Believe it or not, seaweed (a type of algae) has been known to have benefits to your skin, for a long time now! It was first used to treat sunburn in the 4th century BC, used initially to relieve pain. But it was only two millenniums later, in the 1980’s that seaweed was taken seriously and both the elements and molecules within this weed, were examined in depth and found to have wound healing properties.
This discovery, eventually led to the development of the alginate (from the word ‘algae’) dressing. It is the marine brown variety of seaweed, which is well known today for providing an anti-inflammatory action, leading to successful healing of damaged skin. Alginates are now widely used for both minor wounds through to more complex wounds, skin grafts and even burns. In more recent years, this alginate property has been introduced into stoma products and has been effective in soothing sore and damaged skin surrounding a stoma. Many ostomates have found instant relief to their skin from using an alginate flange/baseplate and they are now using this long term to protect their skin and promote skin integrity.
So, what is alginate and where does it come from?
Alginate is produced from algin, which is known as “alginic acid” and occurs naturally in brown seaweed. This seaweed can be found in the Outer Hebrides, the West Coast of Ireland, Europe, and the USA. These brown seaweeds are harvested to be processed and converted into sodium alginate.
Sodium alginate is used in many industries including food, animal food, fertilisers, textile printing and pharmaceuticals. Medicines such as those used for acid reflux, contain sodium alginate to absorb the amount of acid produced by the gut, which maybe causing uncomfortable symptoms. Dental impression material also uses alginate, as it is a means of gelling. This gelling and absorbent ability is where alginates are extremely beneficial in protecting the skin from wounds which are exuding excess fluid. In stoma care, the alginate flange can quickly absorb effluents from around the stoma, whilst at the same time maintaining a physiologically moist environment which promotes healing and the formation of healthy granulating tissue.
These gelling properties of alginates are attributed to the presence of calcium ions that help form a slow degradable cross-linked polymer gel. Once in contact with the effluent from around the stoma the ion-exchange reaction takes place between the calcium ions in the dressings/flange and the sodium ions in serum or wound fluid.
Why use an alginate flange for your stoma?
It all sounds very scientific, but the art behind it all is simple! The alginate flange is slightly thicker than other flanges, so it can absorb more effluent than the hydrocolloid flanges, which then in turn draws the fluid away from your skin, reducing the potential for irritation and soreness. The anti-inflammatory properties will help reduce inflammation allowing your skin to settle quickly.
Its hard to know when to consider trying the alginate flange, so if you are unsure here are some ideal scenarios to help guide ostomates in products choice:
Sensitive or allergic reactions
Stoma flanges usually contain hydrocolloids which are skin friendly and help protect the skin around the stoma, but for some ostomates who experience sensitive skin or allergies, you may need an alginate product as it is hypo-allergenic, to help prevent skin reactions.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or steroid treatment
For those ostomates with vulnerable skin undergoing chemotherapy, using an alginate pouch is comfortable and prevents the skin from become irritated and sore.
Sore, excoriated peristomal skin
At some point most ostomates will experience a dreaded leak from their stoma! It doesn’t take long for the peristomal skin to become irritated, inflamed and feel uncomfortable. The alginate flange soothes this skin immediately without having to reach for barrier creams, sprays, and other accessories.
Moist, bleeding peristomal skin
If the skin around your stoma is bleeding and moist, the absorbent properties of the alginates will absorb this whilst still maintaining a good adhesion.
Ulcerated peristomal skin, including skin affected by pyoderma gangrenosum
Alginates are documented and recommended for treatment for pyoderma.
The alginate will absorb any local exudate or bleeding and will help to actively heal the affected area.
Stomas which protrude excessive mucous
Mucous causes peristomal soreness. The alginate adhesive actively absorbs the mucus to prevent soreness occurring.
Infected peristomal suture sites
The alginate will absorb puss or serous fluid in the area and will help reduce irritation.
Patients using lots of accessories for problem skin
As all the skin healing properties are within the actual adhesive, this virtually eliminates the need for any accessories, making alginate a cost-effective and simpler solution to many skin issues.