Red Velvet Lines
Greeting Earthlings. My name's your, what's Sweeve?
Welcome back to another installment of "an apprentice rambles" here at Speakeasy Tattoo.
As tattoo artists, we are literal slingers of blood.
Recently, I had to go through the Los Angeles County Bloodborne Pathogen class and certification test. Students learn what to do if there is blood exposure, what hazards are associated with working in an industry where you’re exposed to blood, and cross-contamination. This is something all legitimate tattoo artists must do in order to get a license to practice the art of tattooing and must annually repeat the process.
Tattooing is an invasive procedure and poses a risk to the customer and the artist to a range of pathogens from Hepatitis B to HIV.
This brings to mind some things that you, as a customer, should be aware of and to look for that are sure indications of whether or not a shop is reputable and whether or not you should trust a tattoo artist to stab you with needles.
One of the most obvious, especially in the times of COVID, is whether or not a tattoo artist is washing his or her hands. Seems obvious, right? You'd be surprised....
Look around. Is it clean? Or do you see a week's worth of grime on a cheap linoleum floor? Is the floor shag carpet? Good god tell me the floor isn't shag carpet! Tattoo furniture should not be made of cloth fabric. It needs to be a wipeable material like leather or synthetic leather to make the surface easy and quick to clean.
This image of Cap Coleman is one of my favorite images. A master and pioneer of Tattoo art in crisp detail in beautiful color. But! At the same time, this image gives me the heebie jeebies. What is especially interesting is the sign next to the sailor's arm that clearly states that all tattoos are done within safe and sanitary regulations, so the sanitary nature wasn't unknown at that point, but the level of precautions were a bit different....
Something else that seems like it should be obvious is gloves, but again, you'd be shocked. Not just in the days of Cap Coleman, but even today you can routinely see people proudly posting themselves on instagram, pinterest, ticktogram, twit tock, snappr or whatever social media nonsense you use, tattooing without gloves. Rubber gloves should be worn at any point the tattoo machine or tattoo artist is touching your skin. Any contact with the tattoo area should have a safety barrier between them at all times. It is not uncommon for a tattoo artist to take breaks during the process, but should switch to a new clean pair of rubber gloves each time. Depending on the size of your tattoo and the length of time it takes to complete, your tattoo artist will change gloves multiple times. Medical gloves should also be worn before tattooing starts if the artist is drawing or stenciling on your skin. If there is one thing about tattooing, it is that there is a LOT of waste. If your tattoo artist isnt filling up a safe waste bin with NUMEROUS gloves, you have some concerns to think about. Any time ANYTHING is touched that doesnt have a sanitary barrier, including ink bottles, phones, lights, gloves MUST be removed and changed out for a fresh pair.
It is not uncommon for a tattoo artist to have his or her station partially set-up before the time of your appointment. This is simply a time-saving measure in order to not waste the clients time with the laborious process of covering everything with sterile protection. With that said, however, a tattoo artist should NEVER have their needles set up prior to the client's presence. Long gone are the days of reusing needles (yes, it was once commonplace). Every needle is single use in a sealed, sterile package. If you, as the client, did not see the needle come out of a sealed sterile package, assume it isn't sterile and by all means feel free to ask that you can visually observe a new needle that DOES come from a sealed and sterile package.
When it comes to grips / tubes, many artists have switched over to single-use, disposable tubes. If this is the case, much like the needles, they should be opened in front of the client. With that said, many still use re-usable, stainless tubes and grips. In this case, these MUST be cleaned via autoclave. Every shop should have an autoclave in a separate "clean room" away from where tattoos are performed. If you wish, feel free to see the autoclave. Any reputable tattoo shop should have no problem showing that they are, in fact, a reputable and clean establishment.
You ever done time? You ever needed a lawyer? Ever been to a lawyer who doesn't have his degrees proudly displayed only to realize you might be in real danger of doing time for painting your pseudonym on a freeway overpass over the 101 at Mulholland? No? Oh....well.... pretend, I guess. Like any reputable lawyer, a reputable tattoo artist will have his or her credentials on display. These are the aforementioned bloodborne pathogen certification as well as county registration.
Most of this might seem obvious and common sense and, frankly, it is! Any legit shop would consider all of this a no brainer but there is always someone's cousin who can "do it for cheaper in his kitchen." Do they have an autoclave? Are they inspected by the health department? Is their kitchen? Will we be seeing you a few months later looking for a coverup?
In short, use your senses. If something feels off, odds are it is. Don't hesitate to ask questions and if their answers are not to your satisfaction or if you are met with resistance, time to go.
Anyway, not the most interesting blog subject this week, but it is certainly important. It's your body. It's your safety. Dont let it slip!
That's all for this week.
Dont forget to change your clocks!