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What is Surgical Tape?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Surgical tape is a type of adhesive tape that is designed to be used to hold bandages in place and close wounds. This tape comes in a variety of widths, lengths, and styles that are designed to meet an assortment of bandaging needs. Most drug stores and large markets carry the tape, and it is also available through companies that specialize in medical supplies; surgical tape is a first aid kit must-have, since it is an extremely versatile and useful product.

Many companies make surgical tape that has been impregnated with zinc oxide or another substance that is designed to reduce the risk of infection. It is also intended to breathe, allowing air to circulate around the wound. Studies have shown that healing times tend to be greatly improved when wounds are kept ventilated in addition to being cleaned, so the tape promotes a healthy flow of air across the wound, rather than suffocating the site.

A variety of materials can be used to make surgical tape, including various plastics, nylon, silk, cloth, paper, and foam. In all cases, the tape and the mild adhesive are supposed to be hypo-allergenic, ensuring that it can be used on anyone. In addition to being available in a variety of widths, it is also very easy to cut, allowing people to create customized pieces for specific needs.

The classic use of surgical tape is in attaching bandages, ensuring that they cover the wound and stay put. The tape is great for this task because it can be customized to deal with wounds of a wide variety of sizes, from small cuts to much larger wounds. Deep wounds require the attention of a medical professional to ensure that they are cleaned properly, but chances are high that once the healthcare provider has cleaned the wound, he or she will dress it with a large bandage and tape. Because surgical tape is easy to cut and shape, it can also be used to dress wounds in awkward locations, like fingers.

Medical professionals can also use tape to hold a gaping wound closed. In some cases, a wound will be closed with surgical tape while it awaits stitching, especially in the case of a patient with numerous injuries, and in other instances, a medical professional may decide that stitches are not necessary, as long as the wound is kept closed with tape strips.

First aid kids should be stocked with surgical tape and gauze or bandages, and it is a good idea to regularly check on supplies to ensure that they will be available when needed.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon1006050 — On Jan 21, 2022

In short, surgical tape, whether paper, PE film, silk fabric, or cotton fabric, is used for binding and fixing.

By Wisedly33 — On Sep 23, 2014

When I had thyroid surgery a few years ago, I had surgical tape on my neck, over my sutures. It finally came off in the shower, as my surgeon had said it would, but my skin around the incision line was sticky for weeks.

Sticky skin was still better than the large, purple and yellow bruise I had on my neck after having a fine needle aspiration biopsy on the nodule on my thyroid. That bruise looked like a huge hickey! And I had to go to work like that. At least it was cool weather and I could wear turtlenecks until it faded a bit. It made me wish they made flesh colored surgical tape so I could have camouflaged the bruising a bit, at least.

By Scrbblchick — On Sep 22, 2014

Something the article didn't mention is that surgical tape should also come away from the skin without pulling too much. This is especially important for elderly people, or others who have fragile skin for one reason or another. Tape that grips too closely can actually pull holes in the skin of people who already have problems with fragile skin! For instance, if an elderly person has an IV, the nurse should make sure it's secured with a low-residue surgical tape that will pull away very easily from the skin.

Paper tape is usually the best for fragile skin. It tears more easily than the nylon variety and doesn't usually leave much residue. If kept in a first aid kit, though, the kit should be stored in a cool, dry place, or the tape will get sticky.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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