Young girl wearing Elastoplast plaster

How do plasters work – All you need to know about plasters and wound healing

8 min. read
Show More
Plasters are an essential part of the minor wound healing process, but there’s some confusion around certain aspects of plaster use and wound healing. Should you cover your wound or not? Does your cut need stitches? Why do wounds itch? We’re here to answer the top questions to set you on the path to quick and easy healing.

Why are plasters called plasters?

The word “plaster” is of old English origin, meaning “a bandage spread with a curative substance”. This comes from the medical Latin word “emplastrum”, also meaning “plaster” or “bandage”.

Why do wounds itch?

Itching is a normal part of the healing process for many wounds

Most of us have experienced that insatiable itching sensation during the healing process. But why do wounds itch and can it be a cause for concern?

Itching is a normal part of the healing process for many wounds, whether major or minor. There are two main reasons for this itchiness, and they’re both caused by your body trying to recuperate as quickly as possible:

  • Sensitive nerves just below the surface of your skin send signals to your brain that something unusual is happening in the affected area; the skin is being stimulated to reform following injury. The brain perceives these signals as an itch that needs to be scratched!
  • The body releases histamine in response to an injury. This chemical helps the wound heal, but it can also cause the area to become itchy as part of a reaction to it.
Whatever the reason, the best advice we can give is to avoid scratching your wound as much as possible to allow it to heal fully. Scratching off a scab can really draw out your recovery period.

It’s also important to note that itching doesn’t always mean that your wound is healing. Keep an eye out for signs of infection such as redness, discharge and/or a throbbing sensation.

How can I stop myself from itching a wound?

One of your best options is to keep the wound covered with a bandage or plaster, to form a protective barrier and enable moist wound healing. This also has the advantage of keeping it clean, reducing your chance of infection. If this just isn’t doing the trick, you could try applying a cold compress or consider using an anti-itch cream, with your doctor’s advice.

What do plasters do?

Plasters have a number of useful purposes, all of which contribute to the healing process. We’ve listed the main benefits of using a plaster below:

  • Plasters help to control bleeding for minor wounds, by holding your blood platelets in place to build on each other and form a clot
  • Plasters reduce the chance of your wound becoming infected by creating a barrier to bacteria
  • Plasters give your injury some protection from accidental knocks during the healing process, which could otherwise reopen the wound
  • Plasters can speed up the healing process by selectively absorbing fluid while keeping the wound moist

Do wounds heal faster covered or uncovered?

We’ve all heard the claim that allowing a wound to “breathe” uncovered is the best way to deal with it. However, you might be surprised to hear that this is a myth, and in fact the extra moisture offered by a wound covering is known to speed up the healing process. Research has shown that maintaining moisture can help heal a wound three to five times faster than allowing it to dry out.

Moisture is an important ingredient in wound healing because it promotes the growth of new skin cells, which is an essential process following a cut. Cells are able to grow and divide more quickly in a moist environment, like the one created by a plaster.

Using a plaster or bandage has the added advantage of protecting the wound from bacteria, reducing the chance of an infection which can dramatically set back healing time.

How long should I keep a plaster on a cut?

The recommended time to keep a plaster on a cut depends on the type of plaster you’re using. 

If you’re using a regular plaster it should be changed daily for hygiene reasons - plasters can pick up a lot of dirt and bacteria throughout the day and you don’t want to risk this getting into the wound. You should also change your plaster if the blood soaks through or if it gets very wet.

If you’re using an advanced plaster like Elastoplast Fast Healing, which provides optimal moist conditions, we recommend leaving it in place for up to two days or more so as to not interrupt the healing process. This type of plaster has strong adhesion to keep it in place for several days.

How to apply a plaster

No matter whether the plaster you want to apply is a square plaster, a surgical plaster, or a first aid plaster, the process remains the same. Let’s have a look at the steps you need to take to apply the plaster effectively:
  1. Clean and dry the wound and the surrounding skin - learn more about how to clean a wound
  2. Unwrap the plaster and hold it by the protective strips with the pad side facing downwards
  3. Peel back the strips to show the wound pad, carefully placing the pad on the top of the wound. Be sure not to touch the surface of the pad
  4. Pull away the strips and press the edges of the plaster down with your fingers

How to remove a plaster

The best way to remove your plaster and cause as little damage as possible is to go slow and gentle. In this case the phrase “rip off the plaster” doesn’t apply! Try this method to keep the process painless:


  1. Hold one edge of the plaster and lift the edge
  2. Use your other hand to hold the surrounding skin taut
  3. Gently remove the plaster, making sure it remains close to the skin and in the direction of hair growth

For more information, including how to remove a child’s plaster, read our full guide to how to remove a plaster here.

There are also ways to remove the residue left by plasters. Learn more here.

Does my cut need stitches?

It’s important to keep a close eye on a deep wound in case you need to go to hospital for stitches. These are some signs that you may need stitches or to seek a medical opinion:

  • The wound doesn’t stop bleeding after 10 minutes of applying pressure
  • The wound spurts blood
  • The wound is particularly deep
  • The wound is more than half an inch long
  • The wound is gaping apart
  • The wound has a foreign body in it, such as a piece of glass

You should also see a doctor if the injury is on your face, hand, genitals, or around a joint such as your knee.

When to see a doctor about a cut

You should see a doctor if you think your cut needs stitches, based on the criteria above. You should also seek medical help if your wound is dirty, was caused by an unclean object, or by an animal or human. If you haven’t had a tetanus vaccine within the last five years you will most likely need a booster in these situations.

You should keep an eye out for signs of infection during the course of the healing process, as this will cause your wound to get worse and will need to be treated. Signs of infection include increased pain, redness, swelling, warmth, discharge and/or an unpleasant odour from the wound.

More advanced symptoms are fever, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms during the wound healing process, you should seek medical help at the earliest opportunity.

Do plasters go out of date?

Packshot of Elastoplast Fabric 40 strips assorted
Yes, plasters do go out of date. You should check the expiry date on your box of plasters and we advise against using them past this date.

The adhesive part of the plaster will degrade over time and you may find that out of date plasters no longer stick as required. The white pad of the plaster may also lose its sterility if used after the expiry date, which could increase the likelihood of infection. This is more likely if the box is already open.

Always see a doctor if a wound is deep, bleeds heavily or shows signs of infection like reddening, swelling or warmth.

Please note that, although these were compiled with great care, the tips and advice given on this website by no means substitute medical advice and treatment. If you have or suspect a health problem, consult a doctor and follow medical advice regardless of what you have learned on this website.

Always read carefully and follow the instructions for use or the product leaflets. For further information about our products, please contact us via email at