J Nihon Univ Sch Dent. 1990;32:4-13.
14. Burdock GA. Review of the biological properties and toxicity of bee propolis (propolis). Food Chem Toxicol. 1998;36:347-363.
15. Okeniyi JA, Olubanjo OO, Ogunlesi TA et al. Comparison of Healing of Incised Abscess Wounds with Honey and EUSOL Dressing. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:511-513.
16. Dunford C. The use of honey-derived dressings to promote effective wound management. Prof Nurse. 2005;20:35-38.
17. Al-Waili NS. Investigating the antimicrobial activity of natural honey and its effects on the pathogenic bacterial infections of surgical wounds and conjunctiva. J Med Food. 2004;7:210-222.
18. Stephen-Haynes J. Evaluation of a honey-impregnated tulle dressing in primary care. Br J Community Nurs. 2004;(suppl):S21-S27.
19. Namias N. Honey in the management of infections. Surg Infect (Larchmt). 2003;4:219-226.
20. Pieper B, Caliri MH. Nontraditional wound care: A review of the evidence for the use of sugar, papaya/papain, and fatty acids. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2003;30:175-183.
21. Beadling L. A bag full of sugar. Surgeons find that ordinary table sugar is a sweet adjunct to conventional treatment of deep wound healing. Todays Surg Nurse. 1997;19:28-30.
22. Dawson JS. Preiskel Elective Prize. The role of sugar in wound healing. A comparative trial of the healing of infected wounds using traditional gauze/antiseptic packing, and granulated sugar, undertaken during an elective period at Kagando Hospital, Uganda. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1996;78:82-85.
23. Archer HG, Barnett S, Irving S, et al. A controlled model of moist wound healing: comparison between semi-permeable film, antiseptics and sugar paste. J Exp Pathol (Oxford). 1990;71:155-170.
24. Subrahmanyam M. Honey impregnated gauze versus polyurethane film (OpSite) in the treatment of burns--a prospective randomised study. Br J Plast Surg. 1993;46:322-323.
25. Namias N. Honey in the management of infections. Surg Infect (Larchmt). 2003;4:219-226.
26. Molan PC. Potential of honey in the treatment of wounds and burns. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2001;2:13-19.
27. Ingle R, Levin J, Polinder K. Wound healing with honey - a randomised controlled trial. S Afr Med J. 2006;96:831-835.
28. Singh AK, Sharma A, Warren J, et al. Picroliv accelerates epithelialization and angiogenesis in rat wounds. Planta Med. 2007;73:251-256. Epub 2007 Feb 22.
29. Barna M, Kucera A, Hladicova M, et al. Wound healing effects of a Symphytum herb extract cream (Symphytum x uplandicum NYMAN): Results of a randomized, controlled double-blind study. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007;157:569-574.
30. Jull AB, Rodgers A, Walker N. Honey as a topical treatment for wounds. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;CD005083.
31. Robson V, Dodd S, Thomas S. Standardized antibacterial honey (Medihoney) with standard therapy in wound care: randomized clinical trial. : J Adv Nurs. 2009;65:565-575.
32. Dat AD, Poon F, Pham KB, Doust J. Aloe vera for treating acute and chronic wounds. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;2:CD008762.
33. Jull AB, Walker N, et al. Honey as a topical treatment for wounds. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Feb 28;2:CD005083.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015