Hot! Plastic Wrap Is Not a Bandage

By Peggy Sucher

The use of plastic wrap to cover fresh tattoos may have gotten its start at biker events years ago. I can remember first seeing it used in the 1970s. Newly tattooed people were peeling off their bandages to show their bros their new ink, so untrained artists came up with the see-through idea of plastic wrap. No need to peel that bandage back anymore. Blood, body fluids and their inherent dangers weren’t much of an issue (or so we thought), in those days. Its use went away but, with surge of poorly trained tattooers, it has raised its ugly head, again.

Infected tattoo2 Plastic Wrap Is Not a Bandage

Infected Tattoo

Unfortunately, some of our uneducated brethren today fail to see the dangers and continue this error-filled practice. I’ve seen the practice recommended in a supposedly comprehensive how-to tattoo book that is far too available to contain this erroneous information. (A how-to book on tattooing is like a home tonsillectomy kit… don’t try it! Right up there with TLC’s “Tattoo School.”)

Through education, we understand STANDARD PRECAUTIONS, which state that ALL body fluids are considered contaminated and, thus, must be contained. When I see such wrapping on a tattoo, I also see plasma seeping down the arms, ankles and shoulders of unknowing clients. It makes me cringe. Their body fluids are leaking and contaminating everything and everyone around them.

A true professional would NEVER use this on a trusting client. That pink pigment leaking out contains body fluids. Does this person carry Hep B/C? HIV? HPV?

The problem is that plastic wrap creates an occlusive seal, meaning that no air gets in or out. That skin surface builds up body temperatures to nearly 103 degrees, which is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. That tattoo has just been turned into a Petri dish for bacterial growth. Nice, huh? It’s going to be a tough heal, with possible permanent scarring. Not exactly the desired reward, for hours of hard work.

CARE TO RUB ON SOMEONE’S BODY FLUIDS?

With the elevated body temperature, the pores remain open and allow more seepage of body fluids than normal. With no absorbent surface, these fluids must go somewhere and gravity takes them to the bottom of the plastic wrap. Body fluids leak out and drip OFF the body, or when the client brushes against surfaces or other people, thus creating a contaminated field. Putting a paper towel at the base of the wrap to catch this fluid does nothing to stop the oozing open pores and the temperature build up.

Leaky bandage2 223x300 Plastic Wrap Is Not a Bandage

Leaky Bandage

I recently visited a neighboring studio and witnessed a plastic-wrapped client sitting in the waiting room, with body fluids running down his arm onto a fabric sofa. Talk about a contamination danger!! UGH!! If such an unfortunate individual enters our shop with his wrap, we ask him politely to step outside, as we do not want their fluids on our floors, chairs, racks, counters or any other surface with which they may come in contact. We’ll glove up and give that tattoo the respect it deserves, absorbent bandaging. And we give that customer the skinny on what is proper bandaging and why.
At no time is plastic wrap applied to the skin an option. Not even for a temporary break during a tattoo session. If a client needs to step outside for smoke, for example, a paper towel or other absorbent material should be applied to the skin. A little water will quickly lift it from the skin surface ,when the session continues.

The only proper use of plastic wrap in a studio is for a surface barrier. Using it for countertop or bottle wraps is correct.. .never on skin!

Proper sterile bandage2 300x235 Plastic Wrap Is Not a Bandage

Proper Sterile Bandage

We’ll advise our traveling clients that, when choosing a tattooer, not only look at their art but ask them about their sterile practices. With what do they bandage? If they say “plastic wrap,” in any part of the answer, we advise them to excuse themselves and keep looking.

STATE REGULATIONS AND CONVENTION BANS

We are fortunate here in Hawaii to have an excellent regulations regarding tattooing. Hawaii Department of Health Regulation 11-17-10-H states that, after a tattoo, the entire area is covered with a piece of sterile dressing.”
Not only is the use of plastic wrap illegal in most regulated states, it is also a cheap insult to a client who deserves a better start with their new tattoo. What price is proper bandaging? How do you put a dollar sign on contamination or, better yet, the elimination of it? As tattooers, we have a tremendous responsibility to our clients and to the public in general to take every and all precautions we can to prevent any chance of cross contamination.

Use of plastic wrap is forbidden at many quality tattoo conventions. The National Tattoo Association (www.nationaltattooassociation.com) and the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (www.safe-tattoos.com) have both outlawed its use at their shows. I would be delighted to make this ban an industry-wide policy. Tattooers must brush up on their blood borne pathogens education and take a good look at their own practices, proper procedures and quality customer aftercare.

We have a moral obligation to give our clients what they deserve… our very best.

16 Comments

  1. i think whether or not plastic wrap is used is close to irrelevant. i used this for many, years and never had a single problem. i’ve recently witnessed many of the worlds best use it, and several of these artists today recommend leaving the tattoo wrapped dry in plastic wrap for several days.
    there are downsides to dressing, like someone removing the bandage immediately after leaving the shop without washing, leaving it exposed to the elements because they want to show it off.
    also, the laws in hawaii are outdated by nearly 40 years,and are essentially a joke, and include things like submersing a stencil in a germicidal solution, which is impossible by todays standards. usually, the more biased people are, the more wrong they are.

  2. Great article! There is simply no excuse for using plastic wrap anymore, it’s disgusting. There are many products available like Tatu Derm and other ‘see through’ bandaging options for those that cannot wait 3 days to show off their new work, if that’s the issue.

    And Frankie: Just because you have never had a problem with it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem or could be a problem. You could wear no seatbelt in a car for years and ‘never have a problem’ but the day you smash into a tree, it becomes a problem. So the one time you wrap someone up with HIV in plastic wrap and spread it around your shop: it’s a problem. So why risk it? You could try tattooing without gloves and see how that goes too, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem for the 90% of people you tattoo that are not carrying a disease but good luck with the rest. All it takes is once.

    I’ve also seen tattoo ‘greats’ using it and it really lessens my opinion of them when I see this, especially at conventions when there are crowds of people in close contact. And it doesn’t make it right because someone famous or well-respected is doing it or recommend it to their clients. Maybe you need to take a brush-up pathogens course cause it sounds like you haven’t taken one since the 70′s, if at all.

    • Bobbi, if you want to argue with the best artists in the country, then you should post some of your work to compare, and I hope it’s not all eyeliner tattoos. These artists recommend using plastic wrap dry, for three days, being changed three times a day. And plastic wrap doesn’t spread anything around the shop; using no bandage does. this is pretty obvious, and by the way, I have a fresh BBP and have passed the Hawaii exam. but before we talk at all, let’s see some examples of your work?

  3. By the looks of those photos, it’s obvious the tattoo was applied by a complete idiot anyway. I’m sure their ENTIRE method is inadequate from start to finish including a nasty work area and horrible habits. To say these so-called tattoos got infected by plastic wrap is ridiculous. I’m not saying that plastic wrap is a good idea but to compare these results to a real professional is ludicrous. It’s like saying that cow flatulence is the sole cause of global warming. A note to add. Staph is very prevalent here on Kauai and elsewhere on the islands. Anybody I’ve ever seen get a staph infection, ( 2 people and not from me or my shop) had a sterile bandage on to begin with. It’s was only when they took it off that they were exposed to contaminated areas. Plastic does not cause infection. Stupidity does.

  4. Hey Guys,
    i never had problems with plastic wraps that were used as a bandage!!
    I change the wraps three or four times a day – wash the whole tattoo and “let it breath”…
    The pictures look pretty awefull – but people are stupid when they cannot wait to show their bros the new pic!
    Maybe there are new products available but If you can deal with plastic wraps and allow some extra time for washing everything should be cool – just my experiences..

    Beste Regards
    Kevin

  5. First and foremost, I would like to point out that Plastic wrap is not the cause or the result of an infection of a tattoo. A person cannot get infected from their own body fluids. It is the responsibility of the artist to inform and educate the client on proper technique for the healing of their tattoo. Infections are caused by exposing the open wound to infectious germs and bacteria, such as animal dander. I think instead of trying to tell other tattooers what they should and should not use, maybe you should be more concerned with what they are telling their clients. I’ve heard so many different STUPID ways tattooers tell their clients. I have interviewed several doctors over the years, and not one of them says plastic wrap is a bad idea, as long as the wrap is removed within two hours and the tattoo is washed thoroughly with soap and water. I personally recommend Tattoo Goo, but I also leave it up to the client as to what they put on the tattoo. And it is not ILLEGAL to use plastic wrap in Hawaii. I’ve been tattooing here for over 17 years.

    Rockwood
    Owner/Opperator
    Big Island Tattoo
    Kailua Kona, HI. 96740
    808-329-7384

    • 1.) Plastic wrap is not a sterile dressing, occludes the skin, and does create a breeding ground for bacteria IE: Staph, Clostridium difficile, etc.
      2.) A person CAN be infected by the bacterial flora of their OWN SKIN.
      3.) Animal dander is not a pathogen, and only causes allergic response in some people.
      4.) Every doctor that I have tattooed (two surgeons included) has agreed that plastic wrap is inappropriate bandaging material for exactly the reasons in the article.
      5.) I do not live or tattoo in Hawaii, but their Health Dept. regulations seem the same as ours in Vermont – a sterile bandage is to be used to dress the new tattoo. Plastic wrap is not available in sterile form, last time I checked the local supermarket.
      It is our responsibility as artists and professionals to be up-to-date with our information and techniques in order to protect our clients (even from themselves).
      All of the information above can be verified as accurate with the correct training or a little careful research, and anyone who claims to “have never had a problem” is either being avoided by the clients who have been infected (they probably went to somebody else after the bad experience) or they are lying.
      Sincerely,

      Jesse Fowler

    • Hawaii tattoo regulations clearly state 11-17-10 (h) that ‘THE ENTIRE AREA SHALL BE COVERED WITH A PIECE OF STERILE DRESSING’

      I worked for many months on the upgrading of our regulations and know them front to back.

  6. I just want to say I just got tattooed three days ago and ended up in the hospital with a staph infection. The only thing the guy did differently than before was put the Saran wrap around my tattoo. It does, in fact, cause infections and I have the hospital paperwork to prove it. Now I’m suing for the hospital bill. Was admitted for three days.

  7. Plastic wrap as a bandage is quite possibly the worst idea ever. But it is cheap. I do not allow it in my shop in any form, even as a surface barrier. Absorbant bandages are the required dressing for tattoos that we do. For surface barriers we also use thicker plastics that are designed for the task at hand and never use them on the skin of clients. I have seen far to many complications due to “plastic wrap” bandages. Add the fact that plastic does indeed go thru a process called degassing, where the skin can absorb such emissions and could lead to the suffocation of the wrapped area as well.

    Only a fool would jeopardize a client to such hazards. I personally don’t give a rats azz that some of the top tattooers use or have used “plastic wrap” as a bandage, I only care that I and my shop do not.

  8. Well, for me, the plastic wrap caused an infection only because I was foolish enough to leave it on overnight. I wish I had known that sooner. I was told to put the plastic wrap on it overnight with A&d ointment and, when I woke up, I had a mild infection on my calf. So, should I get a touch-up when it’s healed? I’m not sure what to do.

    • Probably not a good idea to get tattooed there after suing them…on second thought, yea, I’m sure they would be happy to help you out!

  9. “These artists recommend using plastic wrap dry, for three days, being changed three times a day.”
    -Frankie
    I was also recommended this, I’m from a small fishing town in the south of Denmark, and one of our most respected tattoo artists utilize this same procedure. I was shocked when I read this article, and questioned him. But then Frankie’s comment made me realize one should not distrust one’s artist. And if the artist is a well-respected and talented artist, then I say its safe to trust his aftercare advice.

  10. Plastic wrap is old timey CARNY crap.
    Instant, moving “flash”.
    Only the clueless ever did it & only the very stupid still do it.
    Nuff said.
    A stupid, nasty & harmful thing as intelligently described by Peggy. (BRAVO PEGGY!)
    Again – either u get it or u don’t.
    38 yrs. in the business & i never did it & never would.

    PS- years ago, I once saw a “tat artist” in Georgia tell a client to go slap his fresh tat with a wet bar towel 50 times to “make it set”. LMAO!

    Guess ya just can’t fix stupid. (as shown by some of the comments above)

  11. Technically, a tattoo is still a Wound, and since when do you cover/treat a wound with Plastic? Anyone with medical training will tell you the same!!!
    I would never treat my clients like a piece of meat wrapped in plastic. It would make me feel like I just came from the butcher!

    Great Article PEGGY

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