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Apply and Remove Bandages Painlessly

by Karen Laforet RN, MClSc-WH, CNHC(c), VA-BC, CVAA(C)

 Bandages, surgical tapes, and adhesive dressings—are everywhere and have been around in some form for centuries. They are part of first aid kits. They are in every pocket, cupboard and desk in hospitals and clinics. And, they are used to hold a dressing on a wound, keep an IV catheter in one’s vein, or secure a tube on the skin. There are as many different medical adhesive tapes as there are non-medical tapes (e.g. electrical tape, masking tape, painter's tape...). Contrary to Red Green’s opinion that duct tape is good for everything (I might add, an opinion my husband strongly supports), one medical adhesive tape isn’t good for every situation. Different medical adhesives are needed for different reasons.  Today’s blog focuses on learning more about medical adhesives used for tapes and bandages. Liquid bandages (aka skin glue) or kinesiology tapes are excluded.

Medical tapes/bandages have three jobs: to stick as soon as it’s applied, to stay stuck once it’s on and to come off when no longer needed without causing skin damage.  Medical adhesives make this happen. Why do we care to know about this stuff? It’s just tape. It’s just a bandage. While tapes and bandages may look simple and harmless…they are not (as the video explains in more detail). Let’s start with how medical adhesives are made. There are four parts (or layers) to a medical adhesive as shown here:  

  • Layer 1 – Release coating for unwind
  • Layer 2 – Backing (woven or non-woven)
  • Layer 3 -Primer for optimal bonding between backing and adhesive
  • Layer 4 – Adhesive

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The three main types of medical adhesives are: synthetic rubber, acrylate, and silicone.  Synthetic rubber tapes (commonly known as ‘white tape’ [because historically they contained zinc oxide]) sticks quickly and stays on. It’s a strong tape. The down side is the tape is not breathable. Why is breathability important? Our skin evaporates moisture all the time. It’s one of the ways our body controls its temperature. When something that is non-breathable is put on the skin, that moisture collects underneath making the skin boggy (like how your skin gets when you’ve been in the water too long). Boggy skin can easily be damaged. Synthetic rubber tapes are good to use if there’s nothing else and the tape will only be on for a short time.  

Acrylate adhesives (for example 3M™ Transpore™ tape) are pressure-sensitive and breathable—a far better choice for your skin. It takes some time (as in minutes) for the adhesive to warm up and as it does, the adhesive fills the nooks and crannies of the skin. Why is this important to know? The adhesive gains strength over time and may be hard to remove. If it is not removed properly it can damage your skin. More on removal in a moment.

Silicone  (for example, 3M’s Kind Removal Silicone Tape) is the newest member of the adhesive group. It is gentle to the skin making it the adhesive of choice if you need to reapply the bandage, tape or dressing to the same area many times or if you have fragile or sensitive skin—like those who are very young and very old.

 Now you know about the different kinds of medical adhesives. Did you know that there’s a risk if you don’t remove them safely?  So then, how should you remove a tape, bandage or sticky dressing?  Good question! The best way to protect the skin is to apply the bandage properly to begin with. 

How to apply a medical tape or bandage:

  • Start with clean, dry skin.
  • Apply without any tension; this means do not stretch the edges before sticking on the skin.
  • Do not fully encircle a limb. If you need to secure the dressing or wrap around the skin, apply tape in sections leaving a few centimeters (or inches) between the tapes.
  • Place the tape or bandage down onto the skin and press gently and firmly from the center outward to have full contact between the tape and the skin (careful over the owie part).

Applying a bandage, the right way will reduce the risk of damaging the skin. Now let’s chat about the best way to remove a bandage. HINT: ripping or pulling it off quickly isn’t it!  

How to remove a medical tape or bandage:

  • Stabilize the skin at the edge of the bandage before lifting it from the skin.
  • Slowly lift the tape keeping it parallel to the skin. Do not lift the tape up, or rip it off like removing a banana peel. 
  • "Low and slow" remove the tape stabilizing the skin as you remove the bandage.
  • Apply hand or skin lotion as you are removing the tape to aid removal if the bandage is sticking or hard to remove. 

Check out the video (if you haven't watched it yet) to learn more techniques and cool information on how to protect your skin. 

    Karen Laforet

    Karen Laforet

    Karen is an RN with over 30 years of experience in skin & wound management, health advocacy, & policy. She is an experienced writer on all things health-related.
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