Wound cleansing, topical antiseptics and wound healing

Int Wound J. 2009 Dec;6(6):420-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-481X.2009.00639.x.


Quality of care is a critical requirement for wound healing and 'good' care of wounds has been synonymous with topical prevention and management of microbial contamination. Topical antiseptics are antimicrobial agents that kill, inhibit or reduce the number of microorganisms and are thought to be essential for wounds infection control. However, they have long and commonly been used on wounds to prevent or treat infection, the merits of antiseptic fluid irrigation have received little scientific study. Unlike antibiotics that act selectively on a specific target, antiseptics have multiple targets and a broader spectrum of activity, which include bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa and even prions. Although certain skin and wound cleansers are designed as topical solutions with varying degrees of antimicrobial activity, concerns have been raised. Wound cleansers may affect normal human cells and may be antimitotic adversely affecting normal tissue repair. Repeated and excessive treatment of wounds with antiseptics without proper indications may have negative outcomes or promote a microenvironment similar to those found in chronic wounds. However, when applied at the proper times and concentrations, some classes of antiseptics may provide a tool for the clinician to drive the wound bed in desired directions. The present review summarises the various antiseptics in use and their negative impact on the wound healing mechanisms. It is clear that the role of antiseptics on wounds and their role in wound care management need to be reconsidered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Healing / drug effects*
  • Wounds and Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Wounds and Injuries / pathology


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local