December 31, 2010
Tattoo shops would welcome industry regulation
As local tattoo artist Kent McKnight injected ink into a customer’s arm last week with a needle, he lamented the lack of industry regulations and stressed the importance of knowing what to look for when getting a tattoo.
McKnight is one of several local tattoo artists who think the business should be regulated.
County health officials dismissed the idea of regulating the tattoo industry at a Health Committee meeting in early December. A recent complaint of an infection stemming from a local tattoo parlor sparked the debate.
Statewide, the industry does not require any licensing but some counties have implemented their own regulations. In the meantime, state rules are in the works, expected to come out next year.
In the absence of regulations, McKnight and other artists urge customers to educate themselves about the safest tattoo practices.
Tattoo artist Gregg Cuthbert, of the Body Shop on Groton Avenue, walked through his shop last week, pointing to sterilized countertops and surfaces where tattooing takes place, saying he ensures the environment is clean at all times. An autoclave sterilizes clamps and tubes used for piercing and tattooing, needles are always new and taken from sealed packages, and ink is never re-used, Cuthbert said.
Certificates line the wall of the shop, demonstrating that the artist went through health care training on blood-borne pathogens.
Cuthbert said he would rather the industry be banned completely in the county than continue unregulated.
Cuthbert said the potential risks from having a tattoo done incorrectly are so great that he would rather have to set up shop elsewhere than have businesses continue to expose clients to the dangers of infections such as Hepatitis C or staph infections.
McKnight, who tattoos at Sacred Art tattoo shop on Main Street in Cortland, said prospective customers must look out for their health.
The reported infection did not stem from either Sacred Art or the Body Shop.
“Make sure the place is clean and know what to look for,” McKnight said.
The autoclave should be tested monthly, said McKnight.
McKnight said this is done by a mold spore test, which is sent to an independent lab that determines the autoclave is reaching high enough temperatures to fully kill the spores. This monthly test determines the machine is 100 percent functional.
In addition, the floors and surfaces should be clean and there should not be animals in the shop, he said. Stencils should be used to avoid free-handing art directly on the body. Customers should ask to see examples of the artist’s work and should question the artist about how the sterilization of equipment is guaranteed, he said.
McKnight said he has been tattooing for 17 years, originally in Rochester.
State Health Department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said New York is in the process of developing state regulations that are expected to take effect sometime next year.
“The new regulations would give the state statutory authority to establish operating standards and allow it to set fines and penalties for failure to abide by the standards,” Hammond said, adding that until those rules are adopted, the county regulations would apply.
Hammond did not have a list of counties that have adopted regulations.
Local resident Ashley Burch complained of a staphylococcus infection after getting a tattoo in October at a local tattoo shop in Cortland.
A tattoo artist at the shop who did not do Burch’s tattoo, attributed the infection to an allergy to the red dye used in the tattoo, saying allergies to certain pigments are common.
Burch said her doctor told her the infection came from either a dirty needle or exposure to bacteria, not an allergic reaction. Burch said the infection has since cleared but she is continuing periodic blood tests to ensure she is healthy.
The tattoo artist said customers have to properly care for their tattoo after leaving the shop, since it is an open wound and prone to infection.
The Cortland County Health Department said the department called the shop and provided it with literature from the state about healthy practices.
Health Department Director Catherine Feuerherm said the incident is isolated.
“We’ve not had any other reports of infections related to tattoo, which makes it an isolated incident as opposed to a public health problem,” Feuerherm said.
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