Safety Advisory - The Use of Plastic Wrap on Fresh Tattoos

Woman with tattoo on her back
Nichola Evans/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

The use of plastic wrap to cover fresh tattoos may have gotten it’s start at biker events. I can remember first seeing it used in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Newly tattooed people were peeling off their bandages to show their bro’s their new ink and untrained tattooers came up with the ‘see through’ idea of plastic wrap. No need to peel that bandage back anymore. Blood wasn’t much of an issue in those days.

Unfortunately some of our uneducated brethren have failed to see the dangers today and have continued this error-filled practice.

What's the Problem?

The problem is that plastic wrap creates an occlusive seal meaning that no air gets in and no air gets out. This keeps all of the body fluids pooling on the skin surface. That surface builds up body temperatures to nearly 103 degrees which is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Your new tattoo has just been turned into a petri-dish for bacterial growth. Nice, huh?

That pooling of body fluids--all liquids must go somewhere and that is to the bottom of the plastic wrap. Body fluids leak out and run down the body where people will brush against other people or surfaces thus creating a multi-contaminated field. And 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 a copy of this article to take back to the tattooers who obviously aren’t educated in blood borne pathogens.

It's Not Only Gross, It May be Illegal

Most 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 “the entire area covered with a piece of sterile dressing and secured with proper adhesive”. It’s even one of the questions on our tattoo licensing test!

Not only is the use of plastic wrap illegal in most regulated states 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 shows. 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?