Epidemiological studies suggest that at least 1.5 million skin tears occur each year in institutionalized adults. Despite this incidence, very little is known about the management of skin tears in elderly persons. Studies related to wound dressings and healing rates for these skin tears have rarely been reported in the medical literature. A randomized, prospective trial of 37 subjects compared the treatment of skin tears using either an opaque foam dressing or a transparent film dressing. Subjects had either a modified Payne-Martin Category II (25%-75% epidermal loss) or Category III (100% epidermal loss) skin tear. Category I skin tears (linear with no tissue loss) and skin tears greater than 48 hours old were excluded. Mean subject age was 85.1 +/- 9.7 years. Subjects were followed weekly until healed or for up to 21 days. Subjects in the comparison groups did not differ at baseline in age, sex, wound severity score, presence of diabetes, nutrition score, ambulation and mobility score, or mental status score. Complete healing occurred in 94% (16/17) of subjects treated with the foam dressing as opposed to 65% (11/17) of subjects treated with the film dressing (P < 0.05). Complete healing correlated only with dressing type (P < 0.05) and age (P < 0.01). No other factor was associated with the healing outcome. The number of dressing changes was similar in each group, 3.1 +/- 1.2 versus 3.4 +/- 1.1. Based on the results of this study, we conclude that this opaque foam dressing is a superior wound dressing for skin tears.