Tattoo Sanitation

Updated October 31, 2021
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Tattoo Sanitation essay

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The popularity of body art has grown significantly in the 21st century. At least seven out of 10 people born after 1985 have at least one body tattoo. As a result, states have a hard time regulating and keeping pace with this unique art. Ranging from tattooing to body piercings, to body painting, state governments are forced to amend their body art regulations to ensure the practice is conducted safely and that it does not interfere with the activities of other professionals such as dentists and ophthalmologists. These regulations are also aimed at protecting minors (Hepbtalk).

Every state in the US has regulations that regulate body art. Notably, more than 30 states have laws that ban children under 18 years from getting tattoos and piercing without parental guidance. Before one gets into this business, they have to familiarize themselves with state and federal laws that govern it. Some of the ink remains in the dermis and forms the colored tattoo; some of the ink is transported away from the skin via the vascular or lymphatic system; it will end up in other organs or will be excreted. Colored lymph nodes near tattooed areas have been known as a phenomenon for some time (6). To date no studies have been conducted into which organs may be thus affected.(Dtsch Arztebl Int) It is also critical to understand the applicable sanitation codes.

Inadequacy in Checking Sanitation Regulations

Currently, there are few tattoo parlors in the US that one can walk into and be assured that it has a license from the state health department and that the premises are thoroughly checked for safe and sound sanitary conditions. Regrettably, many states have no regulations for sanitation. In fact, in some counties, health officials rarely inspect tattoo parlors at all. For instance, North Carolina finds it challenging to keep pace with the increasing demand and developing trends the want for tattoos. The number of unregulated body art studios is worrying. Such parlors may fail to follow safe practices, thereby exposing their customers to scarring, nerve damage and infections such as Hepatitis C, which is the leading cause of liver cancer in the United States.

For one to be a cosmetologist or barber in states such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, one has to pass various professional tests and be licensed. However, that does not apply to tattoo artists. With many shops around the states, tattoo artists operate with freedom. For example, no law requires them to prove they have satisfactory experience in drawing tattoos. In addition, they do not have to pass tests to acquire licenses. For several years, lawmakers have proposed various laws to regulate the tattoo industry. Many tattoo artists support these proposals as they stand to benefit from a regulated sector. However, such bills barely pass and if executed, do not have any material effect.

In states such as Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York, there have been many cases whereby tattoo artists and body piercers throw away used needles in regular bins. It is shocking that such states do not have regulated tattoo sanitation. Proposed bills are unable to make it out of the House Health Committee. One of the reasons given by the Department of Health in the respective states for poor oversight is the lack of money or staff to inspect tattoo shops. Lack of political will also confirms why little has been done to regulate tattoo sanitation in many states in the United States.

Why Sanitation Codes Are Being Broken

One of the reasons why sanitation codes regarding tattoos are being broken is the reluctance of authorities to follow-up with tattoo parlor owners and ensure they follow the regulations. Furthermore, in most states in the US, no enforcement or disciplinary actions are taken by regulatory authorities against those found in violation of the laws, therefore giving them no reason to use sanitary acts. Also, in regions where the regulations are enforced, actions taken against those in violation are not severe. Specifically, most of them are either set free or given little penalties. As a result, body art specialists are not afraid to break the codes as they are confident that no stiff actions will be taken against them.

Another reason why the sanitation codes are broken is related to “necessity.” Many tattooists state that they lack enough capital to acquire licenses and training fee. As a result, they risk operating their shops illegally so that they can earn money to buy food, pay rent, and provide for their children’s education. Others believe being a tattooist gives one financial security, independence, and freedom from an employer. Lastly, sanitation codes are broken because tattoo clients mostly are either uneducated about safety measures before being tattooed or they are just ignorant. For instance, Winona County, despite public health officials recovering randomly dumped needles, they have not received any tattoo shop related complaint in years. It is little wonder that local authorities consider tattoo related regulations as necessary.

Furthermore, many amateurs run tattoo shops all over the United States, making it hard of state governments to finance enforcement rather than depending on cases being reported. The sanitation codes are also unenforceable against individuals who work from home. One member of the local authorities was interviewed on why the sanitation codes are broken. Reflecting on the relationship between tattoo artists and their customers, he stated, “customers getting tattooed they don’t want share information about their experience with the fear of defaming the tattoo artists (Kass).” He further added, “most clients are recurring customers; thus they have a great relationship with their artists; making it hard to get information from them (Kass).” It is clear that lack of cooperation from clients is a major reason why sanitation codes are broken.

Ways to Fix Sanitation Code Violations

Guidance from the Department of Health

The Department of Health should offer regulatory guidance to local authorities that regulate the piercing and tattooing business. Specifically, it should offer legal assistance in the formulation of bylaws. It should also ensure that local authorities have adopted them and that compliance officers understand what is required of them. Some of the regulations that can be implemented include ensuring that equipment such as needles is either disposed or sterilized after use, tattoo shops are hygienically sound, body fluids cleaned up, jewelry is disinfected, and furniture is sterilized after each operation. Also, there should be no eating or drinking inside the parlors. With such regulations in place, sanitation in tattoo parlors will improve markedly.


Health Department workers should also train tattooists about the risks involved in their work. Focus should be on blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis. Tattoo artists should also take lessons on correct working practices. Considering that there is no formal minimum formal qualification for tattooists and body piercers, Smith (1) emphasizes that an employer is required to provide adequate training to his employees to ensure they can carry out tasks efficiently. Since no formal training is needed for one to become a body piercer or tattooist, local authorities are forced to rely on discourse with newbies to establish their competencies as they work. It is highly recommended that basic first aid training and infection control guidance is given as a unit in tattoo and piercing course.

My Hours

I, Cody Romeo have spent about 15 hours at the tattoo shop Myers Ink. I have learned a lot from my mentor Paul Myers. His fellow workers have also shared their knowledge with me. Throughout my hours at his shop, I have witnessed many sanitation checks by Paul himself. After my research, I learned that sanitation checks are a extremely rare thing so I applaud Paul for keeping up on it. He makes sure they follow procedures that they have learned and only hires artists that have done schooling for tattoos (majority of tattoo schooling is online). The other part of my hours have been doing tattoos of my own. At first on fruits like lemons and honeydew, still practicing my sanitary routine just for habit. After I felt semi-comfortable, I tattooed my step-dad. He had an old stick and poke that I just went over with my gun. I think it’s good for me to learn all of the necessary steps of sanitation at young age and put my practices to work.

Consumer Law

States should also ensure consumers are protected under general consumer law in case anyone is discontented with artwork or terms that they were subjected to while being tattooed. The law should give the consumer the power to sue an artist if the materials used were not of satisfactory quality. In cases where tattooists or body piercers fail to meet consumer requirements, the law should treat it as a breach of contract. Lastly, local authority officers should be tasked with conducting regular checks to ensure that tattoo parlors comply with all the requirements.

Introduction of Penalties

All the states should penalize anyone involved in tattooing or body piercing without proper training and licenses. The penalty should range from monetary fines to a jail term. States should treat such violations as a criminal offense that warrants a felony sentence. Some of the suggested punishments include probation, fines, and a jail term.

Fines. All persons guilty of practicing tattooing and body piercing without a proper license, training, and sanitation should face a fine. The penalties should be imposed according to the level of malfeasance.

Jail or prison. Since practicing unlawful tattooing can endanger one’s life and even lead to death, state laws should provide for possible incarceration for such crimes. Therefore, sentences of less than a year in jail should be executed. Furthermore, felony criminal charges should be imposed on those giving tattoos to minors without their parents’ or guardian’s consent. If such terms are implemented, sanitation code violations cases will reduce significantly.

Probation. Courts in every state should impose a probation period if one is found violating sanitation codes or operating without a license. Some of the conditions that should be stated in the probation include being suspended from running a tattoo shop until one acquires appropriate licensure or pays court fines.


All states should regulate tattooing and body piercing in two ways. Firstly, tattoo and body piercing artists should get a license before working on any client. Secondly, tattoo and piercing parlors should secure a permit before commencing operations. It should also be unlawful for a licensed tattoo artist to give tattoos in unlicensed places such as a client’s home. Further, it should be illegal for a tattoo or piercing parlor to allow anyone who is unauthorized to give a tattoo at their premises. Such rules will enable the US to have responsible tattooists and minimize tattoo-related infections.


Tattoo sanitation regulations need to be followed to the letter. Getting a tattoo involves the use of needles, which means significant health risks are involved. Indeed, blood and other body fluids are trajectories of disease-causing pathogens. As a result, consumers are at risk of contracting diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. That is why when it comes to a tattoo parlor, hygiene importance cannot be overstated. It is up to the artists to keep a clean sanitized atmosphere on their premises. Such practices will enable tattoo artists to build an excellent reputation. When it comes to minors, they should always seek parental advisory. Employers, on the other hand, should ensure all their workers acquire appropriate training and licenses. Local authorities should find ways to enforce tattoo parlors to follow regulations put in place by their respective states. If these suggestions are implemented, all issues regarding tattoo sanitation will be put to an end.

Works Cited

  1. Hepbtalk. “Tattoo Regulation Archives.” Hepatitis B Foundation | Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, www.hepb.org/blog/tag/tattoo-regulation/.
  2. Kass, Dustin. “Should State Regulate ‘Body Art’ Shops?” Winona Daily News, 17 May 2009, www.winonadailynews.com/news/should-state-regulate-body-art-shops/article_78957fd5-74b2-57dc-847c-195a02e6157b.html.
  3. Smith, L. ‘Regulation of Tattooing and Body Piercing Businesses. Standard Not SN/SC/5079.’ London: House of Commons Library (2010).
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5400116/ (Dtsch Arztebl Int)
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