Superglue Stitches


Handy home and emergency alternative to sutures

For years midwives have been using over-the-counter superglue to “suture” perineal tears after birth. It’s better than stitches. Veteran backpackers have been known to pack a tiny tube of super glue for emergency repairs of deep cuts in places where there is no doctor.

Superglue is ethyl-cyanoacrylate. While fine for small cuts, it has several weaknesses when used as a substitute for heavy-duty suturing. An improved version, butyl-cyanoacrylate was developed for heavier surgical repairs, and this stuff was used widely in the Vietnam War to patch up soldiers in the field. Butyl-cyanoacrylate is a little more flexible on a wound than commercial superglue, generates fewer toxic byproducts, and is now commonly used by vets to repair animal wounds. You can buy the stuff as 3M Vetbond ($22). This is also what midwives have started using.

In 2000, the FDA approved a new version of tissue adhesive for human use, sold as Dermabond. This new composition, octyl-cyanoacrylate, is a longer chain, still more flexible, and possess the yet-unexplained ability to inhibit bacterial growth — a godsend in surgery. It’s strong enough that it will likely replace a lot of suturing altogether someday. Small quantities of octyl-cyanoacrylate are sold to non-medicals for “research purposes” — it’s the genuine stuff, only in dispensers that aren’t sterilized, and therefore not approved for human use (only animal use).

To use any cyanoacrylate on a wound, keep it on the surface layer of skin, not down in the well of the wound – imagine you are taping the top of the wound together. The glue sloughs off by itself in time.

Despite all the improvements of cyanoacrylate, small amounts of hardware store superglue will work in a pinch. I know a physician who uses ordinary superglue at home on his kid’s cuts. A vial of Vetbond would be even better. It’s dyed blue so you can easily see where it is on the skin and where it is not, and it is made for cuts.

-- KK 10/5/18


This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2007

Note: If you are going to use this on a cat, be warned: you need four people! Two people to hold the cat, one to hold the skin together, and one to apply the glue. Don't try it with only one person holding the cat! If any glue gets below the skin, into the open wound, the cat will shiek as if all the devils of Hell are after her. She will scratch and bite, and she is gone. I think one person holds her four legs, a second holds her head (and mouth shut), while holding her down. A third person dedicated to the job of keeping the skin together for at least that first full minute, and the fourth person to actually apply the glue. As soon as the glue is applied, that fourth person can help hold the cat! So you think you can manage it with only three people? You have been warned.--John Stahl — editors)