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Skin Tears: State of the Science: Consensus Statements for the Prevention, Prediction, Assessment, and Treatment of Skin Tears©

LeBlanc, Kimberly MN, RN, CETN(C), KDS; Baranoski, Sharon MSN, RN, CWCN, APN-CCNS, FAAN

Advances in Skin & Wound Care: September 2011 - Volume 24 - Issue 9 - p 2-15
doi: 10.1097/01.ASW.0000405316.99011.95

The appropriate management of patients with skin tears is an ongoing challenge for healthcare professionals. Skins tears are often painful, acute wounds resulting from trauma to the skin and are largely preventable. Healthcare professionals must be able to identify individuals at risk for skin tears and aid in the prevention of these wounds and in their treatment when they occur. Despite preliminary studies that suggest skin tears may be more prevalent than pressure ulcers, there remains a paucity of literature to guide prevention, assessment, and treatment of skin tears. As a result, these wounds are often mismanaged and misdiagnosed, leading to complications, including pain, infection, and delayed wound healing. In addition, skin tears increase caregiver time and facility costs, cause anxiety for patients and families, and may reflect poorly on the quality of care delivered in a facility. In an effort to shift awareness toward this largely unheeded healthcare issue, a consensus panel of 13 internationally recognized key opinion leaders convened to establish consensus statements on the prevention, prediction, assessment, and treatment of skin tears. The initial consensus panel meeting was held in January 2011 and was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Hollister Wound Care. This document details the consensus definition and statements, as well as recommendations for future research and steps toward establishing a validated, comprehensive program for managing skin tears.

Cochairpersons of Skin Tear Consensus Panel: Kimberly LeBlanc, MN, RN, CETN(C), KDS Professional Consulting, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada;; and Sharon Baranoski, MSN, RN, CWCN, APN-CCNS, FAAN, Wound Care Dynamics Inc, Shorewood, Illinois;

Skin Tear Consensus Panel Members: Karen Campbell, PhD, RN, APN, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada; Keryln Carville, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, Domiciliary Nursing, Silver Chain Nursing Association and Curtin University, Perth, Australia; Dawn Christensen, MHSc, RN, CETN(C), KDS Professional Consulting, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Karen Edwards, MSS, BSN, RN, CWOCN, WOCN, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama; Mary Gloeckner, MS, RN, COCN, CWCN, Ostomy/Wound Specialist, Trinity Regional Health System, Iowa Health System, Bettendorf, Iowa; Samantha Holloway, MSc, RN, Senior Professional Tutor/Course Director (MSc in Wound Healing and Tissue Repair), Department of Dermatology and Wound Healing, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom; Diane Langemo, PhD, RN, FAAN, Langemo & Associates, Grand Forks, North Dakota; Alicia Madore, MSN, RN, CCNS, WCC, Army Nurse Corps; Mary Ann Sammon, BSN, CWCN, Manager, Pressure Ulcer/Consult Team, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio; Ann Williams, BSN, RN, BC, CWOCN, Wound/Ostomy Care Coordinator, Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, Fairfax, Virginia; Mary Regan, PhD, RN, CNS, CWCN, Hollister Wound Care, Libertyville, Illinois. Medical Writer: Karen Beach

Ms LeBlanc has disclosed that she is a recipient of an unrestricted educational grant from Hollister Wound Care, is a consultant to Systagenix, and is a member of the speaker's bureau for Mölnlycke. Ms Baranoski has disclosed that she is a recipient of an unrestricted educational grant from Hollister Wound Care; is a member of the advisory board for Mölnlycke; and is a member of the speaker's bureau for KCI and Hill-Rom.

Copyright 2011. Skin Tear Expert Panel. All rights reserved.

The statements from the consensus document are designed to facilitate the implementation of knowledge-transfer-into-practice techniques for quality patient outcomes. This implementation process should include interprofessional teams (clinicians, laypeople, and policy makers) concerned with the care of individuals at risk for or who suffer from skin tears, to adequately address medical, social, legal, and financial ramifications of skin tears.

The content of this document is based on the results of a 2-day roundtable discussion held January 27-28, 2011, in Orlando, Florida, and was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Hollister Wound Care, Libertyville, Illinois. Additional input was received from an international panel of 68 distinguished reviewers using a modified Delphi Method process. The information contained herein does not necessarily represent the opinions of all panel members, distinguished reviewers, or Hollister Wound Care.

Disclaimer: The content of this document is intended for general information purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for medical or legal advice. Do not rely on information in this article in place of medical or legal advice.

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Development of an international pressure ulcer advisory panel has resulted in a universal definition and classification system for pressure ulcers, as well as international guidelines for the prevention, prediction, assessment, and management of pressure ulcers. The acceptance and utilization of a common language and classification system has facilitated best practice and research in this area.1 In contrast, despite arguments that skin tears may be more prevalent than pressure ulcers, a universally accepted classification and management system for skin tears has yet to be established.

The most commonly cited definition of skin tear is that of Payne and Martin2: "A skin tear is a traumatic injury occurring on the extremities of older adults as a result of shearing or friction forces, which separate the epidermis from the dermis." Payne and Martin3 revised this definition in 1993 to state, "A skin tear is a traumatic injury occurring principally on the extremities of older adults as a result of shearing or friction forces which separate the epidermis from the dermis (partial-thickness wound) or which separate both the epidermis and the dermis from underlying structures (full-thickness wound)." The revised Payne-Martin 1993 definition was later adapted by Carville et al1 as part of the Skin Tear Audit Research (STAR) skin tear classification system. LeBlanc et al4 defined skin tears as "the result of shearing, friction, or blunt trauma that causes separation of skin layers. The subsequent wounds are partial- or full-thickness depending upon the degree of tissue damage." Regardless of definition, skin tears commonly occur in the extremes of age, the critically ill or medically compromised, and in individuals requiring assistance with personal care.1,4-6

A literature review revealed limited literature addressing the prevalence, incidence, or economic impact of skin tears on the global population. Carville et al1 asserted that skin tears are perceived to be common wounds and occur more frequently than pressure ulcers. Early research estimated that 1.5 million skin tears occur each year in institutionalized adults in the United States.7 A 1994 study8 in a 347-bed facility in Western Australia demonstrated a 41.5% skin tear prevalence rate within its population.8 Studies of community settings have reported skin tear prevalence rates between 5.5% in known wounds among all age groups9 and 20% of known wounds in the veteran population.10 Canadian and European prevalence and incidence of skin tears are not known.

An international survey, aimed at exploring current practices in the assessment, prediction, prevention, and treatment of skin tears, was conducted by LeBlanc et al11 from June 2010 to December 2010. A total of 1127 healthcare professionals from 16 countries completed an online survey. More than half (69.6%) of respondents reported a problem with current assessment and documentation of skin tears in their practice settings. The vast majority (89.5%) favored a simplified method for documenting and assessing skin tears. A total of 80.9% of respondents admitted to not using any tool or classification system for assessing and documenting skin tears (Tables 1A-D).

Tables 1A-D

Tables 1A-D

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The Payne-Martin Classification System2 was the only known method for classifying skin tears documented in the literature, until the STAR Classification System evolved Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Payne and Martin3 published a critique of the classification system in 1993. The authors maintained that the system demonstrated internal and external validity, although they raised concerns about the usefulness of the skin tear classification system among clinicians and care providers. White et al12 found that despite the internal and external validity of the Payne-Martin classification system, it was not widely used in clinical practice. Similarly, an online survey11 revealed that only 10% of those surveyed used the classification system in practice.

In response to the need for a universally accepted validated skin tear classification system, Carville et al1 established and validated the STAR Classification System in 2006 Figure 2. Although only 5.8% of international survey respondents answered that they used the STAR Classification System in clinical practice, it is important to note that the STAR Classification System has only recently been disseminated outside Australia, and of the 1127 respondents to the survey, only 79 were from Australia Table 1D.

Figure 2

Figure 2

The need for a universally accepted definition and a comprehensive international strategy addressing all aspects of skin tear management prompted establishment of a consensus panel of wound care experts. An initial consensus meeting was held in January 2011 to initiate global discussion and develop consensus statements surrounding the prevention, prediction, assessment, and treatment of skin tears. The resulting skin tear definition and consensus statements, as well as future recommendations for research, are described in this document.

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The primary goal for establishing a skin tear expert panel was to initiate an ongoing global discussion regarding skin tears in all healthcare settings. Objectives of the initial meeting were to generate a skin tear definition and series of statements that would serve as a guide for future consensus-building discussions. The panel-developed definition and statements would subsequently be subject to global review and input from a wide group of international reviewers. The purpose of this document is to disseminate the globally agreed skin tear definition and consensus statements and to generate further research on this topic.

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A 3-phase modified Delphi Method13 was used to reach consensus on the skin tear definition and 12 statements proposed in this document.

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Phase 1

An expert panel was convened to develop consensus statements pertaining to the assessment, prediction, prevention, and treatment of skin tears. The panel consisted of 13 key opinion leaders in the field of wound care from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. The initial consensus meeting was held January 27-28, 2011, in Orlando, Florida, and was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Hollister Wound Care. Notes from this meeting were used to generate a preliminary consensus document. A recording of the meeting was available for review.

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Phase 2

Consensus statements were disseminated to all consensus panel members, who then distributed the statements to a wider global group of distinguished reviewers. Each panel member collected and summarized feedback from the global reviewers, then returned feedback to the consensus panel's 2 co-chairpersons. A total of 68 reviewers with noted expertise in wound care were selected to be the distinguished international external review panel.

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Phase 3

Written input received from the international panel members and the expert panel members was used to generate a final consensus document. This final consensus document was then returned to the original expert panel and the 68 external reviewers for voting on the definition and each of the 12 statements for consensus. A quorum of 80% who strongly or somewhat agree was used as a predetermined point for consensus on the definition and each of the 12 statements. The definition and statements received 99% from those who agreed or somewhat agreed with the statements.

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Skin Tear Definition

Building upon the literature and work of Payne and Martin,3 Carville et al,1 and LeBlanc et al,4 the consensus panel, established the following skin tear definition:

A skin tear is a wound caused by shear, friction, and/or blunt force resulting in separation of skin layers. A skin tear can be partial-thickness (separation of the epidermis from the dermis) or full-thickness (separation of both the epidermis and dermis from underlying structures).

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Statement 1

Intrinsic and extrinsic factors contribute to the occurrence of skin tears; some of these factors are yet to be determined.

Normal wound healing occurs in a well-orchestrated sequence of events. The cascade starts with hemostasis and progresses through inflammation, proliferation, and maturation, each stage overlapping the others while remaining distinct in terms of time after injury.14 Factors known to alter the wound healing process include age; nutritional status; medications, such as immunosuppressives, anti-inflammatory agents, and anticoagulants; smoking; underlying disease states; and local wound conditions.15 The use of anticoagulants increases the risk of ecchymosis,4 which has been identified as a contributing extrinsic factor to skin tear development.1

Individuals suffering from skin tears often suffer from a long history of skin tears. It is worthwhile to note that as with any wound, once closed the area of injury will have reduced tensile strength, and with each subsequent skin tear, the individual will be at greater risk for skin tears.4,15

These factors, in addition to numerous other intrinsic and extrinsic factors Table 2, are thought to be associated with increased risk of skin tears as well.

Table 2

Table 2

Intrinsic factors, such as age, pertain to an individual's inherent biologic or genetic makeup. Extremes in age impact not only on how individuals heal but also on their susceptibility to developing a wound.14 With increasing age, individuals experience dermal and subcutaneous tissue loss, epidermal thinning, and serum composition changes, all of which cause decreased skin surface moisture. In turn, the skin's elasticity and tensile strength decrease.16,17 Risk of skin tears is further increased by dehydration, poor nutrition, cognitive impairment, altered mobility, and decreased sensation.18,19 These factors are common in the elderly in all care settings and combine to increase the skin's vulnerability to trauma.20

Neonates and infants are also susceptible to skin tears. Neonates have underdeveloped skin, and children have only 60% of adult epidermal thickness.21 Neonates have decreased epidermal-to-dermal cohesion; deficient stratum corneum; impaired thermoregulation; a body surface/weight ratio of nearly 5 times greater than that of an adult; and immaturities in the immune, hepatic, and renal systems. A combination of these factors places this population at increased risk for epidermal stripping, infection, increased transepidermal water loss with resultant heat loss, and toxicity from percutaneous absorption.5,21-24

Extrinsic factors also play an important role in the development of skin tears. There is an increased risk for mechanical trauma when assistance is required for bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring. Soap reduces the skin's natural lubrication, and as a result, frequent bathing, coupled with the natural decrease in lubrication associated with aging, can result in dry skin. Dry skin is more susceptible to friction and shearing, increasing the individual's susceptibility to skin tears.12 In a case-control study of a 500-bed Australian tertiary hospital, 6 statistically significant factors were identified as being associated with a predisposed risk of acquiring a skin tear1:

  • senile purpura
  • ecchymosis
  • hematoma
  • evidence of previously healed skin tears
  • presence of edema
  • inability to reposition independently

Additional research is required to validate the risk factors associated with skin tears. The literature to date has also not addressed the impact of elder abuse/domestic violence and its potential impact on skin tear prevalence.

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Statement 2

Skin tears are more prevalent with, but not limited to, the extremes of age.

Skin tears commonly occur in individuals at the extremes of age, the critically ill or medically compromised, and in those requiring assistance with personal care.1,4,6 Although elderly and neonatal populations are at the highest risk for skin tears, it is imperative that all patients be assessed for skin tear risk. Individuals who are critically ill, at the end of life, or who suffer from multiple intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors, regardless of age, are also at higher risk. Special attention should be paid to individuals in the critical care setting or those who have suffered major trauma or surgery.1,5,6

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Statement 3

Physiological changes related to the aging process affect the skin's ability to resist shear, friction, and/or blunt force.

Known physiological changes related to the skin and aging process are listed in Table 3. Aging skin undergoes a process of dermal and subcutaneous tissue loss, epidermal thinning, and serum composition changes that cause decreased skin surface moisture.22,23,25,26 The most obvious change is the flattening of the dermal-epidermal junction. In aging skin, dermal thickness can be decreased by as much as 20%, a contributing factor in the paper-thin appearance of skin in the elderly. The skin's elasticity and tensile strength decrease as these other changes occur.22,23,25,26

Table 3

Table 3

With the aging process, skin becomes more susceptible to dryness. Xerosis cutis, or dry skin, is extremely common in the elderly and occurs as the result of diminished or loss of sebaceous and sweat gland activity. It is seen most often on the lower legs but also occurs on the hands and trunk.27 Bathing removes the body's natural oils from the skin surface, which exacerbates the potential for dry skin, particularly in the elderly, as natural oil production is already diminished.23 In addition, the use of alkaline soaps increases the skin's pH and thus reduces the skin's protective acid mantle.4,23 This drying of the skin may be potentiated in certain regions during the colder months with centrally heated homes that dry the air and contribute to dry skin.4

Malone et al7 identified site-specific atrophy over time of subcutaneous tissue on the shins, face, dorsal aspect of the hands, and plantar aspect of the foot. In sustained trauma, these areas absorb more energy that can result in skin tears.

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Statement 4

Physiological characteristics of neonatal/infant skin may affect the skin's ability to resist shear, friction, and/or blunt force.

Studies have shown that epidermal stripping is listed among the most common wound types occurring in hospitalized neonates and children.21,22 At 24 weeks' gestation, premature neonates have little stratum corneum and attenuated rete ridges. They lack subcutaneous tissue, and their dermis lies directly over the muscle. Consequently, skin stripping secondary to adhesive dressing and/or tape removals can result in full-thickness tissue loss. Between 26 and 29 weeks' gestation, subcutaneous fat deposition begins. However, the barrier function of the skin remains poor. Additional intrinsic characteristics of neonatal and infant skin also increase their risk of skin tears.

At 30 weeks, subcutaneous tissue is evident, and the stratum corneum is 2 to 3 cell layers thick, compared with 40 weeks when it is 30 layers thick. Functional integumentary maturity occurs at 33 weeks. The epidermis is fully keratinized, and the dermal/epidermal junction is stronger but remains fragile and easily damaged. At 36 weeks (full-term), the skin is structurally similar to the adult but the epidermal and dermal layers are only up to 60% as thick as an adult.21-24

In addition, if a skin tear does occur, the normally rapid wound healing response of neonatal and pediatric populations can be compromised by protein-calorie malnutrition, hypotension requiring inotropic therapy, edema, infection, and physiological instability that prevents safe redistribution of pressure.21,22

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Statement 5

Individuals with impaired activity, mobility, sensation, or cognition have increased risk of shear, friction, and/or blunt force injury related to the need for increased assistance.

When skin tears are reported, the causative factor is often not known. When the cause is known, skin tears are frequently linked to wheelchair injuries, blunt trauma from accidently bumping into objects, transfers, or falls.4,20 White et al12 concluded that key times skin tears occur are during the peak activity hours of 6:00 AM to 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

In the elderly population, skin tears are often related to the environment.26 In 1990, Payne and Martin2 conducted a 3-month, descriptive study in 10 long-term-care facilities to describe skin tears, identify risk factors, and determine the rate of healing of skin tears. Among the predominant risk factors, impaired activity, mobility, sensation, and cognition all demonstrated an increased risk for skin tear development. McGough-Carny and Kopac19 conducted a similar study in a Veterans Affairs nursing home and concluded that dependency in activities of daily living, sensory loss, limited mobility, use of assistive devices, and impaired cognition were risk factors for skin tear development.19

Patients who are dependent on others for total care are at the greatest risk for skin tears.12 Dependent patients frequently acquire skin tears during routine activities, such as dressing, bathing, repositioning, and transferring. Independent ambulatory patients are at the second highest risk, and the majority of their skin tears occur on their lower extremities. In the 2011 survey conducted by LeBlanc et al,11 the top causes of skin tears included equipment injury, patient transfers, falls, activities of daily living, and treatment and dressing removal Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3

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Statement 6

A comprehensive assessment of risk factors for skin tears should be conducted for all individuals within the context of their environment.

In addition to understanding factors that contribute to the development of skin tears, a systematic approach is required to accurately predict skin tear risk. Guidelines recommend a risk assessment be conducted and include a comprehensive head-to-toe assessment upon admission to a healthcare service and thereafter whenever the individual's condition changes or per agency/facility policies.28-32 The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO)28,29 and National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP)32 support the use of validated risk assessment tools.

Although validated risk assessment tools are available to predict pressure ulcers and are well utilized, the same is not true for skin tears. The Skin Integrity Risk Assessment Tool developed by White et al12Figure 4 does not appear to be widely used. A validated and widely accepted tool is needed to predict and identify those at high risk for skin tears so that an appropriate prevention program can be implemented before injury occurs.1,4,23,33

Figure 4

Figure 4

Cause, duration, and history of alteration in skin integrity; other coexisting health issues; medications; and mobility level are a few of the issues that should be included in the risk assessment. If all of these issues are taken into account, a comprehensive prevention plan can be developed, addressing physical, social, and emotional needs.3,4,23,26,33 Despite the lack of risk assessment tools for the prediction of skin tears, there is consistency in the literature in terms of appropriate prevention strategies Table 4.

Table 4

Table 4

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Statement 7

A collaborative multidisciplinary approach should be utilized for skin tear prevention and management.

Numerous organizations, advisory panels, and authors have recommended an organized multidisciplinary team approach to managing wounds.4,28,29,31,32 Although patients, families, and caregivers greatly benefit from the wound care expert's professional knowledge, they also require added expertise of other members of an multidisciplinary team. Team members can include occupational therapists, physical therapists, dieticians, social workers, general physicians, general nurses, wound care speciality nurses, enterostomal therapy nurses, tissue viability specialists, WOC nurses (wound ostomy, continence), pharmacists, discharge planners, and others.34 Healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients with skin tears must be willing and able to work together toward positive patient outcomes.

A team of healthcare professionals working together is more effective than one healthcare professional working in isolation.34 At the core of the team should be the patient. Patients and their family/caregiver should be involved in their plan of care, and the team should work to keep them involved. The patient's desires and wishes must be respected even if they differ from the ultimate goals of the healthcare team.34

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Statement 8

Skin tears are to be assessed and documented on a regular basis according to healthcare setting practice and policy.

The RNAO28,29 and National Guidelines Clearinghouse (NGCH) guidelines30 provide recommendations related to the classification of wounds. To accurately document and treat skin tears, it is important that a common language be used to describe them. Proper documentation is vital to understanding the extent of the problem. As with other wound types, skin tear documentation requires a systematic framework for assessment, treatment, and evaluation of outcomes.

Although pressure may be a related cause of skin tears, the etiology of skin tears differs from that of pressure ulcers. Skin tears need to be documented as separate occurrences and not grouped into pressure ulcer categories.1,16 Because of the current lack of a well-accepted skin tear classification system, additional research is needed in this area. It is important to note that if pressure, friction, and shear become evident, then the skin tear should be reclassified as a pressure ulcer.30

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Statement 9

Evidence-based wound care principles should guide treatment of skin tears.

The same principles used to manage other wounds should be employed when treating skin tears.16 The Wales Tissue Viability Nurse Forum: Best Practice Statements,36 Canadian Best Practice Recommendations for the Prevention and Treatment of Skin Tears,4 Pennsylvania Safety Authority Skin Tear Initiative,37 RNAO,28,29 and NGCH30 guidelines provide a number of recommendations regarding wound assessment and treatment. Prevention of future skin tears should remain a primary focus. Healthcare professionals must be educated and equipped to manage these challenging wounds when they occur. Several areas must be addressed, including coexisting factors, nutritional support, pain management, local wound conditions, and optimal dressing selection.4,36-40 The following are some of the general guidelines.

Wound Assessment

Before initiating any treatment, the first step is to assess the wound, skin flap, or pedicle and determine the type or category of skin tear using a validated documentation system.1,23,38 Based on literature review, the Payne-Martin3 or STAR tools1are the only systems currently available to classify skin tears.

Wound Cleansing

Skin tears should be cleansed following assessment. Bacteria, debris, and/or necrotic tissue must be removed. Depending on the healthcare setting, a tetanus immunoglobulin may be administered.4 Optimal wound healing cannot occur unless surface slough, biofilms, and foreign debris have been removed, thus lowering the bioburden.15,41 Cleansing is the easiest method for accomplishing this goal.16

Krasner,34 as well as Gardner and Frantz,42 have outlined best practices for cleansing wounds with necrotic debris. They suggest irrigating with noncytotoxic solutions such as normal saline or nonionic surfactant cleansers using safe pressures of less than 10 to 15 pounds per square inch (psi), achieved by using a 19-gauge angiocatheter and a 35-cc piston syringe. Uncomplicated tears (ie, those without debris) should be gently cleansed with noncytotoxic solutions, such as normal saline or nonionic surfactant cleansers at a low pressure of less than 8 psi to protect granulating tissue.15,42,43

Moist Wound Healing

The importance of moist wound healing in healable wounds cannot be understated.15 High-level evidence supports moist wound healing as an integral part of any wound management plan.29 Sibbald et al15 indicated that when compared with dry wounds, a moist wound environment accelerates wound healing. Moist wound therapy dressings can enhance the wound healing environment by maintaining optimal moisture levels to promote cell growth and healing.15,44

Dressing Selection

RNAO recommendations29 support the need for a systematic approach to dressing selection for all wound types. Ovington and Peirce41 cited several dressing recommendations, which were also endorsed by the RNAO. Recommendations include choosing a dressing that will

  • maintain constant moisture,
  • suit the local wound environment,
  • protect the periwound skin,
  • control or manage exudates,
  • control or manage infection, and
  • optimize caregiver time.

These recommendations, in conjunction with local formularies, should be followed when assessing wounds and choosing wound care products.45

Unlike pressure ulcers and other chronic wounds, skin tears are acute wounds with the potential to be closed by primary intention.4 Wounds closed by primary intention are traditionally secured with suture or staples. Given the fragility of elderly skin, sutures and staples are not a viable option; other methods are required.33 Sutton and Pritty46 conducted a randomized controlled study comparing pretibial laceration management options. They reported that most pretibial lacerations responded best to conservative management and that adhesive strips were preferable to suturing. This research supporting the use of adhesive strips is outdated, and while more research is needed, case studies and expert opinion suggest that adhesive strips are not the current treatment option of choice for skin tears.47-50

Recently published regimens for topical treatment of skin tears include lipido-colloid based mesh and foam dressings, soft silicone-based mesh or foam dressings, calcium alginate dressings, absorbent clear acrylic dressings, and skin glue.47,48,51 Nazarko51 reviewed a skin tear protocol that included use of calcium alginates to control bleeding postinjury, then treatment according to category: Payne-Martin Category I skin tears were treated with adhesive strips anchor, Category II skin tears were treated with combination of adhesive strips and soft silicone or low tack foam dressings, and Category III skin tears were treated with soft silicone or low tack foam dressings. Dressings were held in place with stocking-like products or cotton gauze wraps. The review indicated that when using this protocol, skin tears tended to achieve wound closure within 7 to 10 days.51

O'Regan33 reviewed existing literature on the treatment of skin tears and concluded that wounds should be treated in a systematic way to include cleaning with normal saline, control of bleeding, clot removal, and an appropriate dressing to address wound bed characteristics.

Best practice supports that a skin flap (the pedicle) should be approximated if possible, and a hydrogel, alginate, lipido-colloid based mesh and foam dressings, soft silicone, foam, or nonadherent dressing applied depending on wound characteristics.

In more recent literature,47,48,50 absorbent clear acrylic dressings have been successfully used to treat Payne-Martin Category I to III skin tears with low to moderate exudate. These dressings are semipermeable and can be left in place for up to 21 days. LeBlanc and Christensen47 and LeBlanc et al48 examined a convenience sample of 5 patients with Category I to II skin tears who were treated with absorbent clear acrylic dressings and found complete wound closure with no wound infection and minimal reported pain in all 5 patients. Dressings were removed at 21 days, and complete wound closure was seen in all patients.

In treating Payne-Martin Category I and II skin tears with less than 25% of epidermal flap loss that require close approximation of the edges of the skin tear/flap tissue, successful use of 2-octyl cyanoacrylate topical bandage (skin glue) has been reported.47-50 Milne and Corbett52 studied a convenience sample of 20 patients with category II to III skin tears who were treated with 2-octyl cyanoacrylate topical bandage. Complete wound closure was seen with one application per skin tear, with no reported wound infection. The average cost was less than US $1 per application at the time of the study.

Hydrocolloids, or traditional transparent film dressings, are not recommended over skin tears, as they may cause skin stripping and injury to the healing skin tear if not removed properly.53 If the skin tear is infected or extensive, the wound should be assessed by a physician or a wound care specialist to determine the best treatment options.54

When skin tears occur on the lower limb, peripheral edema as a comorbidity is often associated with the elderly. Therefore, it is important to rule out any significant degree of peripheral vascular disease. This should be done prior to the application of compression therapy for edema control and can be established through a clinical history and the use of Doppler ultrasound to determine the ankle brachial pressure index.55

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Statement 10

Patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers should be educated regarding prevention and management of skin tears.

The RNAO,28,27 Wound Ostomy Continence Nurses Society (WOCN),31 and NGCH guidelines30 support the need to educate patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals on the prevention and treatment of skin tears. Patients, family,and healthcare professionals require ongoing education and support to ensure current evidence-based practice is being followed.56

Education is a key component in any successful prevention or treatment program26,38 and particularly important in the prevention of skin tears, as little has been written to support universal care strategies. All healthcare providers and caregivers must be made aware of proper lifting/transferring/positioning techniques for providing care without traumatizing the skin. Skin tear education and dressing competency should be part of every annual skin and wound care educational review. A list of recommended education points for preventing skin tears is listed in Table 5.

Table 5

Table 5

It is also important to involve those at risk, their family members, and their caregivers in the prevention process, thus empowering them to play a proactive role in skin tear prevention.4,56 A needs assessment of patients and caregivers should be performed and documented, including baseline information pertaining to knowledge, beliefs, health practices, and perceived learning needs of patients, families, and caregivers. Cultural and psychological variables will also be factors in developing prevention and management strategies.4,56

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Statement 11

Not all skin tears are preventable.

The Skin Changes at Life's End© (SCALE) consensus document58 proposes that not all wounds are preventable or healable. Individuals suffering from multiple comorbidities, dementia with aggression, or multiorgan failure are especially at risk for skin tears, which may not be preventable.

As the body's largest organ, the skin can be greatly compromised during multiorgan failure, such as at end of life. Shunting of blood away from the skin in order to support vital organs may result in decreased skin and soft tissue perfusion and reduction of the normal cutaneous metabolic process. Even minor trauma can lead to skin tears.58 Every effort should be made to prevent skin tears whenever possible and to provide evidence-based, best practice care when they do occur.

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Statement 12

Further research is needed to expand scientific knowledge to determine best practice in skin tear prediction, prevention, assessment, treatment, and documentation.

The skin tear consensus panel recommends the following future research and tool development projects in order to fill the gaps in current literature:

  • Develop an accepted definition and classification system for skin tears that may be used reliably by individuals in all healthcare settings (prerequisite for any future research).
  • Conduct an international prevalence and incidence studies across different healthcare settings.
  • Develop a valid and reliable risk assessment tool applicable to skin tears in all healthcare settings.
  • Conduct randomized controlled trials to determine best practices for the prevention and treatment of skin tears.
  • Identify unpreventable skin tear situations as protective measure to the healthcare systems.
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The International Skin Tear Panel members were in agreement that skin tears represent a specific and challenging type of wound. Skin tears affect all ages and continue to be a common problem in all healthcare settings. Prevention of these wounds is the primary focus for managing this growing concern. Although management of skin tears may vary according to institution and product availability, the basic goal remains to control bleeding, prevent infection, control pain, restore skin integrity, and promote a healing environment. Literature pertaining to the prevention and treatment of these wounds is limited. Further research is needed to determine the prevalence and incidence of skin tears across healthcare settings, identify and validate an internationally accepted skin tear classification system, and validate a risk scale or predictive document. Lastly, best practice prevention and treatment guidelines are needed to assist healthcare professionals in managing skin tears and identifying those at risk for these wounds.

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The Skin Tear Expert Panel would like to thank the following individuals for their special contributions to this project: Karen Beach for providing medical writing assistance in the preparation of this document; Kimberly LeBlanc and Sharon Baranoski for their leadership, dedication, and time put forth in making this document a reality; and Dr Mary Regan and Hollister Wound Care LLC for the educational grant support, without which completion of this project would have been impossible.

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