What to look for

09-01-08 – It’s been several weeks since quite a few people (both artists and clients) have made formal complaints to Virginia’s DPOR regarding unlicensed and untrained tattooists and piercers plying their trade in the New River Valley area. It’s still business as usual and nothing has changed. Whatever the good intentions of state authorities entrusted with the public health, they are so far unable to do anything to protect the public from tattooists and piercers who aren’t licensed by the state of Virginia. So lets move on and explore a few things that can decrease a person’s chance of contracting hepatitis and staph, remembering that in the NRV, there are entire tattoo studios staffed by piercers and tattooists who are unlicensed by the state of Virginia.

First of all, and one of the most commonly ignored warning signs, if you walk into a tattoo studio and it looks like a dump, for goodness sake, leave! Get Out! If a studio can’t be bothered to vacum and sweep their floor, if the bathroom is dirty, or if there is no soap in the bathroom, if dust is thick, then what are the chances that the instruments, equipment, and standards of practice are clean? Not very good, of course. Let’s address a couple things that are of no value in helping the prospective client. Periodically we get people who ask us, ” Is everything clean?” If everything wasn’t clean, does anyone really think that the tattoo artist or piercer would actually tell them the truth? Please be realistic. How about this one?, “Do you use autoclave sterilization?” Yes, I use autoclave sterilization, but so do the dirtiest tattooists and piercers in the business. You’re just not going to find a shop that doesn’t use autoclave sterilization anymore. It’s not usually the lack of autoclave sterilization that is the problem. It’s the cross contamination that occurs after sterilization that’s the issue. But if you’re going to ask about autoclave sterilization – then ask them, (or me) to prove they have autoclave sterilization, and to prove that they have their autoclave tested regularly. Now let’s move on to the real nuts and bolts of how germs are transmitted during tattooing and body piercing. Number one, lack of adequate hand washing. A large percentage of tattooists and piercers simply do not wash their hands before, during, or after the procedure. Go in the employee or public rest room of many studios and you’ll often find the soap dispenser empty or non-existant. If there’s no soap, then how could they be washing their hands?
Second, let’s examine cross contamination – what it is, and how it happens. What is it? “The touching of clean to dirty or dirty to clean”. It’s that simple. It happens before, and, or during the tattoo or piercing, and after autoclave sterilization and hand washing(if hand washing even exists). Here’s just two examples of many that I’ve had the misfortune to witness. I’ll give you an example that personally happened to me several years ago at the dentist. I’m having a difficult procedure done that involved some minor bleeding. There is, of course, some minor blood on the latex gloves of my dentist. He adjusts his overhead lamp so as to see better, thereby contaminating both the gloves and the lamp. He continues to work. Without removing his gloves, he opens the drawer to his medication cabinet to administer another injection of lidocaine for additional numbing. He continues to work and once again adjusts the lamp, (same gloves). Without removing or changing his gloves, he picks up his pen and chart to write in my progress notes. Again, he adjusts his lamp, all the while wearing the same gloves. Are you getting the picture? Some amount of my blood had been “cross contaminated” onto everything. And any contaminants that were on the lamp, the pen, the chart, the medication drawer are now on his gloves and into my mouth. This was a licensed dentist whose papers were in order. Make no mistake about it, he had worked in the same manner on the patients before me for years, and he continued to work like this on the patients after me. If a longtime experienced dentist is capable of that severe a lapse in asceptic technique, then what are your chances with a piercer or tattooist who hasn’t fulfilled the pathetic minimum requirement of education by DPOR’s department of cosmetology for tattooists and piercers? Before I move on I’ll give you another example. Several years ago my wife and I were in a tattoo shop in Radford. We were new in the area and so no one in the shop knew us. The owner and his apprentice were tattooing side by side, each with their own client. The apprentice’s tattoo machine needed an adjustment. She hands the machine to the owner; he puts his machine down. He makes the required adjustment to her machine. He hands her machine back to her. He picks his machine back up and resumes tattooing. She resumes tattooing. All this transpired without either of them ever changing their gloves at anytime. They both, of course, had trace blood on their gloves from each client that they were working on. Am I drawing a clear picture? There was a complete cross contamination of body fluids from one client to another. I could feel my stomach churn. Neither of their clients had a clue that anything was wrong. Their happy smiles never left their faces the whole time. And this was a licensed tattooist!
Ideally, you may be able to watch your prospective artist or piercer at work before your appointment. Are they opening drawers, adjusting lamps, or touching containers without barrier control – with gloves that have been contaminated? Did they wash their hands before the procedure and after taking a break when resuming the tattoo? If they didn’t, then it’s probably their regular routine and everything in the room is dirty to some extent. It means they’ll do the same thing with you. Many tattooists and piercers work in private rooms that make it impossible for you to watch. It doesn’t mean they’re hiding something, just that they need privacy and a lack of interruption to do their best work. They may be willing to let you watch though. Here at Rendezvous you can easily watch tattooing and piercing through the glass windows of each room, and of course, everything is directly supervised daily by an R.N. licensed in the state of Virginia. I mentioned the “pathetic minimum requirement” of hours spent in education for the prevention of spreading blood borne pathogens. I regret to tell you that the average time that it takes to fulfill the requirement in Virginia is about thirty minutes a year. That’s not just very sad; but also very dangerous. So please be sure that you have everything on your side that you can.

When I write again I’ll talk about the biggest reason why the best of intentions by tattoo artists and piercers is not enough. It’s the big reason why so many are attracted to our business as an occupation to begin with. It’s called substance abuse.