When you think of healthcare supplies, what comes to mind first? A stethoscope to hear a heartbeat. A syringe to give a needed shot. Ahhhhhh, the “open wide” tongue depressor!
But what about medical adhesive tape? It may not pop to mind first, but this versatile tool is incredibly important in the medical field. There are many varieties from which to choose and many companies that convert medical adhesive tape for wound care.
This article answers some common (and not so common) questions:
• What’s the best tape to use on skin?
• What is medical tape used for?
• What types of medical tape are there?
• How does a converter make a difference in medical adhesive tape?
Grab an otoscope (that device that checks your ears). Let's get into this!
Medical Adhesive Tape 101
Medical adhesive tape, or surgical tape, is used to attach bandages, gauze, and other dressings to skin around wounds. Most adhesive tapes are a type of pressure sensitive tape; i.e., tape that sticks and stays in place with firm pressure. There’s no need for heat activation or a solvent. Medical adhesive tape can be made from various materials, but most are breathable for comfort and ease of use.
Types of Medical Adhesive Tape
In the medical field, different types of adhesive tape are used for different things. Some are made of softer materials, such as cotton; others are more elastic to support flexibility. Here are some of the most common types of medical adhesive tape and how they differ.
Micropore Paper Tape — Commonly used to secure bandages and dressings to skin without leaving a sticky residue, micropore paper tape is hypoallergenic and can be used long-term, without fear of skin irritation. Its adhesive sticks to skin, underlying tape, or directly to dressing materials. Tiny holes, or micropores, in the tape makes it breathable (speeding up healing), and it’s easy to tear (ideal for emergency situations).
Transpore Polyethylene Tape — This hypoallergenic, translucent tape sticks to the patient without sticking to surgical gloves or other surgical tools. It adheres well to wet surfaces — patients who are wet, bleeding, or sweating — so this very strong tape is often used to secure tubing or dressings. Transpore tape is breathable but not flexible; it's made from a non-stretch film.
Zinc Oxide Tape — Commonly used to prevent sports injuries, zinc oxide tape also helps protect wounds, accelerating healing, stabilizing injuries, and protecting athletes from soft tissue damage. Very durable, this tape works well in humid environments and tolerates high levels of moisture (sweat). Made from rayon or non-stretch cotton, this tape remains intact for hours, allowing athletes to bend, twist, run, and push their physical limits.
Waterproof Tape — Specifically designed for use in water, waterproof adhesive tape does have limitations. The tape only works when applied to dry skin or if the tape itself is dry to start. Most waterproof tape is extremely flexible and mailable, conforming to the body and sticking to curved surfaces (between fingers and toes, on joints, etc.).
Durable Cloth Tape — One of the most versatile and widely used types of medical adhesive tape, cloth tape is flexible and comfortable. It sticks best to the skin (not directly to a cloth dressing or bandage), doesn't leave a sticky residue when removed, tears in any direction, and is ideal for long-term use thanks to its breathability. A durable tape, it’s often used to secure splints.
Medical Adhesive Tape for Urgent Needs
Versatile, reliable, easy to tear. That sums up what most medical situations require. Medical professionals on the go, including EMS and ambulance workers, regularly use transpore polyethylene tape because it’s efficient, durable, and sticks well to any surface, including those covered in hair, water, or blood. It's also waterproof, allowing patients to keep it on in the shower or while swimming.
Transpore tape’s breathable material allows adequate airflow for healing, and it allows sweat and other bodily fluids to pass through it. Because it’s one of the stronger varieties, it can leave residue on the skin or cause irritation to those with sensitive skin.
Medical Adhesive Tape for Everyday Use
For not so high-pressure situations, micropore paper tape works well. Not only is it gentle on the skin (leaving no sticky residue), it stays in place for several days without falling off, even though it's not one of the strongest adhesive tapes.
Micropore tape is breathable — promoting wound healing — and is easy to remove. Able to withstand some moisture and sweat, it’s not waterproof, and it’s not as flexible or mailable as other adhesive tapes.
Medical Adhesive Tape for Athletics
When it comes to medical adhesive tape that’s strong, durable, and flexible, zinc oxide tape (sports tape) is the answer. While regular adhesive tapes work best on flat areas of the body — forearm, shin, back — most athletic tapes are designed to conform to flexible, moving parts and stay put. This strong tape allows athletes to move with ease, without fear of injury or the tape falling off.
Medical Adhesive Tape for Wet Environments
Waterproof adhesive tape isn’t just for swimmers. In fact, one of its main uses is protection against blisters and chafing skin. This tape sticks well to the skin but won't adhere to hair, so skin surfaces must be prepared.
This adhesive tape is also incredibly flexible, easily conforming between fingers and toes, under the armpit, and on the palm of the hand as it flexes and moves with the body. Despite its strength, waterproof tape can be torn using your fingers, making it perfect for fast-paced situations.
Choose the Right Medical Adhesive Tape Converter
Arming medical professionals with the most versatile medical adhesive tapes allows them to meet high-pressure situations with high-quality patient and wound care. When it comes to choosing the right tapes, you need to assess its specific use and the strength needed during care.
Proper assessment likely requires the guidance of a knowledgeable flexible material converter. Yet, just as not all tapes are created equal, the same can be said of converters. Some know the basics, and some thrive on exploring cutting-edge materials and technology. How can you tell the difference? And which do you really need?
The first thing to assess is the environment in which the converting of medical products happens. Many different impurities — dust/smoke, microorganisms, poor air quality, etc. — can cause defects in many medical products, including tape, so a controlled environment (clean manufacturing room or ISO 7-certified cleanroom) is required.
When your converting partner is ISO cleanroom certified, you know they handle demanding pressure-sensitive wound care tape challenges, have engineers on staff, and follow best practices when converting the most accurate wound care tape products.
Another criteria to use is the converter’s industry connections. A converter that’s 3M Preferred has the right capabilities and processes to manufacture medical-grade adhesive solutions as well as helping you choose a medical adhesive tape that prevents product failure and ensures successful patient experiences.
Speaking of experience, it’s not everything for a converter. But experience is a sign that one has expanded beyond simple tape converting to highly technical projects, such as medical device microfluidics. Handling fluids on the micro-and nanometer scale is another level of expertise that many converters can’t touch.
Now that you’ve added a new tool to your list of healthcare supplies, don’t trust your medical adhesive tape to just anyone. Strouse, a 3M preferred converter of 3M Medical Materials and Technologies, understands medical products, from adhesive tape to advanced material for microfluidic devices.
For more information about the many adhesive tapes we offer or to request a sample of one of our products, contact us. And if flexible material converting isn’t as familiar as you'd like it to be, read our guide of answers and insights: Flexible Material Converting Q&A.