Tattooing carries risks of infection and bloodborne disease transmission as well as allergic reactions, prolonged bleeding, swelling, scarring and general discomfort. Existing medical conditions such as allergies, heart disease, diabetes, skin disorders or conditions that affect the immune system may increase the risk of complications from tattooing and body piercing.
If an artist is exposed to another person's blood, the artist should notify the shop owner and immediately seek medical attention. If treatment is needed, it is more likely to be effective if it begins soon after the exposure happens.
Other precautions specific to tattooing include:
Tattoo artists must also take special safety measures regarding their hands. Gloves help prevent disease transmission from bodily fluids, but bacteria thrive in the warm, damp environment they create. This means that artists must:
Cross-contamination is the act of spreading bacteria and viruses from one surface to another. Since bloodborne pathogens can live on objects and surfaces for up to a week, germs could be spread when surfaces are not disinfected the right way or if equipment is not cleaned and sterilized between clients.
Some examples of cross-contamination are:
Let’s take a look at some of the preventive practices that may reduce cross-contamination in the body art industry.
Wash hands before and after wearing disposable gloves. Gloves are always worn while working with equipment and clients, changed when necessary, and are not reused. Gloves should NOT be worn in place of washing your hands.
Tattoo artists and body piercers need to wash their hands often. Hand washing can get rid of most of the disease-causing organisms on a person’s hands. When wearing gloves, heat and moisture build up. This creates the right conditions to allow bacteria to reproduce. To lessen the spread of viruses and bacteria, tattooists and piercers should wash their hands before AND after wearing gloves.
Tattoo artists and piercers need to use disposable "single-use" supplies whenever possible. Disposable supplies, such as pigment caps, razors, rinse cups, and sterilized pre-made needle bars, should be used once and disposed of. The possibility of being exposed to blood while cleaning the devices will be avoided if you use disposable supplies.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), often referred to simply as “staph,” is a type of bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Sometimes, staph can cause an infection. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor and can be treated without antibiotics.
MRSA is transmitted most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else's infection.
MRSA skin infections can occur anywhere, including tattoo parlors. However, some settings have factors that make it easier for MRSA to be transmitted.
These factors are:
The CDC held a study regarding MRSA skin infections among tattoo parlors in Ohio, Kentucky and Vermont.
Let’s take a closer look at the findings. Gloves were reportedly worn by all tattooists in four of the six tattoo parlors, however, the tattooists failed to take other infection-control measures, such as changing gloves between clients and performing appropriate hand hygiene, skin antisepsis, and disinfection of equipment and surfaces.
Five patients reported seeing lesions on the hands of tattooists that were consistent in description with MRSA skin infection. All of the patients interviewed in the Ohio clusters reported receiving their tattoos in public places from tattooists who used homemade tattooing equipment. The equipment consisted of guitar-string tattoo needles and computer ink-jet printer cartridges for dye.
There are several ways a tattoo artist can protect himself and the recipient from MRSA skin infections.
Body artists should disinfect surfaces, such as the client's chair and counter space, between procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of registered disinfectants that are made to kill certain bacteria and viruses. EPA-registered tuberculocidal disinfectants are best for cleaning surfaces contaminated with blood. The germ that causes tuberculosis is one of the most difficult to kill. Any disinfectant that claims to be able to eliminate the tuberculosis germ can also kill HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses. Many disinfectants need to stay on surfaces for a specific amount of time to fully disinfect the surface before being wiped down. The instructions included with the disinfectant should note the amount of time needed to properly disinfect an area.
Reusable tools and equipment should be cleaned and then sterilized to remove viruses and bacteria. Cleaning is the first step in removing viruses and bacteria from equipment. Reusable tools and equipment should first be washed before being sterilized. If washing tools manually, piercers and tattooists should use a brush or similar tool whenever possible. Ultrasonic cleaners work well to clean tools in hard-to-reach places and reduce the amount of time contaminated equipment is handled. Shop employers should check with the owner's manual to be sure the machine is cared for correctly.
Sterilization machines must be regularly tested and serviced. Autoclave machines use steam, pressure, and temperature to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Gauge readings and the color change of indicator strips on autoclave packaging are not reliable ways of ensuring an autoclave is sterilizing correctly. If the machine is not well cared for, it may not reach the conditions needed to sterilize reusable equipment at an acceptable level. Routine spore tests can check if an autoclave is sterilizing correctly. Employers should contact their local health department to find out how often spore tests should be done. The employer should also ensure the autoclave is regularly serviced. The owner's manual should provide information about the maintenance schedule.
North Carolina's, New Hanover County Health Department Inspector, Jeff Suggs, walks us through the inspection process for Tattoo studios and provides insight on just how important it is to choose your studio wisely.
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