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A Bandage That Doesn't Hurt To Remove, Inspired By Spiderwebs

These new easy-to-rip-off bandages aren’t just to make your life slightly more convenient. They’re going to play an important role for sick kids in hospitals.

Even the most pain-tolerant people have probably cringed once or twice while ripping an adhesive bandage off a particularly sensitive area. It seems like the kind of thing that intrepid scientists should be able to prevent. Researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital think they can with a new kind of medical tape modeled on the design of spiderwebs.

For adults, removing medical tape is just painful. But for babies, the removal process can break open their skin, sometimes causing permanent scarring. "This is one of the biggest problems faced in the neonatal units, where the patients are helpless and repeatedly wrapped in medical tapes designed for adult skin," explained Bryan Laulicht, one of the researchers behind the project, in a statement.

The new quick-release medical tape, documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, features three layers: a regular non-sticky backing, a normal skin adhesive, and a new anti-adhesive middle layer that peels apart easily when removed. Time explains:

The inspiration for the idea came from nature, where this property, in which a material is much stronger along one axis than it is along another, is called anisotropy. Just as it’s easier to split a piece of wood along the grain than against it, the new medical tape requires only gentle force to break apart when you peel it, but it still sticks securely when you try to tear at it lengthwise or when you stretch it out flat. When the tape is pulled apart, it leaves behind only some adhesive gunk, which can be rubbed off the skin gently with a finger.

The researchers behind the tape were influenced by spiderwebs, which contain both adhesive and non-adhesive areas, and mica, a mineral with layers that can easily be peeled off.

Despite its novelty, the tape should be easy to make with materials already used in today’s medical tape. No word yet on a release date.