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.
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.
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!
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.