Tape Strips in Dermatology Research

A. J. Hughes; S. S. Tawfik; K. P. Baruah; E. A. O'Toole; R. F. L. O'Shaughnessy


The British Journal of Dermatology. 2021;185(1):26-35. 

In This Article


Skin is an accessible organ that can be biopsied with minimal risk to the patient.[1] However, biopsies are not feasible in young children,[2] and the time, pain and inconvenience of biopsies can deter adults.[3] Tape stripping is a less invasive method to obtain skin samples.[4,5] Tape strips (TS) are plastic discs with an adhesive side.[4,5] The adhesive sticks to the skin surface and components of the epidermis adhere to the plastic when removed (Figure 1a).[6] Sequential application allows deeper levels of the stratum corneum (SC) to be accessed with each strip (Figure 1b).[6,7] The technique causes only mild discomfort[8,9] and leaves a temporary red mark (Figure 1c).[6,10] TS require no skin preparation[11] and cause neither bleeding nor scarring.[3,9]

Figure 1.

Images of tape stripping (a) Photographs demonstrating the tape stripping procedure. (1) The TS is placed on the skin and marked with a pen to ensure the same site is used. (2–3) A pressure instrument is used to deliver a standardized pressure to the TS for a specific amount of time (5–10 s). (4) The TS is removed, ideally with forceps and a new TS can be placed on the same site. (b) Illustration showing how sequential layers of the stratum corneum (SC) are removed. (1) The SC is intact when the TS is placed. (2) Superficial components of the epidermis adhere to the first TS and are removed with it. TS 1–4 can be used to detect microbes on the skin surface,28,29,67 lipids/ceramides and superficially expressed proteins and peptides, such as natural moisturizing factor,36,68 proteases60 and some cytokines.34,69 (3) With increasing numbers of TS, deeper layers of the SC are accessed. TS 5–10 can detect structural proteins of the SC such as filaggrin39,40 and secreted soluble proteins such as cytokines.70 (4) After approximately 20 TS the SC has been stripped and the granular layer is accessed. TS 11–20 have the most abundant RNA, and lipids at this level are less likely to be oxidized.43 (c) A red shiny mark indicates that the SC has been completely stripped10,29 and the stratum granulosum accessed, after approximately 20 TS.3

TS were developed to assess the morphology and number of keratinocytes using microscopy[6,12,13] and also used to disrupt the skin barrier in order to study barrier function.[6,14] TS were later used to determine the percutaneous penetration of topically applied drugs.[15] TS have been used to quantify SC protein; initially by weighing individual strips, and then by spectroscopy, which allows more accurate quantification of total protein.[16] Keratins were first detected from TS using sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and Coomassie Blue staining.[17] The advent of antibody-based immunofluorescence allowed the detection of many other proteins.[18]