MASON CITY, Iowa – Local tattoo artists and public health workers want to get the word out that, while there are many reputable tattoo and piercing shops doing business, there are also plenty of suspicious ones. People are still doing body modifications out of their homes and garages without licenses.
“We get calls, not regularly, but several times a year where somebody received a tattoo in somebody’s garage, an unlicensed place obviously,” says Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health Environmental Health Manager, Brain Hanft.
He says, that’s a problem. Tattoo’s and piercings are nothing to mess around with, and one shop owner would agree.
“Hepatitis is one of the biggest things that you can contract from getting a bad tattoo or getting a tattoo in a less than ideal clean area,” says River City Tattoo Owner, Brad Duckert.
Another more common risk, is infection. When Hanft gets a call from someone who’s received a bad tattoo, he checks it out. What he finds can be alarming.
“Instead of using a steam sterilizer and autoclave for the equipment, we’ve investigated cases where somebody’s trying to sterilize their needles in a pizza oven, maybe they’re making homemade needles, maybe they are getting their ink out of ballpoint pens,” says Hanft.
All of which can lead to scary health complications. Duckert and his team tell us, they take pride in what they do, and they do it right. An inspection on Thursday proved that. He says folks often tattoo in an unlicensed facility because they want to learn the trade, but, that’s definitely not the way to do it.
“In order to do it right, you really need to go through an apprenticeship. In an apprenticeship, you sit down with an artist for anywhere from six months to two years and with somebody who knows what they’re doing teaches you the steps. People who don’t have an apprenticeship are typically the people that are doing it out of their garages or tattooing out of their homes,” says Duckert.
When going in for your next tattoo or piercing, how do you make sure you’re in a good place?
“If I’m a consuming public, I want to make sure if I’m going into the shop, no matter where I’m at, I make sure that they have a license hanging on the wall. Not only for the artist, but also for the facility,” says Hanft.
If they’re (license) not hanging up, ask to see them. Duckert says, pay special attention to how your artist sets up.
“Watch your artist do the set up. Make sure you know that he is using an individually packaged needle, and make sure that you see him pouring the ink,” says Duckert.
He says if any red flags come up, never be afraid to stop the process if you have questions or concerns.
These two are also fighting for stricter piercing laws. Right now, piercing is regulated by the county, not the state. Cerro Gordo is the only county in Iowa to have body piercing rules, so they are advocating for statewide laws. According to Hanft, they should have to follow the same rules as tattoo shops when it comes to a sterile environment.
“Both on the public health side, and the industry side of things, we’re really stressing the need for body piercing rules. We’re looking statewide at addressing some of these regulations,” says Hanft.
Those rules could dictate who does piercings and where, as well as sanitation.