Do tattoo artists ever accidentally tattoo themselves?
August 23, 2016 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Do tattoo artists ever accidentally tattoo themselves?

I am admittedly very unfamiliar with how tattoo machines work. Does the tattoo artist ever accidentally tattoo themselves while preparing the machine with the ink, or removing the needles? It seems like the needles move so quickly that it would be possible to hit your hand while working on awkwardly placed tattoos.

I know that the artists wear gloves, but they're so thin it doesn't seem like they would provide any resistance.

Personal anecdotes welcome!
posted by amicamentis to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's definitely a possibility, but the chances go down as skills go up. A friend of mine (untrained amateur! this does not reflect on trained tattoo artists!) was tattooing my wife and got a small line on her finger because she slipped. My wife always mentions this when talking about that tattoo.
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, professional tattooers do sometimes poke themselves. Professionals are usually aware of what this means: legal requirements vary with locality, but many places require some sort of bloodborne pathogen training or certification. Tattooers tend to proactively get blood tests on a somewhat regular basis because of the general exposure to other people's blood and stuff.

In the case that this is a specific worry of yours, it's not a likely or regular occurrence at any reputable shop.

And in the case you're just curious: if anything, it's a tiny poke in skin or glove -- they do not have hands covered in errant lines or anything :)
posted by so fucking future at 2:33 PM on August 23, 2016

I'm not a tattoo artist, but I have sat for 20+ tattoos and thus spent many hours observing the process.

IMO asking if a tattoo artist ever accidentally tattoos themselves is sort of like asking, "Do surgeons ever accidentally cut themselves?" (A: Sometimes, yeah.) Latex gloves are indeed thin, but they're formidable and flexible enough to serve as the barrier of choice when it comes to preventing the transmission of bloodborne pathogens, which are of much greater concern than mistakenly buzzing yourself with a spot of permanent ink.

When you prepare the machine, you dip the tip into a tiny ink cup and buzz it a few times like so, but when you're doing that, you're already holding the machine just like you would hold a pen. There's a grip separating your hand from where the action is, and it comes to rest right in the dip on the side of your middle finger where a writing instrument would naturally rest -- close enough to the tip that you still have a lot of control over where it goes, but not close enough that you're in danger of inking yourself. You're also constantly cleaning, wiping, and pulling your client's skin taut away from the area being tattooed to prevent skips or bumps as well as daubing on Vaseline to help the needle glide smoothly. All of this helps to minimize the risk to the non-tattooing hand.

This time lapse video will give you a really solid idea of just how safe tattooing can be for the artist.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 2:36 PM on August 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm not a tattooer. I'm the receptionist at a large tattoo shop, though. I took an informal poll of the eight artists in my office. None of them had ever accidentally tattooed themselves. A tattooer at another shop stopped by and I asked him. He said he had seen someone accidentally position the thumb of his non-dominant hand too close to the tattoo needle while he was working on a customer's arm. The needle punctured his glove, but his thumb was not tattooed.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 7:55 PM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

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