If you’ve ever used an adhesive tape like EAB or zinc oxide to tape a sports injury, you may have noticed that your body hair can interfere with the adhesion of the tape. For this reason, many guides to sport taping techniques begin with the instruction to shave the area. However, shaving with a razor can bring problems of its own and may not always be necessary.
If you need to tape a hairy part of your body, then you will have to address the issue somehow. For instance, many men have quite hairy legs, which can make taping the ankle or knee difficult. The tape sticks to the mat of hair rather than the skin itself, resulting in a sloppy tape job that may peel off or simply fail to provide the desired compression or stabilisation. At the very least, it will be painful to remove later.
With this in mind, you may think it’s a good idea to reach for your razor and whizz off the hair. Before you do so, remember that shaving itself will damage and dry out the skin and can create a range of problems such as razor burn and ingrown hairs. At this point you may observe that many people – such as cyclists, swimmers and triatheletes – regularly shave off their body hair without apparent problems. However, these people usually do not proceed to slather their freshly shaved skin in an adhesive.
Basically, if you shave and then immediately apply a strong adhesive tape to the area, you compound any irritation and impede the skin’s recovery… before damaging it all over again when you pull the tape off. If you have an acute injury that you’re taping for stabilisation this might well be a price worth paying. But if you are regularly taping to prevent injury during training, it’s wise to take steps to avoid having an area of constantly irritated skin. This is especially true if you already know you have sensitive skin.
You don’t need to be absolutely hair-free to get good stick from zinc oxide tape or EAB.
For a start, you don’t need to go overboard and shave as closely as a Turkish barber to make EAB or zinc oxide tape stick. As long as the hair isn’t so thick or long that it forms a mat between the skin and the adhesive surface of the tape, you will be able to achieve acceptable hold. Therefore, you may want to simply trim the hair very short using an electric shaver or trimmers/clippers with the guard off. Obviously, this will leave the skin feeling stubbly, but since the area will be covered in tape anyway that hardly matters. Taking this route will certainly avoid much of the scraping and stripping that accompanies shaving with a razor.
A close trim is often enough to make tapes stick well, and won’t irritate the skin.
Another measure to consider is to use a pre-taping spray such as Tensospray, which will encapsulate any remaining hairs in an adhesive film so that they don’t create an obstacle to the adhesion of the tape. Pre-taping sprays will not work properly on very hairy areas, so you still need to trim first and then use the spray as a finishing touch.
To avoid shaving or trimming entirely, you could use a non-adhesive wrap like cohesive bandage or apply adhesive tape over a layer of foam underwrap. This is often appropriate for tape jobs aimed at compression of a soft tissue injury, but some stabilisation and correction techniques may require the tape to anchor directly to the body.
If you decide that worrying about all this is for wimps and that you’re going to wet shave anyway, there are still some steps you can take to avoid or reduce problems:
- Give you skin a chance to calm down by shaving 24-48 hours before applying the tape
- Keep the shave smooth and easy by doing it when when the skin and hair is warm and wet (ideally during a bath or shower)
- Avoid pulling, snagging and plucking by first trimming the hair short with an electric shaver
- Protect your skin with a base layer of hypoallergenic tape such as Hypafix
Apart from shaving or trimming, there are several other preparatory steps to ensure optimum adhesion for sports tape and we will cover these in an upcoming post. Until then, happy taping!