What to Look for in a Sanitary Shop Environment

The current popularity of tattooing and body piercing has also brought on an increase in potentially hazardous conditions. RAB regulars have begun posting information on unsanitary practices.

For this reason, I am posting the following guideline of what to look out for (in this situation, “artist” refers to both tattooists and piercers):

  • Lighting: The area must be well-lit so the artist can see what s/he is doing.
  • Counter and floor space should be lightly colored, preferably white so dirt shows up easier.
  • The spray bottle the artist uses on your skin should be disinfected between customers, or some kind of protective film such as Saran Wrap should be used.
  • Disposing needles: All needles must be either discarded after EACH use (or at least with each new customer), or autoclaved. Many body piercers operate out of small booths and may not have spent money for an autoclave, in which they MUST dispose of each needle. NO EXCEPTIONS. Reusing piercing needles is equivalent to sharing IV drugs with strangers.
  • Needles touching other things: The needles, once open from their sanitary packages, must not be placed on un-sanitized surfaces. The piercer should NOT set the needle down on the table, or, heaven forbid, DROP THE NEEDLE ON THE FLOOR!!! If this happens, insist they open a new needle.
  • Gloves: The artist must wash their hands prior to putting on their gloves, preferably with an antibacterial/antiseptic solution. Once they put their gloves on, they should not touch anything other than your skin, the needle, and the jewelry. They should not be filling out receipts beforehand, or answering the phone–unless these have been
    wiped clean beforehand.
  • Is there a sink separate from the bathroom sink?
  • Does the artist use a disposable razor when shaving skin?
  • The Speed Stick used as an adhesive for the tattoo pattern should not be directly applied to the skin, but applied first to a tissue which can then be used on the skin.
  • Autoclaves should be inspected regularly
  • Sterile materials should be stored in sealed containers away from things that could cause body fluids or ink to splash on them
  • The palate that holds the ink caps should be covered with Saran Wrap
  • After tattooing, the ink caps should be discarded and the ink not reused or poured back into the bottles

Be particularly wary of “outdoor fair booths.” While many are run by caring, experienced artists, these booths allow fly-by-night operators to make some fast money and disappear. If you don’t know the artist, spend time watching them work on others first. Are they reusing needles? Do they use needles that have dropped on the ground?

If you see any unsanitary conditions that are particularly alarming, post them to RAB (better yet–email me or Aardvark for the Piercing FAQ)! If you feel uncomfortable “naming names,” then withhold the specifics for private email. It is each customer’s right to guard against getting a contamination. Worse, If you have had more than one tattoo or pierce within several months, it will be difficult for you to prove WHICH artist was responsible!