Super glue can often live up to its name if it stays on the item you’re gluing, but if it gets on your skin or hands it can seem anything but super!
In reality, not all so-called super glues are the same, and one of the things you need to do is to identify the type of glue you’re dealing with. Doing so can make a difference both to how you address the problem and also to the length of time it might take to get the glue off your skin.
Annoyingly, it can be difficult to determine quite what form of super glue you have on your skin. Super glue comes in a variety of formulas, including cyanoacrylate, epoxy, and silicone. Many of these glues look very similar, so it really is necessary to identify the particular variant you are using. The packaging will usually tell you, but if you cannot identify which variant you have got stuck on your skin, you may need to try a few removal methods in trial and error before you get the one most suited to your particular glue.
Removing the glue with solvents
Solvents are many people’s ‘go to’ for removing glue. Solvents such as acetone, or nail polish remover, or even alcohol, can help break down and dissolve the glue, which then allows it to be wiped clean away. You do, however, need to exercise caution, as these solvents are strong materials themselves and can irritate the skin, so you will likely need to exercise some patience as you seek to dissolve the glue. You are also advised to wear gloves for this task and do so in a well-ventilated area. Fumes from glue are harmful over time and can make some people feel dizzy or nauseous, even after a short period of time, so take care to keep the air ventilated.
Dissolving the glue with oils
Depending on the glue and the amount you have on your skin, if you wish to avoid solvents it is possible to try olive oils or coconut oils. This is because these natural oils are useful solvents that can help break down the glue and make it easier to remove. You are best to apply some oil, ideally in concentrated form, to the glue and give it time to begin to break through and loosen the glue. Then wash it off with warm soapy water. If the glue remains present, you may benefit further by slightly heating the oil and then repeating the process, as the heat in the oil will assist in breaking down further the glue’s compounds and help release it from the skin.
Using ‘mechanical’ methods
These methods are slightly more intense and you may find you wish to try them only after trying the processes outlined above, which can help start the removal process and soften the glue. So-called mechanical methods, such as scraping and peeling are potentially more painful for some people, as they are implicitly more abrasive and have the potential to damage the skin beneath the glue and lead to minor skin abrasions, or even some bleeding if you inadvertently peel the skin away too.
This is not to say that peeling can’t work, but you need to exercise a lot of caution and recognize that this will likely be a slow process that will take time to do safely.
Identifying the Type of Glue
Identifying cyanoacrylate glue
This form of glue is identifiable by its look, scent and feel, which are different from other glues. It’s usually sold as a clear liquid and has a glossy and even quite waxy texture. It also produces a smell when it’s drying that is very distinctive. In addition, it has a unique set of characteristics that separate it from other glues. As opposed to water-based glues, cyanoacrylate adheres to surfaces instantly and sets within seconds. This makes it especially hazardous to skin, as it can be dried hard almost instantly. In addition, it adheres to most materials without the need for clamps or extra pressure, so even a light dab on the skin of cyanoacrylate glue can set hard and be difficult to get off.
Determining the concentration of glue
This is a tricky area, as ultimately you will need to carry out a test, but in many cases there will be a % concentration indicated on the packaging. Given that most people obviously do not have a science lab at home, one DIY method is to scrape off a tiny bit of the glue and try to dissolve it in a solvent in a dish. You will get a clue from this as to whether you are dealing with a highly concentrated glue or one that is more liquid and weaker. If the glue readily separates or begins to dissolve, you are dealing with a weaker glue and one that you can estimate will be relatively easy to remove from your skin.
Removing the Glue with Solvents
Choosing the right solvent
This is important, and it will be influenced by the type of super glue that you have been using. For example, is it acrylic-based, latex-based or rubber-based? Different glues need different solvents. If you do not get this right you may waste money buying the wrong solvent, and of course that also means the glue is on the skin longer, which is not good.
You also need to think about where on the skin the super glue is, as some solvents can be harsher than others, so knowing the skin’s sensitivity and potential susceptibility to being burned by too harsh a solvent is also a key factor. If in doubt, opt for a mild solvent, as even a mild solvent may still make a difference, even if it makes the process longer. You must prioritize not burning or harming adjacent skin that is otherwise healthy.
Applying the solvent directly to the skin
This is only wise if you have identified the points we have outlined above, so that there is no risk of burning or hurting the skin. However, as long as the solvent is one that is designed for applications to the skin, you should be fine. If it is safe for skin use and you have tested it out on a small area and had no adverse reaction, then you can be confident in applying it to a larger area more liberally. Ideally, avoid using solvents too often on your skin, but if you have super glue that is resistant to traditional soap and water, then you will likely need to use the solvents available.
Washing off the dissolved glue
If the dissolved glue is leaving just a light residue on the skin, then soap and warm water should suffice in getting rid of what remains. However, if glue has been softened, but not quite fully released from the skin, you may benefit by using a combination of oil-based substances, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or vegetable oil. Once a solution of oil and water has been created, simply rub the mixture onto the affected area of skin and then rinse off with warm water. This should help to dissolve and remove any remaining glue residue from your skin.
It can be wise to use this kind of approach for the final stages of getting rid of glue, so that the raw solvent is not the material you are using on the skin for those last scraps of super glue. This mixed approach of using solvents for the upper layers of glue to start the removal processes, and then using soap, oils and warm water for the lower softer layers, can be a great way to limit solvents from touching the skin abrasively. Remember – you want the solvents on the glue, not on your body!
Dissolving the Glue with Oils
Finding an oil-based product
Oil-based items can help dissolve the plastic polymer in most kinds of glue, making it easier to remove. Common household oils like olive oil, baby oil, and vegetable oils are all suitable options. A few recommended techniques include using a cotton swab to apply the oil and then gently wiping away the glue residue, or simply soaking the skin in the oil for a short period of time, perhaps mixing the oil in warm soapy water too. Be aware, however, that this is only an option for suitable areas of the body. Absolutely ensure you do not do so with sensitive areas of the body or skin, such as around the eyes or lips, for example. If you do get glue on your eyes or around your lips, exercise great caution, and start the process of removing the glue with entirely non-solvent based approaches, such as by using oils.
Gently rubbing oil on the skin
A related process is to gently rub oil on the glue so that you are gradually abrading away the glue as the oil seeps through. This is a process you can carry out prior to then washing off the residue in warm soapy water. The oils we have mentioned here already are all suitable as options for this process: olive oils; coconut oils, vegetable oils. Some people even say that with just a small amount of glue the use of a lip balm rubbed over the glue can help. (Obviously, do not then use that balm on your lips!)
Cleansing the area with a gentle cleanser
Prior to any removal process, you may find you benefit by cleaning the surrounding area with a gentle cleanser. Given that when we are using glue we are often engaging in quite heavy processes, this helps to ensure that any debris or dirt is removed before you start the process of dissolving the glue. As these bits of debris could easily be caught up in oils, you do not want them being rubbed near the skin. It also ensures the oil gets right through to the glue and is not blocked by dust or dirt.
Normal household soaps or washing up liquid can work, as can shampoo or shower gel. If you are showering prior to taking action on the glue itself, rub some soap over the glue to help cleanse the affected area. This will also start the early processes of softening up the glue before you apply the solvents.
Using Mechanical Methods
Rubbing the affected area with a pumice stone
Prior to using any mechanical scraping methods, you are still best to soften up the glue, so taking a shower or having a thorough soap and warm water washing of the area concerned is wise. Then, gently use a pumice stone to begin the process of exfoliating away the glue. Rub in a circular motion, and also side to side, to help ensure that the glue is disrupted from multiple angles. This is not likely to be a quick process if you have a lot of glue present, but it can be effective if you stick at it.
Removing the glue with a gentle exfoliant
Fundamentally, you are trying to exfoliate away the glue as you might do a layer of dead skin. It can help to think of it in those terms. Exfoliants can help loosen glue on the skin’s surface. Start by washing the glue-covered area with warm water and a mild soap and massage a gentle exfoliant into the skin in a circular motion.
Applying a warm compress to the area
One simple approach can be to use heat directly onto the glue in the form of a hot compress. This is a very good way of loosening the glue up so that it is more receptive to other treatments outlined here. The moisture created by the heat is helpful to removing the glue and will assist in breaking down the bonds between the glue and the skin. As a very simple approach, it can be a great initial step to take in starting the processes of ridding your skin of the glue.
Glue removal is not likely to be an instant job managed in just a few seconds. You need to take some time to do it safely and properly. Remember that you are ultimately trying to dissolve quite significant chemicals from your skin, so you need to do so safely and thoroughly and prioritize not causing harm to the skin beneath the glue and in the surrounding area.
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