Just like safe sex isn't about distrusting your partner but about all of their previous partners, so too checking your tattooist for good hygiene doesn't mean you think they have an infection - but how can you be sure of every previous customer?
When you go to get a tattoo you're probably looking to get some beautiful artwork or commemorate an important milestone, not to contract a debilitating and possibly deadly illness. But with poor UK legislation meaning that your tattooist may not have been inspected by the Local Health Authority since it opened - possibly years ago - it is a good idea to know what to look out for.
As the owner of a 5 Star Hygiene and Safety Rated tattoo studio I believe that no-one should ever be at risk from a cosmetic procedure. At present, anyone in the UK can set up a tattoo studio and offer procedures without proper training in either tattooing or hygiene control. As studios are generally only inspected at registration this also means that a tattooist who may have been working under good guidelines 20 or 30 years ago may now be unwittingly out of date and following dangerous practices. So, if you want to know what is safe, read on.
The basic principal here is to look out for cross-contamination. This is where there is the opportunity for blood and plasma from one person to come into contact with another. In tattooing this is vitally important as not only will this blood or plasma come into contact with your tattoo (an open wound) but it will also possibly be even hammered into that open wound with the tattoo needle.
But don’t worry, cross-contamination is relatively easy to spot and even easier to prevent, and as a client there are three simple things you can look out for when checking out your local tattooist.
Whilst your tattooist has their gloves on and they are tattooing you they should not be touching anything that is not disposable or covered with a disposable film. This means no coffee cups, ink bottles or phones and ipads without a disposable plastic cover. If they are doing this with you they have probably done this with the last client and this means that your open tattoo may come into contact with blood or plasma left on that mobile phone from the previous client – and of course all their clients before that!
Tattoo machines cannot be properly sterilized and cleaned so the only way to ensure that there is no cross-contamination is to cover them with a disposable bag or cover that is changed between clients. This is important because all tattooists touch their machines whilst they are tattooing, and this means that again you could come into contact with someone else’s blood and plasma. The same goes for the electrical cord that runs from the machine to the power pack, it should also be covered as should the power pack!
Leather aprons look cool right? Or even better, those ones with the tattooists nickname all over the front. Unfortunately any apron that isn’t either disposable or washed at a high temperature between each and every client is a risk of cross contamination. Of course, wearing no apron at all is also a risk, but thankfully it is more of a risk to the tattooist than to you - Good 5 star Hygiene practise requires the use of a disposable apron that is changed between every client.
Finally, your local authority should be able to provide you with a list of all registered tattoo studios in your area and Nottinghamshire Local Authorities have gone a step further and set up a Hygiene Accreditation Scheme. This scheme assesses a tattoo studio every year and awards them certification for their hygiene and safety practices. Unfortunately however this is a voluntary scheme and most tattoo studios in Nottingham have not taken up the challenge.