Why do skin tears happen and what can we do to prevent them?

Mar 20, 2018 | 2018 News Stories

Why do skin tears happen and what can we do to prevent them?

Mar 20, 2018 | 2018 News Stories

Our online education is ideal for a basic understanding of wound care.  Test your knowledge sections and certificates are also available to download once the module has been completed. It’s freely available to all!

A skin tear is simply a traumatic wound resulting from partial or full separation of the outer layers of the skin1. They most commonly occur in individuals with fragile skin such as neonates and older people and are considered to be largely preventable2.

Whilst both internal and external factors can increase the risk of a skin tear the actual aetiology of skin tears will be different in different population groups. For example, the elderly are at increased risk due to thinning of the skin, flattened ridges, loss of natural skin lubrication, increased capillary fragility and poor mobility3. Within the elderly population group skin tears are often sustained on the extremities such as the upper and lower limb and on the dorsal aspect of the hands but can occur on any anatomical location. In neonates, the dermis is still developing and at full term the skin is only 60% of adult thickness. Neonates skin is also less elastic and more likely to be damaged by shear forces4, which tends to be associated with the use of adhesives or device trauma and often occur on the head, face and extremities1.

Other population groups such as those suffering from a lowered immune system, malnutrition, circulation problems and poor oxygen intake are also at increased risk of skin tears.

The prevention of skin tears is an important aspect of skin care in older adults, neonates and other at risk groups.  It’s important to recognise that the identification of high risk individuals and the implementation of appropriate measures can help to reduce the prevalence of skin tears. Although often perceived by some to be minor injuries, skin tears can be significant and complex wounds with a high risk of developing complications such as infection or for those with compromised vascular status can increase morbidity or mortality risks5. Therefore a skin assessment should be undertaken to identify patients at risk and should include previous history of skin care and any skin conditions. Medications, risk of falls and nutritional status6, should also be included in the initial assessment.

Good skin care is vital to maintain skin integrity and the use of emollient creams can reduce the incidence of skin tears by 50%7. Optimum nutrition and hydration are vital to ensure skin is healthy and well nourished and hydrated

To read more about skin tears, their classification and management why not download our new Skin Tears Simplified Guide.



1. LeBlanc, K., Baranoski, S. (2011) Skin tears: State of science: Consensus for the prevention, prediction, assessment and treatment of skin tears. Advances in skin Wound Care. 24(9) 206-211.
2. Stephen-Haynes, J., (2013) Skin Tears. An introduction to STAR. Wound Essentials. Vol 8 No 1.
3. Benbow, M., (2009) Skin Tears. Journal of Community Nursing 23(1):14-8.
4. Irving, V., et al. (2006) Neonatal wound care: minimising pain and trauma. Wounds UK. 2: 1, 33-41.
5. Stephen-Haynes, J. & Carville, K. (2011) Skin Tears Made Easy. Wounds International. London.
6. Lloyd-Jones, M. (2008) The prevention and management of skin tears. British Journal of Health Care Assistants 02,11.
7. Carville K, Leslie G, Osseiran-Moisson R et al. (2014) The effectiveness of a twice-daily skin-moisturising regimen for reducing the incidence of skin tears. International Wound Journal 11: 446–53.



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