How to Remove Steri-Strips After Surgery

Knowing when it's safe and when to leave them alone

Healing hip replacement wound with steri-strips ready to be removed
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After certain surgeries that require incisions, like hysterectomies, doctors will sometimes apply bandages called Steri-Strips (which are also known as butterfly closures or butterfly stitches). They are applied to hold the superficial part of an incision together during healing.

If you've recently undergone surgery, you may be told to wait until they fall off naturally, or alternately, told to remove them after a certain number of days. If it's the latter, you will want to take a few precautions to prevent reopening the incision and causing an infection.

About Steri-Strips

Steri-Strips are essentially small pieces of tape but ones that cling to the skin better than ordinary tape. They are usually used to close superficial rather than deep incisions. For example, absorbable sutures may be placed to close most of an incision and then Steri-Strips used to hold the superficial layer of skin in place.

From a medical standpoint, Steri-Strips are a wonderful invention. They can hold together small, contoured areas of the body that require an incision until the site heals. They can also reduce the scarring that traditional sutures might produce (called "ladder rung" scars).

The challenging issues are that many people are uncertain about how long they should be left in place. And, once it's time, it can be a struggle to remove them.

Always follow your doctor's orders even if the Steri-Strips are itchy or irritating. If your doctor didn't provide you with specific instructions about when to remove the strips, call the office and avoid making potentially harmful assumptions.

In some cases, a surgeon will apply extra adhesive (such as tincture of benzoin) to ensure the Steri-Strips remain securely in place. If so, they will likely need to be removed in the surgeon's office with an adhesive remover.

How to Remove Steri-Strips

We've all heard that the best way to remove a band-aid is with a speedy, yanking motion. But the same logic does not apply to Steri-Strips. Butterfly stitches are much more adhesive than standard band-aids. If you tug at them forcefully, you will likely do more harm than good.

When it is time to remove your Steri-Strips:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water, cleaning under your nails.
  2. Gently peel each strip from one end, a tiny bit at a time.
  3. While you pull the strip, take your other hand and place your thumb and forefinger on both sides of the incision to keep the skin stable. Do not pinch the skin as this may open wound.
  4. Slowly pull the strip back horizontal to your skin until it reaches the incision point. Do not pull vertically as this increases tension on the skin.
  5. Now repeat the process on the other side. Take your time.
  6. Once complete, pinch both ends of the strip with your fingers and lift gently.
  7. If the strips are scabbed over and adhered to the skin, do not pull. You don't want to remove the scab.
  8. If the strip is stuck, you can take a dampened cotton ball and gently dab the area of adherence. Do not soak the scab as this may cause scab to fall off prematurely. Now, wait 30 seconds and see if you can remove the strip without resistance.
  9. If you cannot remove the strip easily, leave it be. To avoid accidentally snagging the loose ends, take a clean pair of nail scissors and trim them away.

    After Removal

    Once all of the Steri-Strips are removed, gently wash the area with soap and water and pat (don't rub) it dry. If you have patches of dried blood or dead skin, do not remove them; let them fall off themselves.

    Generally speaking, you will want to leave the skin open to the air once the strip is removed. If there is visible oozing, you may need to apply a dressing. Call your doctor if there is any oozing or discharge.

    Make sure to protect the area until it has fully healed, avoiding contact with lotions or clothing which could be irritating. Continue to watch for any signs of infection.

    When Not to Remove

    Rather than removing the strips, it is always an option to simply wait until the strips fall off on their own. In fact, many surgeons will recommend this. Showering and the natural oils of your skin will allow the strips to peel off on their own, usually in about 10 days.

    If you surgeon recommends removing the Steri-Strips, it will usually be on or around the seventh day following the surgery. Even then, it is not necessary to remove the strips, especially if the scabbing around the Steri-Strips looks dense. Waiting will not cause any harm or change the outcome of the wound's appearance.

    If the ends of the Steri-Strips begin to curl simply trim the edges to keep them neat.

    When to Call a Doctor

    If your Steri-Strips come off and the incision opens, see your doctor right away. Reclosing an opened incision can be challenging and, if not done correctly, may result "second intention," a condition in which the open gap will fill in unevenly while healing and cause an unsightly scar. Worse yet, it can lead to an infection.

    If you experience any signs of infection, such as pain, swelling, redness, drainage, or a fever, contact your doctor immediately.

    How to Care for Dissolvable Stitches
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    Article Sources
    • Brunicardi, F. Charles, et al. Schwartz's Principles of Surgery. McGraw-Hill Education, 2014.