Keeping Band-Aids On

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

A simple trick for keeping Band-Aids and other adhesive bandages on, even if you're active and/or sweating!

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!

A simple trick for keeping Band-Aids and other adhesive bandages on, even if you're active and/or sweating!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!

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  1. We add some Johnson & Johnson Waterproof First Aid Tape over our bandaid to keep it in place. It works great (has to be the waterproof version though) but we’ll try the tincture of benzoin! Thanks for the tip! Cheers! Jan

  2. Waterwoman says:

    Thanks for the tip Carolyn, I will look for it at my local drugstores.

  3. Diane Dashevsky says:

    You can also use a small piece of “Vet Wrap”. Just wrap it around a small piece of gauze pad or right over a bandaid…it sticks to itself as it is stretched…stays on in water…ALL of my medicine cabinets have a roll both at home and on the boat. You can get your Vet to get you a larger roll or purchase it in a pet specialty store. 3M makes the ones the Vet uses and Brampton makes the smaller rolls you can get in retail stores. Comes in a variety of colors and prints.

  4. Great info!!..never even heard of this stuff..will be getting some!..thanks!!

  5. Almost no one has . . . and it’s one of the most useful things ANYWHERE — including a boat!

  6. Patrick House says:

    I found out by experience that tincture of benzoin also is an excellent cure for a certain type of foot fungus that defies the usual treatments. While not classic athletes foot, it is odiferous. Seems it cuts off the air the aerobic bacteria need to thrive. Just coating the bottom of the foot and/or between the toes for about a week does the trick. After treating my feet this way, I haven’t had it come back for years.

  7. Relinda Ted Broom on Facebook says:

    just got a box of the swabs off Amazon (along with several other first aid supplies) the stuff is also good for covering cancer sores ect. Learned about it years ago hanging out in E.R.s..

  8. Diane Dashevsky says:

    PS to the Vet Wrap: If you are unlucky enough to get one of those OMG injuries (ie a line or sheet ripping off a big chunk of skin from your finger), the most recent medical advise is to use an antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin), cover it and KEEP IT MOIST. The moisture helps the healing and skin regeneration process. When this happened to me, I put Neosporin on the injury, covered it with a small gauze pad, then held it in place with a small piece of Pet Wrap (same as VetWrap) The Pet Wrap held the bandage on – keeping it clean – but allowed moisture in – since it is not waterproof. Finger healed well and I didn’t need a dr or hospital visit! If your injury is severe enough to require medical attention, this is a good way to “self treat” until you can get to medical services.

  9. Jim Cooke says:

    The tape works with varying degrees of suitability, depending on the area of the body, in my experience. The benzoin just works! Great post, and I am also a paid anesthesiologist!
    The wrap is also known as Co-Ban.

  10. I could have used this last week on the boat. Thank you!

  11. We use this in the EMS field to keep cardiac electrodes on sweaty / clammy skin. Keeping those electrodes on can be the difference between life and death. So yes it works. You can also wipe the area with rubbing alcohol to dry it. Also don’t buy cheap bandaids, they just don’t stick as well due to less sticky glue used.

  12. Great information — thank you!

  13. It is best if you let the benzoin air dry until it is tacky to the touch then apply your bandage. The “vet wrap” for humans is called Coban. Coban is a self adherent, waterproof roll sold in most drug stores.

    • By the time I get the Band-Aid out of it’s wrapper, the benzoin has dried to the tacky point. I’ve just recently seen Coban in pharmacies, and at least in mine, it’s right by the other bandages.

  14. Sheryl if you or anyone needs or wants pharmacy/staying healthy aboard/tropic mosquito born disease prevention questions answered I humbly am happy to assist in any way I legally can! I’m more than happy to help a friend and sailor!

  15. Thanks for sharing!

  16. great tip…thanks

  17. I work on the J&J Band-Aid business as one of my clients 🙂

  18. buy COBAN

  19. A reader sent me an email with the following:

    Hi Carolyn, I just read your article on “Keeping Band-Aids on” and I can’t wait to try some of this Benzoin Tincture for myself. I’ve got a suggestion about the sticky cap problem. I’m a contractor and have worked with a lot of cans of glue. After years of storage, I can open a used can of glue with two fingers and still find the glue liquid. After opening a new can of glue, I apply a little plumber’s grease (Vaseline) on the threads of the can. This prevents the glue from sticking to the metal and seals the can at the same time. As for the Benzoin stuff, I think Vaseline or some greasy antiseptic ointment would do the same to prevent seizure of the cap.

  20. Michael Moen says:

    Surgeons have been using Benzoin for years. My favorite application was after a Cesarean when I’d close the skin with sub-cuticular nylon, apply Benzoin and steri-strips, and tie the ends of the nylon together in a loop. After a couple days, if the wound looked ok, I’d snip the nylon near the skin and pull it out one side. The natural cutaneous nerve fiber injury made the incision numb already, and patients were amazed that I was correct, “This won’t hurt a bit.”

  21. When In Mexico, ask for “Tintura de Benjui”. Its the same thing.

  22. Susan Parker says:

    Once you purchase Benzoin, try a small dab on your skin. My husband had a severe allergic reaction and ended up at the dermatologist.

    • I agree! Better to find out early on healthy skin than later on an already injured area. I did not know what it was, but this is probably it, my husband had a terrible reaction to a bandage of steri-strips and the clear second skin layer, that had been put on with “glue”. Mystery solved now, I did not know what it was, and this had to be it. It was terrible itchy red and swollen and we had to get it off the next day and lots of hydrocortisone. Plus finding another way to cover his incision with it inflamed. I will get some for myself and company though. But definitely test first.

  23. Can someone tell me how it works? Is it super sticky? Is it also an antiseptic?

  24. Great tip, going to try this.

  25. catherine cornish says:

    Good timing. My husband had a catfish barb stuck in his palm. 1 tetanus shot, 3 shots antibiotics, oral antibiotics for 10 days and topical antibiotic on the wound (which needs a band aid) 10 days we have tried to keep the wound covered. Even the super strong flexible durable strength bandaids won’t stay on completely. He goes around with it flapping over the wound. Top tip for catfish barbs…..soak wound in warm fresh water (add betadine if u have it) for 90 mins. Hotter the better to draw out toxins. Gives relief to the injured one. Works for sea urchins too.

  26. Thank you for this wonderful article & solution. Both on boRd & ashore!

  27. Thanks!

  28. “Water Block Plus” (brand name) band aids!! they stay ON!! 🙂

  29. if you can find it *Compound* tinc of benzoin works better. Just don’t get it on the cut, burn, blister. It burns like fire and when you take the bandaid off it rips the cut back open. Another great use is to put it on a blister. Forms a callous that lasts for years. (lessons learned in the Army) If you can stand the pain, you can put it on a blister that has already popped. I also put it on intact skin once a day for several days *before* I know I am going to do something that will cause a blister. I did this on my feet to get them toughened up before a 14 mile hike in new boots when I had no time to break in the boots – not a single blister. In the Army when I was young and tough, we would use a syringe to empty out a blister and then inject benzoin into the blister. We called it “hell-fire” and I saw grown men cry but it worked. Next day, no more blister. Another thing to use it for is to hold Steri-strips on when you use them instead of stitches.

  30. Right on target Cyndy!

  31. Susan Parker says:

    My husband’s glasses kept sliding down his nose so I thought we’d give this stuff a try. As it turned out, he is is allergic and ended up at the dermatologist’s office. So, I suggest you try this on a very small area to see if you have reaction.

  32. Lee Durrell says:

    So, will this stuff work all day long to keep a band aid on someone who has problems with excessive sweating? (Embarrassing, but I still need to use band aids without them sliding off!)

  33. Lee Durrell says:

    Awesome… I think I’m going to buy some and give it a shot. It seems like it would be a whole lot easier for me to do that than the whole gauze, roll, and tape routine…

  34. Hey Desiree Lerro ever heard of this ?

  35. I ordered from Amazon….thanks this is timely information with all the winterizing we are doing to 2 boats.

  36. Epoxy or 5200 are the duct tape of the sea. Lol

  37. Going to give it a whirl

  38. Going to get some and put in our first aid kit on our sailboat and in our home too!

  39. This was helpful.

  40. Getting some to put in my kayak hatch!

  41. While I was home in Canada I checked every pharmacy ( drug store) and no one had heard of it…I will check Amazon.

  42. Thanks for sharing

  43. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I have been struggling for years trying to keep band aids on. I have been dealing with “boils” and it is NOT fun. I have tried waterproof band aids for my underarms to no avail. Even when I have gone to the Doctors about my situation….they have no idea what I could try to keep the band aids on?!?!?! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!! I had to go to Amazon to purchase. I did a test to make sure I wasn’t allergic and no problems. I used for the first time yesterday. The band aids were much more secured and held all day until I put fresh ones on. I also had no problems with the band aids coming off. I am so happy and now perhaps I will get some relief because the band aids are secured and doing their job. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I will let other’s know and I will now keep this in my first aid kit. Have a Great Day!!! Happy Sailing!!!!

  44. How long is this supposed to help the band aid stay on?

  45. So are you suggesting that it’s not good practice to just wrap the band-aid with several layers of electrical tape?

  46. Carolyn, You come up with the most useful info. Thank You so much. (And hello to our little Paz.)

  47. Model building trick used to use back in the day . . . if you add baking soda to super glue it has an immediate chemical reaction and hardens. I use it often on the tips of my fingers where they crack. Can smooth the edge with a file and cover so I don’t catch the edge. Cant recall the scientific name but super glue os also an antistetic; i pick up multiple tubes at the dollar store. Next time at pharmacy definitely adding your TofB to my list! Thanks for sharing!

  48. We just bought some Nexcare waterproof bandages (a 3M product) and we’re shocked how well they stay on – even in the tropics. I wish I had read your post years ago about the benzoin tincture.

  49. Glenda Neild says:

    Most surgical nurses would know this. It is used for exactly that reason, helps stick the bandaid style plasters on.

  50. I keep forgetting to get that stuff!

  51. As a paramedic we did not carry this on the truck due to the likelihood of allergic responses. To make sure electrodes stuck on a bad heart patient I would use deodorant in a pinch. Wipe or spray it on and then wipe to “dry” the area. Then add the sticky stuff. Worked on the truck. I’m not allergic to benzoin and do keep it on the boat though.

  52. duct tape!!!!!

  53. Susan Shaw Simon

  54. Heat shrink. <- this is a joke. Don't do it.

  55. Thank you, Carolyn! DH (dear husband) has the hardest time keeping on a band aid. I buy the most water proof style I can find and will add T of B to the list 🙂

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