Tattoo safety question
February 9, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I found an artist for my first tattoo! I like the artist a lot, we communicate well, and the shop has a good reputation. But is safety something I need to worry about in a well-regarded tattoo shop? And how do I determine for myself if it's a safe place to get needles jammed into my skin?

I've found a lot of varying information online about safety, and most of it boils down to "make sure they use new sterilized needles and wear gloves," or even more generally, "make sure the place looks clean." But is there something more comprehensive I should be on the lookout for? Or are well-established tattoo shops pretty much all good to go?
posted by you're a kitty! to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
They will have you fill out an information sheet at the beginning; any allergies, do you have HIV/hemophilia/etc. IF YOU ANSWER YES TO ANY OF THE QUESTIONS, VERBALLY CONFIRM YOUR CONDITION WITH THE ARTIST. In my experience, they rarely actually read the sheet (I'm allergic to A&D and have had to stop someone from putting A&D ointment on my fresh tattoo multiple times).
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:47 AM on February 9, 2015

Oh, you're going to Deluxe? Don't worry. Deluxe is super reputable and clean and safe. Arguably the best shop in the city.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2015

Deluxe is absolutely reputable and safe. There's nothing you need to worry about there. That said, in general, you want a shop that is clean, where artists change their gloves for various tasks, and where they use sterilized needles, but that pretty much describes most tattoo shops these days. Ideally, you want artists who are formally trained on how to avoid transmitting blood-borne pathogens (and depending on state or local regulations, this may be mandatory).
posted by bedhead at 10:55 AM on February 9, 2015

Most artists set up their work area while you're there (after design consult) - you can observe and ask questions. Maintaining clean practice is a point of pride for artists and they won't be insulted by your questions. But, yes, a reputable shop makes sure that their artists are beyond reproach when it comes to cleanliness.
posted by quince at 11:18 AM on February 9, 2015

If you're a blood donor, here's some info from the Red Cross site:

Wait 12 months after a tattoo if the tattoo was applied in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities. Currently, the only states that DO NOT regulate tattoo facilities are: District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming. This requirement is related to concerns about hepatitis.

A tattoo is acceptable if the tattoo was applied by a state-regulated entity using sterile needles and ink that is not reused. Cosmetic tattoos applied in a licensed establishment in a regulated state using sterile needles and ink that is not reused is acceptable. You should discuss your particular situation with the health historian at the time of donation.
posted by Huck500 at 12:11 PM on February 9, 2015

A warning since you've never had a tattoo before. I got my tattoo at a very reputable place in Michigan and, although I have no allergies at all to anything, had a horrible reaction to something in the ink (the doctors said it was probably the red ink, btw). My ankle and half my lower leg swelled to double its size and the pain was mind-blowing. I was lucky and everything resolved after a fun-filled overnight in the hospital on steroids, but it was frightening and now I'm that person who warns people about it.

Second warning, my daughter wants some ink and her physician told her that because she scars so easily and thickly it will cause any tattoos to look pretty mangy. If you don't have that problem then never mind!

I would talk to my personal doctor before taking the plunge just to be safe and make sure there's nothing in your personal history that could cause you a problem. Better to check than spend a bunch of your hard earned money and ruin a beautiful tattoo or your health.
posted by notaninja at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2015

As a general rule, any place that has people cheering "yay! go there!" is a usually a good place.

That said it's still good to know what to look for in a shop - in case they hire a new staff person, management changes, or any other number of variables shift. I give out a lot of info from CATIE about tattooing (and piercing) because I think they do a good job of explaining what the risks are and what you're looking for in terms of avoiding HCV/HIV and other infections.

A really good artist will be highly invested in giving you an amazing tattoo experience - which means they'll talk to you about their cleaning procedures and how they sterilize/dispose of things and what sort of inspections they have regularly. They'll be happy to explain it all to you because, really, word of mouth is what often drives business. Any artist who acts like you're insulting them when you ask about their procedures is one to definitely avoid.
posted by VioletU at 1:34 PM on February 9, 2015

The answers here are correct, especially the bit about your artist doing the setup in front of you. They'll generally do the prep including ink mixing and the opening of needles in sterile packages as you watch. If they don't, you have every right to ask for it to happen.

If you scar easily I wouldn't take it as a reason not go get inked -- just talk about it with your artist, he'll be experienced with techniques that can reduce scar formation and can alter the design as needed to minimize it (eg, not doing large blocks of black) if necessary.

Deluxe Tattoo is great, definitely one of the best shops in the city. I wouldn't worry a bit about anything bad happening to you there.

Enjoy your ink!
posted by jammer at 8:56 AM on February 10, 2015

Great information everyone, thanks so much. I'm excited!
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:05 AM on February 10, 2015

For the record, I had a lovely experience today with Stephanie White, and she was very happy to answer my questions. Did an absolutely beautiful job and was my kind of perfectionist. Highly recommended.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

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