How to Find a Safe Tattoo Shop

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Find a Safe Tattoo Shop
Find a Safe Tattoo Shop

How to Find a Safe Tattoo Shop. Anytime the skin is pierced there is always a health risk. Before deciding on a tattoo shop or artist, make a preliminary visit to several different tattoo shops. Going to a random shop and artist on the spur of the moment could be the fastest road to an infection, since you haven't had time to determine if the shop and artist are clean and practice safe tattoo procedures.

Ask the tattoo shop owner or manager for a tour. If they are reluctant or flat out refuse, this should set off warning bells that they have something to hide. A clean, respectable shop should never have a problem with you taking a look around. Areas where tattoos are currently being completed, however, may be temporarily off limits because the client may not want people walking through while they're being worked on. Some people, however, don't mind if you take a peek while they're being tattooed, which is a good opportunity to see how an artist operates.

Inquire from the specific artist who will be tattooing you if you can see his work station. Again, if he doesn't want to show you his area prior to tattooing you, then he may also have something to hide, unless he's in the middle of tattooing someone else.

Talk to the shop owner or tattoo artist you are considering at length. Getting to know them better is nice, but it also allows you to ask him questions about the safety and sanitation procedures that are followed. This is especially important when it comes to needles and cleaning practices. Do they use all disposable needles and tubes or do they use an autoclave on re-usable metal tubes? Can you watch them physically remove a new needle from the packaging? What kind of germicidal cleaners do they use between customers? These are just some of the questions you should be concerned with.

Find out if the shop and the artist are required to be licensed by a state office. This will vary depending on what state you are in and can also tell you a lot about how clean a shop must be to get licensed. For example, in Oklahoma, shops and artists are both required to be licensed by the State Department of Health, Consumer Protection Division. Inspectors from the department are required to physically inspect each tattoo shop at least twice a year and anytime there is a complaint made against a shop.

Visit the AAA Tattoo Directory website's regulations by state page to learn about licensing. This is a handy guide to the status of each state, what regulations they must follow and what, if any, state departments are in charge of licensing. You can contact these departments directly to see if a specific shop or artist is licensed and some will even tell you if they've had any complaints.

Contact the state health department, even if they don't handle licensing in your state. You can find phone numbers to these departments on the Internet or start by calling your local Health Department and see if they can give you the correct number to call. If they do the licensing directly, they can answer a lot of your safety questions and if they don't, they may still know about complaints made against certain shops or artists.

Look for current licenses, which should be hung in clear view for both the shop and the artist, if you are in a state that requires them. If you don't see a license posted, ask to see their license and if they can't produce one, they are operating illegally.

Check to see if the tattoo parlor and/or artist are registered with a professional organization. Although it's not required, it could mean the shop and artist are more up-to-date on industry standards and safety issues. However, just because they are not a member does not mean the establishment isn't safe and vice versa.

Tips & Warnings

  • Disposable needle and tube combos are pre-packaged, used once and thrown away.
  • Autoclave sterilization on metal tubes requires logs and regular spore tests to prove everything is sterile. Also make sure the certificate is up-to-date.
  • Make sure the ink is being dispensed into single-use cups or what is commonly referred to as ink caps and that unused inks are disposed of and not reused. This is also true of any water or ointments that are used.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist shaves and disinfects the area of skin being tattooed. Even if there aren't any visible hairs, there are smaller, fine hairs you can't see. Disinfecting can be done with rubbing alcohol and ensures any germs already present have been killed.
  • Find out if the artist has had Hepatitis B vaccinations. If not, it doesn't mean they are unsafe; it's just one less thing you would have to worry about.
  • The AAA Tattoo Directory is a nice guide, but is not always kept current. It is a place to start, but you may have to do more research to find current information for your state.
  • Never get a tattoo from an artist not wearing disposable gloves.
  • Always ask to watch the artist physically remove the needle or needles he will be using on you from the protective pouches, whether they are disposable or autoclaved.
  • An unlicensed shop or artist in a regulated state means they are operating illegally and may not be following all safety procedures, as well as the law.

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