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What You Should Ask Your Tattoo Artist About Sanitation
True professional tattoo artists, no matter where they are located, take sanitation seriously. This, in my opinion, is what truly separates the professionals from the amateurs and con artists. An artist who takes his or her work to heart will do everything possible to insure that they tattoo you in the safest and cleanest way possible. That doesn't necessarily imply that they will tattoo you with true artistic skill, but at very least, they won't leave you with a tainted tattoo.
1. What Brand of Ink Do You Work With?
There are so many different brands of ink out there, and the ones that are most cost effective, or even the brightest and most vibrant, are not always the most sterile or even sterilized at all.
Interestingly enough, it wasn't until recently that the sterility of tattoo ink was even an issue. The CDC ended up dealing with several customers who had developed complicated dermatological complications after being tattooed in shops that did not use sterile inks. After these incidents, several small studies were conducted and it was found that just about all traditional inks were unsterilized and most of them were not premixed, meaning that artist were also responsible for mixing all of their own colors. The problem with this is that you not only have one source of infection from the unsterilized ink, but then you have another source of infection from any artist who uses anything but reverse osmosis water that has been sterilized itself.
Infections like these can easily become life threatening complications, even if it is rare. It's your choice in the end, but knowing whether or not you're at risk for rashes or worse is definitely worth the investigation.
2. How Do You Sanitize Your Equipment?
This is an extremely important question, as it can make or break your chances of catching bloodborne diseases. There are plenty of amatuer and shop artists who do not properly sanitize their equipment. A lot of this is through lack of education, but as many tattoo apprentices will tell you, there are plenty of artists out there who are either too short handed or too lazy. It happens.
Though when you come in packed with an arsenal of logical and easy to answer questions for your artist before you get inked, you can recognize and get away from any unprofessional artists who aren't using proper sanitation techniques.
Now, when you ask this question, you're checking to make sure that your artist uses as much disposable equipment as possible and, more importantly, that use an autoclave. Make sure that they aren't under the assumption that with enough bleach, everything will die. Yes, there are a very few select methods for sanitizing tattoo equipment without an autoclave (which will talk more about in another article), but few professional and educated tattoo artists use them—they use an autoclave. Thankfully, small but perfectly acceptable autoclaves are available for very little money and it's not hard to become educated on proper usage. So if nothing else, your artist should have one and be able to give you a basic description of they use their autoclave.
3. When Do Your Needles Expire?
Don't ever let any artist get away with telling you they are always getting new needles and don't ever use any past expiration, unless they show you their current stock of needles. It isn't very common that an artist will use expired needles, since they are so affordable to purchase, but it has happened. The bigger deal with this happening is a matter of building trust and respect with your artist more than safety. Though there is obviously still a safety risk here, as a needle that has gone past it's expiration is no longer in a protective package. The whole reason the manufacturers use expiration dates is to prevent any additional sources of infection, something every professional takes seriously.
4. Do You Have a Current Bloodborne Pathogens Certification?
Not only do you want to ask if your artist is educated and certified in the science of preventing bloodborne pathogens, you want to ask to see their certification, even if their state or country doesn't require them to have one. It's an extremely easy and cheap certification to receive, and that education can save your skin and your life. Sadly, it's just as easy to say you have the certification when you don't, so don't let up until they show it to you. Trust me, any professional artist will be proud to show it to you.
5. What Aftercare Instructions Do You Send Your Clients Home With?
This is another important aspect to consider before getting inked, as aftercare is vital to keeping away infection and keeping your tattoo bright and vibrant for as long as possible. There are many methods to aftercare as well, most of which are viable, but some are outdated and not great for protecting your skin or your tattoo.
First and foremost, make sure that you don't walk into a tattoo with an artist who still uses plastic wrap to cover the tattoo once it's completed. This used to be an extremely popular method of tattoo aftercare, because it created a firm barrier against your clothes and anything else you might rub against on your way home. The problem is that researchers have found that the plastic wrap actually increases your risk of getting an infection, because it creates a breeding ground for any bacteria or other pathogens that you may have come into contact with in the studio. And yes, while most professional artists are great about ensuring their studios are pathogen and bacteria free, that doesn't mean every artist is on top of their sanitation game. If one cleaning was missed after the last client went to use their bathroom and that client had any sort of infection, and then you used the bathroom and touched your new tattoo (we all do it!), you could be on the hook for some pretty nasty infections. Then there's the invisible risks you face on the way home. Plastic wrap might create a strong barrier, but it doesn't take long before the plastic loses it's stick and stretch and comes lose before the initial two hours.
The point is it's just not a great method with the knowledge we have now. It may be a small risk, but it's usually the little things that get us into trouble, not the big things. So instead of going home with plastic wrap, find an artist who uses medical grade gauze bandages or another medical grade cover that soaks up the blood, plasma, and other bodily fluids that will follow your tattoo. This will keep your tattoo dry and create less of a breeding ground for infections.
Aside from what your artist wraps your new tattoo with, you also want to find out what they recommend for you to use to keep your tattoo healing at a healthy pace. This isn't so much an issue of safety, as it is an issue of making sure your tattoo still looks new when it heals. A&D is still a popular ointment use in aftercare, but there is much debate about using it, as it tends to draw ink away from a fresh tattoo. That means it's good for healthy healing, not so good for the art. Neosporin is considered a big no-no in the professional world, and is often only used by amateurs, as it definitely draws the ink out of your new tattoo. Lotions are equally looked down on, as they can actually prevent proper healing and dry the skin out too much.
Instead, you want to look for ointments that are specifically created for tattoo aftercare. There are many out there, so make sure you read the labels. That being said, Hemp-Ez Tattoo is highly recommended, as is Tattoo Goo.
Observe Your Artist at Work
Another good preventative measure you can use easily is to watch your artist work, even if it's only for a few minutes. What you're really on the lookout for is to see that they are using proper hand washing, medical grade disposable gloves, new unopened needles, etc.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Momma-Tee on July 20, 2017:
Your comment about lotions is misleading. As long as you use a plain unscented lotion without alcohol, it will be fine. Personally coconut oil works best for me. Everyone's body is different, so what works for one may not work for another.