There has been much debate over the subject of plastic wrap in the after care of tattoos. I personally use plastic wrap on occasion and recommend it to my clients under certain circumstances. It seems there’s a bit of interesting “information” out there regrading the use of plastic wrap and it’s possible negative effects. Below, I discuss the different aspects of using plastic wrap, how it can benefit our clients and a different perspective on the topic of plastic wrap use on tattoos.
Before we begin on this Plastic Wrap bashing journey, let’s first understand a little bit of tattoo history as I know it:
When I first began tattooing 19 years ago, gauze and paper towels were commonly used. I can recall for the first five years of my career going to the Motor City Tattoo convention and seeing world class tattooers using gauze and paper towel to cover their freshly inked masterpieces. Then at some point, it was discovered using porous materials to cover tattoos with were a cross contamination issue and it looks gross when you have a bunch of people bleeding though their bandages all over the convention floor. Also, clients had a hard time with these bandaging methods sticking to their tattoos.
Next, lap cloths and dri-loc packs were all the rage for covering a new tattoo, paper towel and gauze became a thing of the past. I didn’t notice people using plastic wrap until the beginning of this new millennium. I’ve read information on the net claiming bikers used plastic wrap in the 60’s and 70’s for wrapping tattoos. I have absolutely no knowledge of this and question its accuracy, though I can honestly say I wasn’t alive in the 60’s and wasn’t tattooing in the 70’s either. I was under the impression bikers in the 60’s and 70’s just poured a little spit and Jack Daniels on fresh tattoos! Just kidding. I really never saw plastic wrap personally used until at least 2000 which isn’t to say it wasn’t. I never personally saw it used until about then. Dri-loc and plastic wrap seemed the usual go to for tattoo bandaging for quite sometime until, something better hit the market; Transparent Wound Film. It was new and professional looking, and made plastic wrap look like a little bitch compared to it.
Tegaderm, owned by 3M was invented in 1983 and used for medical applications. It wasn’t introduced to the body modification industry till about 2006. Tatuderm obtained it’s Trademark in 2006 and Saniderm didn’t apply for their trademark until 2013. It seems as soon as These fancy new wound care products hit the market, all of the sudden the use of plastic wrap became a dirty, sloppy, infectious way to wrap a tattoo.
Suddenly, we have all of this negative information available with nothing but theory to back it up. I can’t help but think this is a typical marketing miss information ploy that we typically see in manipulative corporate persuasion. There’s no doubt these products are superior to plastic wrap, but to start an unsubstantiated fear and shaming based campaign with no actual evidence or case studies seems perfectly timed and contrived. Though we are at an exciting new Renaissance in our tattoo history, we are no longer exempt from corporate greed an manipulation seeking to make profit. The tattooing industry has officially been infiltrated by corporate America and there is no going back. Now, more than ever, our industry has become a buyer beware situation with an overload of cheap knock offs available to anyone for purchase.
So here are the pros and cons regarding plastic wrap use:
One of the main concerns regarding the use of plastic wrap is the following theory: “Plastic wrap suffocates the skin, retains fluids and elevates body temperature there by increasing the risk of infection.” Sure, if you leave it on for a several days and don’t clean it, those things will certainly work against you, but I would like to think nobody would do something like that. There’s a lot more to examine about this tid bit of information that leaves me with many questions.
Fact: Plastic wrap suffocates the skin. It’s plastic barrier won’t allow air or BACTERIA from external sources in contact with a freshly wrapped tattoo. We all know that air helps tattoos to heal, but tattoos are most susceptible to infection within the first three days, until a sustainable film has grown on top of the tattoo to protect it. It’s extremely vulnerable to infection within the first few hours as the platelets work to coagulate and form a protective barrier. It is a FACT, that some microorganisms NEED oxygen to flourish. It is a priority to wrap a client properly before they leave the studio so that airborne bacteria doesn’t immediately stick to the fresh, wet tattoo and cause infection. With that said, I think that Dr. Derm, Tatuderm, Saniderm and Tegaderm are all wonderful, magnificent products that are great for protecting a new tattoo. In a perfect world I would never run out, but I do sometimes. When I don’t have this available to me, I use a variety of different things to patch my clients which includes plastic wrap.
I advise my clients leave their plastic wrap on for an hour or until they get to a clean place to remove the wrap and wash their tattoo. If I’m tattooing into the wee hours of the morning, I recommend my client just sleep with the plastic wrap on it so they don’t get residual pigment and fluids all over the sheets. Why would I recommend this? Well, in a nut shell; RISK FACTORS. I asses the risk factors of my clients and make a recommendation based on those risks. There’s a lot worse things that can affect the healing of a tattoo than some temporary suffocation.
For example; if I do a tattoo on the back shoulder of a stay at home mom with no pets, I let her know to keep the tattoo clean and dab a bit of the appropriate after care if it feels dry. Plastic wrap isn’t part of the equation because her risk factors are low. If I tattoo a guy who works at an oil change place, I recommend he cleans his tattoo, air dries it and wraps it in plastic wrap with no ointment while in his work environment. I suggest this be done for the first three days if they have to be in a dirty work place. I also advise if they can’t air it out and put a fresh wrap on it with clean hands to wait until they get home where they can wash it and allow it to breath. Exposure to dirt and oil poses way more of a risk than wrapping it in plastic wrap for the work day. (I also recommend using a cut up sock as a sleeve, but there is a risk of the cloth fibers sticking to the moist tattoo and fusing to it which will cause tearing if not removed properly) If I have a client who loves to sleep with her three cats, I’m absolutely going to recommend that she change her sheets and wrap her tattoo over night for the first three nights to protect it from all the crap cats can leave in our beds. Assessing the risk factors, cat dander has a much higher potential to infect a new tattoo than a client’s own bio soup. Of course, no stick gauze is an option, but let’s face it; how many of these clients are actually going to run to the store, buy copious amounts of non stick gauze and tape to make sure their tattoos are protected? Some will, but some won’t and it’s my job to offer options for them to protect their tattoos in potentially hazardous situations.
Another concern in the criticism of plastic wrap is that it holds in moisture and the bodily fluids. There is some speculation out there that containment of ones own fluids negatively affects the healing of a tattoo. So, I’m to assume our own plasma, white blood cells, antibodies and personal bacteria suddenly become harmful to us with the plastic wrap holding it in for a few hours? That seems a bit overboard. What’s interesting about this is that if you go on the Sani Derm website (http://saniderm.com), this is what they have to say about their product:“The purpose of the scab is to protect the wound from environmental contamination. But, at the same time, scabbing has some disadvantages. A scab forms a barrier to the generation of new tissue. Studies have shown that under the influence of scabbing the regenerative wound healing processes take more time, thus increasing the risk of scarring. Saniderm tattoo aftercare, when used properly, will lock in your body’s natural fluids and enzymes to keep your healing tattoo moist, and it will prevent scabbing. With your body’s natural fluids and enzymes locked in, your cells will stay hydrated, tissues that are already dead will be broken down and removed more effectively, damaged blood vessels will re-generate more quickly, growth of new cells is stimulated and pain is significantly reduced.”
Again, I would like to mention here that Sani Derm is a superior product to plastic wrap, but I question the “studies that have shown b.s”. I scoured the internet and literally found nothing on this subject matter in the form of an official study especially in regard to significantly reducing pain. Also, I’m slightly confused that the objective of Saniderm is to reduce the risk of scarring, but TATTOOS ARE SCARS. With that said, Dr. Derm is a similar product and I get exceptional heals using this product most of the time.
Concerning the implication that using plastic wrap causes infection; There are no studies, statistics or any formal research done what so ever on the matter. I want to see the data, please show me the data. The fact is, THERE IS NO DATA. Rather, we have a collection of facts that have been skewed to prove a point. Like this next FACT about plastic wrap….
Plastic wrap elevates body temperature making bacteria grow at a faster rate that could potentially cause infection. Oh really? I ran across one article on the internet that explains how plastic wrap can elevate your temperature to 103 degrees which is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria (By the way, the perfect temperature for bacterial growth is between 40 degrees Celsius and 140 Celsius). But, what kind of bacteria are we talking about here? And lets talk about how much time equates into harmful exposure time. Where is the data to support this information? Again, here we asses the risk factors. Do we worry about the bodies natural bacteria and blood borne defenses suddenly turning into a sort of toxic soup based on theory with no actual data or statistics to substantiate this claim or do we worry about using any means necessary to protect our clients from exposure to the elements that we know will absolutely cause infection? People bashing plastic wrap mention how awful it is for a tattoo to be marinating in it’s own juices, yet a company like Tatuderm uses this very thing as a selling point? They have this on their website (http://www.tatuderm.com):”Tatu-derm uses the theory of moist wound management which allows the skin cells to migrate without interruption of infection or abrasion, resulting in an improved tattoo experience.” So moist under plastic wrap is bad but, moist under transparent wound barriers are good?
Here are more facts about using a medical grade barrier and it’s differences from plastic wrap: Medical grade barriers are made out of different forms of plastic polymers and so is plastic wrap. Medical grade wound barriers have a thin coat of an adhesive on it and seals to the skin. I love this about medical grade wrap, however some of my clients don’t. Be weary of clients with extremely sensitive skin, because some people are sensitive to the adhesive. Also, it can take a little skin and hair with it if caution is not used in the removal of the dressing. These aren’t concerns with plastic wrap. Dr. Derm, Sandiderm, Tatuderm and Tegaderm all have two attributes that are pretty cool which plastic wrap cannot compete with. They all have tiny holes that allow oxygen exchange beneath the film and it does a great job at locking in moisture so that you don’t have excessive fluids leaking out which is a potential cross contamination hazard. Plastic wrap needs the assistance of some paper towel outside of it to soak up any fluids that seep their way out. Fact, more leakage from plastic wrap makes the possibility of cross contamination higher.
If you don’t have any of the wound care barriers available, plastic wrap is best used for the ride home. It’s a point A to point B wrap. It is not, however an acceptable form of wrapping a tattoo in a convention situation where the likely hood of cross contamination is nearly imminent in some form.
Contrary to popular belief, all transparent wound dressings are not sterile products, but they are specifically designed for medical applications which puts them at a higher level of quality than plastic wrap which is designated for the protection of food. But, even for the wound barriers that are sterilized, the one big flaw in this selling point is that the sterilized roll is only sterile ON IT’S FIRST USE. Once the package has been opened, the entire roll is no longer sterile because it’s been exposed to air. So who really gives a shit if the product comes sterile because it won’t be for long. Only one lucky client will have the advantage of being bandaged from a completely sterile roll. Plastic wrap isn’t sterile or intended for anything other than protection of food products. In fact, I’ve seem companies state in writing that their product is not recommended nor intended for tattoo applications. Of course they’re going to say that because they don’t want to get sued. But realistically, until our very recent history most of the supplies used in the tattoo industry were borrowed from other industries.
My favorite thing to use on new tattoos is DR.Derm ( You can oder it at: http://www.eternaltattoosupply.com) . I’m more than happy with the product, but when it comes to my clients who need to protect their tattoos in a potentially harmful environment, Plastic Wrap is often the most easily accessible option for them. I’ve used Dri Loc pads in the past and have given extras to my clients who need to cover their tattoos in potentially harmful environments, but I felt it a higher risk using this product because it wasn’t transparent. People are often eager to show off their tattoos and many won’t blink twice at the opportunity to peel back the protection covering their tattoo just to show it off. Assessing risk factors based on the behaviors of many of my clients make any type of non transparent covering for a tattoo a higher risk because clients are more likely to peel it off prematurely or in a bad place at a bad time.
I have used and recommended plastic wrap to my clients for various reasons and I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a rise in the amount of clients with an infection as a result of using plastic wrap and I find it helpful in protecting my clients against environmental contamination. Consequently, I don’t personally know any tattooers who have claimed that suddenly there was a rise in the rate of infection of clients who have used plastic wrap as part of their aftercare. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who haven’t experienced some sort of infectious situation using plastic wrap. I just haven’t run across any. I would imagine if someone uses a roll of plastic wrap that’s been sitting open in a kitchen drawer and dropped on the floor several times that chooses to “protect” their healing tattoo with it, that could be a problem. Some people’s risk factors are much higher than others. But, to make a blanketed statement that plastic wrap is bad to use on your tattoos is inaccurate and unsubstantiated.
There are too many varying factors to completely ignore the usefulness of plastic wrap in the aftercare process. I say if it works, use it. Are there better products out there? Yes; but not everyone has access to top notch wound care all of the time and something is better than nothing when we’re talking about protecting your client. No two clients are the same and neither is their after care requirements and each and every situation should be dealt with individually with plastic wrap or not. I cannot stress this point enough…TALK TO YOUR CLIENTS AND LISTEN. Take the time to understand your client’s after care needs and make recommendations accordingly.
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