Topical Zinc Oxide and Wound Healing

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Zinc in wound healing

by Aletha Tippett MD

Well, what a surprise to find that what you have been doing all along is really the right thing to do even though you didn’t know the reason. Always, over the years doing wound care, I applied a thick layer of zinc oxide ointment around the patient’s wound, then put my dressing on the wound and covered it with a topping, usually plastic wrap pressed into the zinc oxide ointment.

My rationale for dressing wounds in this manner was that the zinc oxide protected the periwound skin from moisture, preventing damage. Zinc oxide not only does that, but it also enhances healing as I found out in the most recent issue of Wounds. There was a very nice review article published in April about zinc and wound healing. I knew that my wounds healed, but was not aware of the impact of the zinc oxide.

What is Zinc Oxide?

Zinc is a trace element very abundant in the body. While it is known that zinc deficiency can cause delayed wound healing, the actual role of zinc in wound healing was not known. A number of experimental studies and clinical trials have been conducted using zinc. Results showed that topical zinc oxide had increased wound healing, increased reepithelialization, decreased rates of infection and decreased rates of deterioration of ulcers. Topical zinc oxide has shown to improve the rate of wound healing in patients, regardless of their zinc status. Oral zinc supplementation in zinc deficient patients did not have the same effect.

The animal studies reviewed showed that zinc sulfate did not enhance wound healing, but delayed it. One of the major roles for zinc in wound healing was found that zinc oxide enhances the ability of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) to enzymatically break down collagen fragments. There are few clinical studies, but they have all shown a positive benefit for topical zinc oxide, and of interest, especially when used for debridement in burns.

Further research on the topic of zinc in wound management has been recommended, but for now, I would say use zinc oxide whenever possible. I certainly will continue using it in my wound care practice, especially now I know it is actively helping the wound.

Reference:
Kogan S, Sood A, Granick M. Zinc and Wound Healing: A Review of Zinc Physiology and Clinical Applications.Wounds. 2017;29(4): 102-106.

About The Author
Aletha Tippett MD is a family medicine and wound care expert, founder and president of the Hope of Healing Foundation®, family physician, and international speaker on wound care.

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.

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