Cleanliness is godliness
You need to find a clean environment to get your tattoo or piercing. A lot of words like ‘sterile’ and ‘medical’ are used in the body art industry, but unless the entire room, including walls and ceilings are actually wiped down, temperature controls and air filters are installed, and everyone dresses in a hazmat suit, then it’s a clean environment, not medical and not sterile, clean. The tools and jewelry are sterile, but the environment is CLEAN. These are some steps to take to help you find a clean environment.
Ask to see a Blood Borne Pathogens Certification (BBP). This is not a requirement by law and from what we understand does not even exist outside of North America but anyone in North America who is serious about there career as a tattooist or piercer has taken this course at least once. This course trains body artists how to handle blood and prevent cross contamination, the spread of bacteria, amungst a list of other things as long as yer arm (like what is listed below). We feel it is important to have this so ASK TO SEE IT! On our site if an artist is certified it will show up on their profile.
Does your artist wear gloves?
If they don’t, run like your ass just caught fire. Artists should change gloves several times through a procedure to prevent cross-contamination. During piercing, glove changing happens more often than you’d expect. During tattooing, the liquids and jelly used naturally break down gloves, so it’s normal for a tattooist to change their gloves as they do your tattoo. Glove changing protects you and the artist. Like condoms, all gloves are not created equal. Thinner gloves usually break down much quicker and should be changed even more frequently. You don’t want to see rubber gloves you would scrub your toilet with. They should fit the artist properly--not too loose. Doubling up on gloves, like doubling up on condoms, it isn’t going to protect you or the artist any better. The gloves actually break down much quicker when they are doubled up because of the friction of them rubbing against each other. Sometimes the artist might just have on one glove when doing certain tasks, such as organizing a work station, but when they are working on you one glove per hand is what you want to see.
What is cross-contamination and why is it a concern?
Many infectious blood viruses and other harmful bacteria can still thrive once exposed to air, which poses extremely serious health risks to you and the artist. Cross-contamination is when harmful bacteria and/or microorganisms are carried from one object to another – an example, a hand wearing a contaminated glove picks up a clean bottle. The bottle that was just picked now is contaminated. Contaminated items are hazardous, so now that item is carrying possible infections. Disposable covers for surfaces should be on items like wash bottles, tattoo machine cords, and any other items artists may need to touch frequently during your procedure. Non-infected and infected items need to be kept separate, or have a disposable covering and protecting them to ensure they aren’t contaminated.
Do you see bio hazard boxes around? Are they close to work stations?
They should be. Biohazard boxes need to be handy because anything that breaks the skin needs to be disposed of immediately into the biohazard box. Biohazard boxes are used to contain sharp contaminated objects only, including toothpicks, needles, or any other sharp stuff. If a biohazard box it isn’t close to the artist’s work station, they’re going to be walking around with a sharp contaminated object which isn’t safe.
Is there a sink/water source within close walking distance in the tattooing/piercing area?
This gives the artist the opportunity to wash up immediately after their work or when taking a break to help prevent cross-contamination. Every time they remove their gloves, they should wash their hands.
No Pets! Anything not of the human species should not be running around a shop (or swimming, or slithering). Animals are carriers for diseases and don’t belong in a shop for their own safety as well as yours. They can get into a lot of trouble—just one example is garbage bins that contain bloody paper towels. Keep your pets safe, and keep them out of tattoo and piercing shops.
Ultra-WHAT? What is an ultra sonic? What does it do?
An ultra sonic cleans the tools using sound waves that shake and vibrate the liquid inside the machine. This is done after they have been rinsed, scrubbed, rinsed again, disinfected, rinsed again and air-dried. The ultra sonic requires special liquid and each manufacturer has their own specific liquid to use. The motion from the ultra sonic vibrates the tools and releases any debris / bacteria from them. In fact, the waves the ultra sonic creates are so intense that if you were to put a finger in while it was running it would crush all the bones in that finger. Once the items are put into the machine, the lid is put on, and it’s been turned on, it should be left alone to run its cycle. This machine MUST have a draining tube. If it doesn’t then it is a regular jewelry cleaner and not a true ultra sonic.
Do they have an auto clave? Do they have the right auto clave?
The right type of auto clave needs to clean tools with heat and steam. Any other type of auto clave really isn’t for the tattoo industry. There are two styles of auto claves: top-loading and front-loading. Top loaders are great for immediate use of tools. Front loader machines are used for when tools are cleaned and stored for future use. Running items through the auto clave is one of the last steps of equipment sterilization.
What is a spore test? Why is this important?
A spore test is a test done at an outside lab to ensure that the auto clave met the correct temperature to kill all bacteria. A test strip is put in a cycle within the auto clave, and run its course. The strip is then sent to the lab for testing. In certain provinces it is required that a shop does this twice a month. Otherwise, they should be doing it at minimum once a month. More advanced shops will put indicators in every single cycle to ensure that the autoclave reaches proper temperatures every single time it is run. We like these shops! ALL shops should have their most recent spore testing available for you to take a look at upon request.
Dental Bibs – There should be dental bibs on the surfaces of where you are laying down or sitting in to get your tattoo. If you’re getting your arm tattooed, the furniture you are resting your arm on should have a dental bib over it, and the furniture underneath should be wipeable. The chair you’re sitting on doesn’t need a dental bib. Dental bibs are basically there to soak up liquid (i.e. blood). The artist will wipe your body down where you are getting the work down with a disinfectant before they start. Some solutions have a wait time, so they should be following the manufacturer’s wait time where applicable. Their tray or work station where they are resting all the equipment during the procedure should be covered with a dental bib, and the surface underneath should be wipeable.
Furniture, seats, floors – all furniture must be of a material that can be wiped down, such as vinyl, metal, etc. This also applies to work station desktops. If it is fabric or woven cloth, for example, it isn’t suitable for a tattoo or piercing environment. If it can’t be wiped down, it won’t be clean, which doesn’t make for a clean environment. The same principal goes for flooring. Unless it’s a removable rug, the floors should be moppable. Blood drips, people barf, things fall on the floor…shit happens, and it needs to be cleaned up.
Cleaning Solutions - In most regions that have cleaning standards set for tattoo and piercing shops, the solution required for cleaning is usually bleach, which would be considered acceptable by most government authorities. Ask your artist what products they are using, and the benefits of that product. They should be knowledgeable on this topic.
NOTE: These are all preventative measures to keep you and the artist safe. These are the very basics. The more a shop and artist does to ensure a clean environment, the better; and it may cost more to have work done there. There is always a possibility for infection, no matter where you go, but the rule is that your risk for infection decreases the more thorough precautions are taken in a shop. Keep yourself safe, use common sense, and make a healthy decision.