Coming back from Thanksgiving...
If you’ve already been tattooed, then you will be familiar with much of the content of this article, but for the readers out there considering getting inked at some point in the future, here’s some useful information about the process as well as some of the health risks associated with it.
To start, what is a tattoo?
A tattoo is and image created by the injection of ink just under the epidermis (your outer-most later of skin), which stains your dermis (your second-outer-most layer of skin). The ‘pen’ used during this process pierces your skin anywhere between 50 to 3,000 times per minute as it draws out lines and designs, one tiny dot at a time. Although each of these punctures only goes about a millimeter deep, receiving a tattoo can be quite painful, especially in areas where the skin is close to the underlying bone.
Fun fact: The modern tattoo machine was invented in the 1800’s by Samuel O’Reilly, who took Thomas Edison’s design for the autographic printer (an engraving machine) and modified it for the use we know today.
Because the tattooing process involves stabbing you thousands of times, there is obviously a considerable health threat associated with the transmission of disease and risk of infection. Here are a few things to consider if you are getting your first tattoo, or if you are looking to add more art to your body.
Much of the ordeal of receiving a tattoo is (or at least, is supposed to be) centered on safety. Many materials used to give a person a tattoo are disposable (such as ink cups, gloves, and needles), and therefore are generally safe for you, provided they haven’t fallen on the ground or been contaminated after the tattoo artist opened the packaging. Many tattoo artists are professionals, and therefore take the safety aspect of their job very seriously, but you should make sure that they open sterilized packaging in front of you, and do not hesitate to ask where anything that will be touching you came from and whether it is clean. If you hear anything along the lines of, “ya I normally only use these once but I ran out, so I’m just going to rinse this old one off.” This is a red flag! Stand up for yourself and demand satisfaction! Demand sanitation!
There are some major components of the tattoo artistry that are not reusable (such as the pen’s needle bar and tube) and these features are supposed to be sterilized after each use. No amount of scrubbing, soaking, or rinsing is good enough to clean these parts; there is only one acceptable sterilization method, and that is by autoclave. Autoclaves are used by hospitals to sterilize their reusable materials, and basically combine high heat, high pressure, and steam to kill every organism on the tool. This cleaning process normally takes up to 55 minutes, and is quite trustworthy.
|An example of an autoclave|
To open a tattoo parlor, artists need to complete a health department course on transmission of infectious diseases and pass an exam. However, there are no governing bodies that regulate or inspect tattoo parlors; anyone can get licensed, buy a machine, and start tattooing (which also means that there is no artistic exam or training required in order to become a tattoo artist), so do your research and find a place that is capable of producing the quality of work that you want to have on your body for the rest of your life.
In many places, you may be denied the opportunity to donate blood if you have received a tattoo before, especially if that tattoo is recent. The American Red Cross refuses to take blood from anyone who has been tattooed in the last year. This is because tattooing, however safe, can transfer diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, tuberculosis, and potentially even HIV (though there has not been a documented case of HIV transmission by tattoo needle or other equipment contamination).
Here are some precautions you can take to ensure a safe tattoo experience:
Can I see you autoclave?
What do you re-use and how do you clean it?
Do you [the tattoo artist] wear gloves?
Look around the parlor and see if it’s clean and well kept.
Pay attention to the tattoo artist:
Are they careful?
Do they explain what they are doing?
Did they open the packaged sterilized equipment in front of you?
Do they have holes in their gloves?
How long have they been tattooing?
THINK BEFORE YOU INK!
Feel free to contact columnists at Unleashed
Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:
My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!