Course 607 - Tattoo and Body Art Safety

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Reducing Exposure

Risks Associated with Tattooing


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:

  • checking gloves for pinhole tears during tattooing, since petroleum-based ointment erodes latex
  • pouring ink in advance, using clean tissue to open ink bottles during tattooing and preventing nozzles from touching contaminated surfaces
  • patting tubes dry after rinsing during color changes -- never blowing excess water from them
  • spraying liquid soap into a tissue, not directly onto bleeding area, since blood can become airborne when the spray hits it
  • giving pens used for drawing on the skin, which should be medical grade and sterile, to the client
There are several safety precautions specific to tattooing, including gloves and pouring ink in advance.

Safety Measures

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:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often.
  • Inspect hands for cuts or sores and cover them with bandages.
  • Remove hangnails and keep nails short to prevent punctures to gloves.
  • Refrain from tattooing when experiencing lesions, dermatitis or allergic reactions.

Reduce Cross-Contamination


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:

  • A piercer places his tools on a counter that has not been disinfected and then uses the tools for a piercing procedure without sterilizing them.
  • A tattooist, while working on a client, answers the phone without removing her gloves. By not removing her gloves, the artist may spread bacteria and viruses from the gloves onto the phone. Other people using the phone could then be exposed to a disease.

Let’s take a look at some of the preventive practices that may reduce cross-contamination in the body art industry.

Hand washing can get rid of most of the disease-causing organisms on a person’s hands.
Tattoo artists and piercers need to use disposable "single-use" supplies whenever possible.


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.

Hand Washing

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.

Disposable Supplies

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.

Skin Infections Among Tattoo Recipients

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:

  • frequent skin-to-skin contact
  • compromised skin (cuts or abrasions)
  • contaminated items and surfaces
  • lack of cleanliness

Skin Infections Among Tattoo Recipients (Continued)

Pustules resulting from a MRSA skin infection in a tattoo recipient: Ohio, 2005

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.

Disinfecting Surfaces

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 Tools and Equipment

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

Sterilization machines must be regularly tested and serviced.

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.

How to Prepare Skin for a Tattoo

Tattoo Parlor Inspections

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.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. If an artist is exposed to another person’s blood, they should immediately _____.

2. The following are all precautions specific to tattooing, except _____.

3. _____ is the act of spreading bacteria and viruses from one surface to another.

4. Why should tattoo artists wash hands before AND after wearing gloves?

5. When should a tattoo artist disinfect surfaces?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.