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How Safe Is Your Tattoo?

Aug 19, 2008
So you're thinking about getting a tattoo? Most likely your greatest concerns have been focused on what design you're getting and where you are going to have it placed. But have you asked yourself about the potential health risks?

Protecting yourself depends very much upon who does your work and the condition of the shop. In fact, virtually all of the advisories from the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention website (www.cdc.gov) are concerned with the safety of the tattoo artist rather than the recipient. In other words, if he is performing his job effectively and running a clean safe shop, you have very little to worry about. Issues such as the transfer of blood borne pathogens (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, for example) and staph infections should be a non-issue if your tattoo artist is taking proper precautions. It sounds scary, but the good news is, if the artist is protecting himself properly, he is most certainly protecting you as well.

As a customer you need to concern yourself with the transfer of germs and viral pathogens from the equipment or the artist himself and so ask yourself the following questions:
Did he use fresh needles taken from a sealed packet before placing them into the machine (the gun)?
Did he use an autoclave to sterilize any non-disposable hardware he is using on me?
Is he using fresh ink and fresh disposable ink cups?
Does the shop appear clean and convey the professionalism of a doctor's office?
And finally, is he wearing rubber gloves and treating his hands as sterile equipment?

That last question is perhaps the most important, because if he is not adequately protecting himself, you may develop a reasonable suspicion as to how well he is protecting you. Be a stickler! Accept only the best, most safety-oriented care possible. There is no such thing as good enough in the tattoo business. If your artist does not behave professionally, then you would be wise to seek someone who chooses to conduct business in a way that places the well-being of the customer above all else.

Typically, most problems (if any) arise AFTER you leave the shop. Professional tattoo shops are clean, responsible places of business and if customers get bad work, those places of business tend to go out of business. So if you're getting good work from a good artist at a good shop, half of your concerns have probably been addressed. Now it's YOUR job to make sure you protect your new tattoo and your health with some common sense care.

According to one Maryland tattoo artist we contacted, the most important things for a customer to do after he leaves the shop are:
Treat a new tattoo like any other open wound.
After two or three hours remove the bandage wash it often with soap and water.
Apply a thin coat of topical ointment for the next three or four days.
Leave any scabs alone. They are natural a bandage.
Showering is OK, but avoid soaking in tubs, pools, and especially natural bodies of water such as ponds and lakes.
Do not re-bandage the wound. Air flow is helpful.
Do not let tattoo artist wrap your wound in plastic wrap! A proper, sterile, air-permeable bandage is the best environment for your new tattoo.
About the Author
Jonathan Scott has been in the tattoo industry for over 20 years. He is an expert on the application of tattoos and methods for their removal. He serves as the in house expert on tattoo removal at http://www.NuviDerm.com.
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