Since its discovery approximately 200 years ago, chitosan, as a cationic natural polymer, has been widely used as a topical dressing in wound management owing to its hemostatic, stimulation of healing, antimicrobial, nontoxic, biocompatible and biodegradable properties. This article covers the antimicrobial and wound-healing effects of chitosan, as well as its derivatives and complexes, and its use as a vehicle to deliver biopharmaceuticals, antimicrobials and growth factors into tissue. Studies covering applications of chitosan in wounds and burns can be classified into in vitro, animal and clinical studies. Chitosan preparations are classified into native chitosan, chitosan formulations, complexes and derivatives with other substances. Chitosan can be used to prevent or treat wound and burn infections not only because of its intrinsic antimicrobial properties, but also by virtue of its ability to deliver extrinsic antimicrobial agents to wounds and burns. It can also be used as a slow-release drug-delivery vehicle for growth factors to improve wound healing. The large number of publications in this area suggests that chitosan will continue to be an important agent in the management of wounds and burns.