HEALTHCARE
October 30, 2012

No More Tears

A new quick-release adhesive tape doesn't pull or damage skin. Where was this stuff when we were young?

Medical tape is used to attach medical devices such as IV tubes and bandages to the skin. But when the time comes to remove it, pain and even tears, can result. That's tear as in skin damage, but tears, as in crying, are also common.

Adult skin can usually withstand the pull needed to release adhesive tape, but more fragile skin cannot. In the United States there are more than 1.5 million injuries caused by medical tape removal each year.

Babies and the elderly — populations with fragile skin — can experience problems ranging from skin irritation to permanent scarring.

Once the backing is peeled off, any remaining adhesive left on the skin can safely be rolled off with a finger using a "push and roll" technique.

The new tape manages to adhere strongly, but also peels off safely. This is because it uses a three-layer design, so that when you pull it off, instead of pulling against the skin and potentially damaging it, you are pulling against the backing of the adhesive.

The tape is the work of a team from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An anisotropic adhesive is inserted between the backing and adhesive layers of the tape. "Anisotropic" means this middle layer has different physical properties depending its direction, much like wood, which is stronger along the grain than across it.

The anisotropic interface results in a medical tape with high shear strength (for strong adhesion) and low peel force (for safe, easy removal). Once the backing is peeled off, any remaining adhesive left on the skin can safely be rolled off with a finger using a "push and roll" technique.

Jeffrey Karp, one of the researchers, described it this way: "Current adhesive tapes that contain backing and adhesive layers are tailored to fracture at the adhesive-skin interface. With adults the adhesive fails leaving small remnants of adhesive on the skin while with fragile neonate skin, the fracture is more likely to occur in the skin causing significant damage. Our approach transitions the fracture zone away from the skin to the adhesive-backing interface thus completely preventing any harm during removal."

Hopefully, a consumer version of the adhesive will not be long in coming. The study is published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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