Safety Advisory: The Use of Plastic Wrap on Fresh Tattoos

A tattoo specialist tells all.

tattooed arm

Leonardo Miranda/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 error-filled practice.

What's the Problem?

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 has just been turned into a petri-dish for bacterial growth (yuck).

All of the bodily fluids that are stuck in between your skin and the plastic wrap pile up together in a gross concoction of liquids. Body fluids leak out and run down the body where people will brush against other people or surfaces, thus creating a multi-contaminated field. Putting a piece of paper towel at the bottom does nothing to stop the oozing and temperature buildup.

Care to Rub on Someone's Body Fluids?

I recently visited a neighboring studio and witnessed a plastic wrapped client sitting in their waiting room with body fluids running down his arm into the fabric sofa. Talk about a contaminated field! If such an unfortunate individual enters our studio we ask them politely to leave, as we don’t want their body fluids on our chairs, racks, counters or floors. I also give them the link to this article to inform tattooers who obviously aren’t educated in the risks of blood-borne pathogens.

It's Not Only Gross, It Might be Illegal

State tattoo regulations such as ours here in Hawaii specifically state the appropriate type of dressing to use. Hawaii Department of Health Regulation 11-17-10-H mandates “the entire area covered with a piece of sterile dressing, which may in turn be covered with a piece of tissue, and fasten to the site with an approved type of adhesive." It’s even one of the questions on our tattoo licensing test.

Not only is the use of plastic wrap potentially dangerous, but it is 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 prevention?

Use of plastic wrap is forbidden in many quality tattoo conventions. National Tattoo Association and the Alliance of Professional Tattooists have outlawed its use in their conventions. It’s time that all convention promoters educate themselves and make this ban an industry-wide policy.

Protect Yourself

Before you, as a client, get your next tattoo, 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 procedure 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
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Hawaii Department of Health. Title 11 Chapter 17.

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