Almost as soon as we moved aboard Que Tal, Dave and I had problems keeping any sort of adhesive bandage on. Band-Aids, butterflies, Steri-Strips, mole skin, and adhesive tape just came off in a matter of minutes (if we were lucky, hours). We had to come up with a solution!
One evening at a dock party, I was asking a more experienced cruiser if they knew of any way to keep Band-Aids on, and the woman behind me overheard my question and gave me the answer I was seeking: tincture of benzoin!
She was an anesthesiologist and told me that when doctors use butterfly bandages or Steri-Strips in place of stitches, they always swab the skin where they want the bandage to stick with tincture of benzoin. While I don’t remember her name — her boat was Long Tall Sally — she even had an extra bottle that she was willing to give us.
Tincture of benzoin works wonders. I have no idea why it’s not widely known, but I’m doing my part to spread the word. Seems to me that it should be in everyone’s first aid kit — shore dwellers as well as boaters!
It’s simple to use. I found a Q-Tip to be the best applicator if the bottle doesn’t come with one, and just dipped it in the bottle then wiped it where the bandage should stick. Let it dry just a few seconds — about as long as it takes to pick up the Band-Aid and take it out of its wrapper — and then put the bandage on.
Now, before putting the cap back on, wipe the threads well. If you leave some of the liquid on the threads, it will do just as good a job of keeping the cap on as you want it to do with the Band-Aid. I’ve had to use pliers to get the cap off when I neglected this step! (UPDATE: A reader left this tip in the comments: put a tiny bit of Vaseline on the bottle threads and it won’t stick.)
A bottle will last for several years — I think we had that original bottle for 7 years! And then, I only replaced it because I couldn’t get all the dried gunk off the threads and it was really hard to open the bottle.
While bandages stick much better, it’s not like you’re applying them with the medical equivalent of 5200 — it won’t be a problem to get them off when you need to. I’ve also learned that in general, the “flexible fabric” bandages tend to stick better than the “plasticky” ones, although the tincture of benzoin helps them considerably.
Many U.S. pharmacies carry tincture of benzoin, but you often have to ask for it. We never could find it in Mexico or Central America. We now live in a small rural town in the US, and two of four pharmacies in town carry it.
NOTE: Tincture of benzoin (also called compound tincture of benzoin) is NOT the same thing as Betadine™, tincture of iodine or other antiseptics.
In researching this article, I discovered that REI now sells tincture of benzoin specifically as an “adhesive for bandages” (link to REI’s tincture of benzoin). Not only is theirs a little pricy, but it also has a flip-top lid (as do some for sale elsewhere). I HATE those on a boat as they motion of the boat always seems to pop them open — leaving a big mess and nothing in the bottle when you need it. Look for a screw-on cap instead.
You can also buy tincture of benzoin already on swabs and packed in individual foil pouches. I have not used these, but they seem like they’d be handy for taking with you on hikes, and you wouldn’t have to worry that you won’t be able to open the bottle, but they are pricier per use than a bottle. Even in foil pouches, it’s a good idea to store them in a Ziploc bag as they can dry out.
If you can’t get tincture of benzoin locally — or just don’t want to deal with running from one pharmacy to another — the best source I’ve found is Amazon:
They also sell tincture of benzoin as a spray, but I’m afraid that the spray nozzle would quickly clog. Admittedly, I haven’t tried using a spray bottle, so it may be okay.
Here’s hoping you won’t need Band-Aids too often . . . but if you do, at least you’ll know how to keep them on!