Cotton - western medicine

In Western medicine, cotton is put to use in the form of dressings, bandages, swabs and cotton wool. Scientific investigations have shown that cotton roots and seeds contain certain compounds that may be beneficial to the health, potentially for treating cancer and HIV.

Dressings and bandages

The main use of cotton in medicine is in the manufacture of various dressings that are applied to wounds on the skin. Cotton fibres used in this way are often impregnated with soft paraffin to help prevent the the fibres from sticking to the skin. Others may be impregnated with medication such as zinc and calamine or anti-microbial ointments. Some cotton dressings are mixed with other fibres such as viscose which helps to absorb exudates from wounds.
A photograph of cotton roots from Kew's Economic Botany Collection. Compounds from the rough bark may have medicinal applications.
Image: Cotton roots from the Economic Botany Collection at Kew Gardens. Gossypol, found in the bark, may have anti-cancer activity.

Absorbent cotton gauze may be used to pack cavities like the sinuses or throat following surgery. Absorbent cotton may also be used to cleanse and swab wounds or areas of the skin prior to surgery, or to apply medication to the skin.

Cotton is also used in the manufacture of bandages, which may be used to give support to strains, sprains and to varicose veins. Some cotton bandages may also be applied to give support to splints. Cotton is also used in the manufacture of some types of adhesive tape that may be used to secure bandages.

Active compounds

Cotton root bark contains flavonoids and sesquiterpene-type compounds such as gossypol. Gossypol, which is also present in cotton seeds, is reported to have anti-fertility activity and also has potential anti-cancer and anti-HIV activity.

This information is provided for general interest only. It is not intended as guidance for medicinal use. Further information on using herbal medicines is available.