By Andrea Arscott, Contributor
Thinking about getting a tattoo? Don’t poo-poo tattoo safety. Make sure you know what to look for in a tattoo parlour, and whatever you do, pick a reputable shop and artist. There’s a risk of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission from using unsterilized tattoo equipment and contaminated ink. So please, don’t get one done from the comfort of an old and tattered La-Z-Boy in the basement of your friend’s place for $50.
Before branding your body with something as permanent as a tattoo, do your research and think long and hard about that fire-eating monster you want stamped onto your skin forever. Consider whether it’s something you’ll grow tired of seeing, and whether it will still look good 20 years from now when your skin is like leather. A tattoo’s not like a fruit roll up that you can just peel off. It’s for life.
Once you’ve made up your mind, investigate. You have the right to walk into any tattoo shop and request a tour before committing. If the artist refuses, you have to wonder why. It may be a sign to walk away.
Ask artists what they do to prevent HIV and Hep C, and ask if they have an autoclave. An autoclave is like a high-powered dishwasher that sanitizes equipment. The heat kills viruses such as HIV and Hep C, as do germicidal sprays or wipes.
If you enter a shop that’s carpeted or has upholstered chairs, turn back and get out of there. These types of materials absorb blood and can’t be cleaned properly. Work surfaces should be smooth: vinyl chairs, linoleum floors, and stainless steel countertops (or anything else that’s easy to wipe or mop). When you’re walking around, look for a business licence, as well as the artists’ licences.
If you see Ink Bob is halfway done tattooing someone, notice if Bob’s wearing gloves. Has he placed a dental bib or saran wrap on the counter with all the necessary tools? Is he using single-use needles, and sharps containers to dispose of dirty needles? Sharing needles is a risky activity and can lead to HIV. Although the tattoo shop has a responsibility to adhere to standards and to follow universal precautions, it’s up to you to protect yourself.
Something as simple as opening a garbage can with a foot pedal can be the difference between an artist spreading Hep C to you or not. Hep C can live on surfaces for up to six weeks, so if the virus is on the lid of a garbage bin that Bob opens with his hand, there could be a low risk of transmission if Bob then touched an open cut on your skin. HIV, on the other hand, dies when it’s exposed to air, so the chances of you getting HIV this way are next to none.
One of the biggest concerns with tattooing is how the ink is handled. If Bob pours the ink into smaller cups, then Bob is likely knowledgeable on prevention procedures. However, if Bob pours the ink back into the larger container instead of throwing it away, then Bob may be trying to save his pennies and is putting lives at risk. The ink could be contaminated with blood and the Hep C virus, which can survive in liquid for up to three weeks. You may be getting more than just a bargain on your tattoo.
Stop HIV and Hep C now. Know how.