Safety Advisory: The Use of Plastic Wrap on Fresh Tattoos

A tattoo specialist tells all.

tattoed black woman on white t-shirt

Jazmin Quaynor / Unsplash

The use of plastic wrap to cover fresh tattoos may have gotten its start at biker events in the '70s and '80s. Newly tattooed people were peeling off their bandages to show off their new ink, and thus untrained tattooers came up with the transparent idea of using plastic wrap as a see-through bandage. Unfortunately, some involved in the tattooing process have failed to see the dangers of doing this and have continued this risky practice. We spoke to tattoo artists Burak from Fleur Noire Tattoo and tattoo artist Miguel to understand proper bandaging in tattoo aftercare.

Read on to learn why experts say you should never use saran wrap on a tattoo.

Why You Should Never Use Saran Wrap on Tattoos

A plastic wrap creates an occlusive seal, meaning that no air gets in and no air gets out. The idea is that this keeps all of the body fluids pooling on the skin surface. That surface may build up body temperatures, potentially creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Essentially, your new tattoo may turn into a petri-dish for bacterial growth (yuck). "It is not advised for people to use saran wrap due to it not offering long-term protection, or more so, complete protection from water or bacteria that could get underneath the wrap and cause infections," says Miguel.

"Saran wrap is for food. Tattoos are an open wound and need to be taken care of with medical level bandages," says Burak. It's not only gross and dangerous, but it might be illegal. State tattoo regulations, such as in Hawaii, specifically state the appropriate type of dressing to use. Hawaii Department of Health Regulation 11-17-10-H mandates "the entire area [be] covered with a piece of sterile dressing, which may, in turn, be covered with a piece of tissue, and [fastened] to the site with an approved type of adhesive." It's even one of the questions on a tattoo artist's licensing test.

Not only is the use of plastic wrap potentially risky, but it is an offense to a client who deserves a better start with their new tattoo. The use of plastic wrap is forbidden in many quality tattoo conventions. It may be time that all convention promoters educate themselves and make this ban an industry-wide policy. 

tattoer with blue gloves touching tattoed arm

Allef Vinicius / Unsplash

How to Safely Wrap Your Tattoos

To prevent contamination, tattoo studios use polyurethane-acrylic adhesive medical bandages like Saniderm and Dermshield to wrap tattoos. "These products act as second skins that are completely sealed once applied correctly. They are also waterproof in the shower, which prevents water and bacteria from getting under it, but should be removed right away if comprised," Miguel explains. 

Burak says that some artists have different preferences, but in his studio, they advise keeping the bandage on for at least the first two to three days. 

More Tattoo Aftercare Tips

Besides keeping your bandage on for two to three days, Burak also instructs you to wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap when you remove it. "Apply a very thin layer of a natural tattoo ointment (these ointments do not contain petroleum) for the next two weeks, three to four times a day," he adds. 

Remember to not pick or scratch at any scabs that may form. Better if you avoid excessively touching your tattoo at all for about two weeks. 

"It's important because a good healing process is key to the longevity of a tattoo. It is just as important as tattooing being done technically correctly," Burak says. "For the first four to five days, there is a higher chance of infection because it is essentially an open wound. You need to keep it clean and keep it moisturized, this will help your tattoo heal properly."

With or without a proper bandage, remember to keep fresh tattoos away from direct sun exposure, swimming, baths, saunas, and excessive sweating while they heal.

When to See a Doctor

Infections aren't just bad for the tattoo healing process but can lead to serious health issues if left untreated to the person and area. Both experts say that you should call a doctor if you start to experience any extreme redness around your tattoo, if you notice any swelling, or if you start to see any discharge. All of these are not good signs and point to an infection. "Discoloration is a sign of infections as well," says Miguel. 

The Final Takeaway 

As a client, do the research on tattoo studios before you get your next tattoo and observe the practices in your chosen studio. If plastic wrap bandaging is one of them, seek another tattooer who cares to educate themselves on proper procedure. Think—if they don't have bandaging correct, what other errors in the process are they committing? Tattoos are a beautiful way to express yourself visually on your body, but keep in mind the potential risks involved the next time you get fresh ink.

Article Sources
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  1. Hawaii Department of Health. Title 11 Chapter 17.

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