Hydrogel Wound Dressings: Formulation, Configuration, and Application

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by Kathi Thimsen RN, MSN, WOCN

Hydrogel dressings were one of the first wound care products to change the practice of drying out wounds using caustic agents. Hydrogels drove home the advanced theory of Dr. George D. Winter, referred to as “moist wound healing.” Winter was the scientist that identified and validated the theory that by providing a moist wound environment, the outcomes for patients were those of faster healing and stronger regenerated wounds tissue, with less scarring and pain.

Hydrogel wound dressings are formulated with ingredients that include humectants and water. A primary component of hydrogels is glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant that attracts, holds, and binds water to itself, or in the case of a hydrogel dressing, into the product.

Glycerin may be derived from a plant or an animal source. There is no research that reports a difference in performance or safety based on the source of retrieval. Glycerin is also used in many food and drug products.

Hydrogel wound dressings come in several configurations: amorphous (shapeless, fluid), sheets, and impregnated formats (e.g. gauze, rope, non-woven sponge). The concentration (percentage) of glycerin varies from product to product. Products with higher concentrations of glycerin will create a moist environment that has a longer duration in the wound. Higher concentrations will also provide for absorption of larger amounts of exudate. There is also bacteriostatic activity with larger concentrations of glycerin.

Wound dressing formulations are considered proprietary and intellectual property. Because of this, the actual concentration of an ingredient may not be readily available. If a clinician wants to examine a wound dressing product and determine glycerin properties without actual percentages, performing table-top testing will be necessary. It is advised to use a saline-based solution when testing products outside of an actual wound. This will provide a “close to real” testing environment.

As you become familiar with a variety of hydrogel dressings, you will be able to determine higher glycerin formulations. Higher glycerin content products will remain viable, and not deteriorate or dry out when exposed to air or diluted with saline.

Care Tip: Hydrogel dressings are easy for patients and caregivers to apply, rinse, and cover. Dressing changes are decreased due to the durability of the glycerin content.

Check back for the next blog on sticky situations!

About The Author
Kathi Thimsen RN, MSN, WOCN is a leader in the field of wound and ostomy care, publishing articles, presenting at conferences nationally and internationally, and serving on numerous committees and education boards including the International Association of Forensic Nurses Ethic Committee.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.


In your article "Hydrogel Wound Dressings: Formulation, Configuration, and Application" all you talk about is glycerin. This is very misleading since many hydrogels do NOT contain glycerin at all. Newer polymers have been available for some time since the days of all hydrogels being saline or glycerin-based. You should research the ingredients in the amorphous hydrogels listed in WoundSource. Kathi, we depend on you to educate us and keep us up to date. Perhaps you should research your next topic more thoroughly.

Kathi, you imply that all hydrogels contain glycerin. You should check the ingredients of the hydrogels listed in Wound Source and you will find that many do not contain glycerin at all. Years ago, one could make a general statement that most hydrogels contained water, saline or glycerin. There have been advances in formulation and different polymers are used today. For those hydrogels that DO contain glycerin, your article is spot on.

Readers, thank you for your comments related to other ingredient components in hydrogel products. The purpose of this blog is related to ingredients. The topic of polymers will be covered in future blogs.

I believe that it is critical for clinicians to understand the history and evolutionary process of product development and advanced technology.

Dr. Winter's work was seminal, and as such, set forth the framework for advancing the concept of moist wound healing. In order to critically analyze, and to be an informed prescriber, know the principles of ingredient components and their specific performance indicators. This will support the process of understanding technological advancements...so stay tuned!

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