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Sticking to Skin – Tapes and Patches for Wearable Medical Devices

When you want the truth on a matter, there’s a common saying to “go straight to the source.” The same can be said regarding our health. When diagnosing or treating most medical conditions, the patient’s body can provide signals and clues to inform healthcare professionals. That’s why the advancement of wearable medical devices is so exciting. Technology can be used to directly monitor an individual in both in-patient and out-patient settings.

However, one barrier many medical device designers face is reliably and safely sticking the product to the skin. In this article, we’re going to discuss skin tape, medical patches, and medical-grade adhesives for the skin.

What makes a medical-grade skin tape or patch?

Skin is designed to be a barrier – and is very effective at preventing foreign substances from attaching to the body. There are many challenges to sticking a product to the skin, including elasticity, shedding cells, moisture, body oils, and texture, just to name a few.

Beyond ensuring a reliable bond, the second major challenge is safety. Skin can be very sensitive, especially for vulnerable patients such as newborns and the elderly. Harsh adhesives can cause various issues such as Medical Adhesive-Related Skin Injury (MARSI), rashes, blisters, skin stripping, and other unpleasant experiences.

Fortunately, research and development have led to innovative materials that provide reliable and gentle adhesion. These materials are often called medical grade or biocompatible, meaning they’ve been tested and approved for most patients.

The most common forms of these materials are skin tapes and patches, which can be used in many applications such as:

  • Securing IV tubing, wiring, catheter tubing, osteotomy bags, or other devices to the patient
  • Wearable devices like glucose monitors, cardiac monitors, and insulin pumps
  • Electrodes such as ECG, EMG, or EEG
  • General medical use where a medical device may contact the patient’s skin

Skin tapes and patches are typically made from three layers. Let’s take a look at each one.

Medical-grade adhesives for skin

Pressure-sensitive silicone is the most common adhesive for skin tapes and patches. Silicone tends to be gentler on the skin while still providing a strong bond.

Depending on the use of the wearable product, skin adhesives can be selected for long-term wear, gentle release, multiple applications, and many other uses and environmental factors.

Backing material for medical patches and tapes

The backing is the substrate that holds the adhesive and is typically the outer layer once the tape or patch is applied to the skin (think of the top of a standard adhesive bandage). Since it is exposed, the backing must be durable enough for the environmental conditions. The backing can often be printed on for branding or instructional purposes.

Several materials can be used for medical tapes and patches, including:

  • Polyethylene
  • Vinyl
  • Foam
  • Non-woven polyester
  • Urethanes
  • Rayon acetate woven fabric

Release liner for skin adhesive tape

The role of the release lines is to protect the adhesive side of the tape or patch before use. Right before the product is applied to the patient’s skin, the release liner is removed and discarded. While it may seem like the simplest layer of a skin tape or patch, the material and converting of the release liners should not be overlooked.

Common materials used for release liners include paper, polyester, and polypropylene. Coatings such as silicone and fluoropolymer can be applied to one or both sides of the release liner. Finally, based on the final application, release liners can be converted into slit liners (partially or fully cut through the liner but not the tape) or extended liners where the liner material extends slightly beyond the edge of the backing. Like the backing, the release liner can be printed on if specified.

Custom converting and printing for medical tapes and patches

Here at Tapecon, we’ve seen the medical wearable device market skyrocket in recent years. And a big part of that is thanks to skin-friendly tapes and patches. With our materials expertise and relationships with major suppliers, we can recommend the ideal medical-grade materials based on your specification and product usage. From there, we offer everything from prototyping to full-scale production, all at our US-based manufacturing facility.

If you’re interested in the technology or applications of medical skin tapes, check out our podcast with Bret Ludwig, Senior Product Development Engineer at 3M.

Let’s make something great

With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our wearable skin tape and patch applications.

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