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Looking forward to tattoo business regulations

January 11th, 2008

IONIA – New safety laws passed by the state legislature will make tattoo shops prone to safety checks from county health officials in January of 2009, but some tattoo artists wish those laws would come sooner.

“Any safety laws for tattoo artists are a good thing. It makes the businesses who do take extra precautions and do everything right stand out,” said Hawkins ‘Hawk’ Matthieu, whose new business’ – 5th Ace Tattoo Co. – request for a license was approved 6-3 at Tuesday’s Ionia City Council meeting.

The tattoo parlor will officially open Friday.

“You’re talking about laws that regulate some things that aren’t regulated now. I wish [the laws] were in place right now,” said Matthieu.

In Ionia, there is no current way to monitor whether or not a tattoo parlor is properly maintaining its equipment or following health guidelines.

“The only concern I have is that the tattoo industry isn’t regulated in a sense that before [Jan. 2009] there won’t be a way to establish minimal standards,” said Mayor Dan Balice, who was one of the three dissenters in Tuesday’s vote. “I realize that tattoos have become mainstream and popular, I just think it’d be better if we had something set up to make sure they’re following baseline health standards. But from what I understand, the health department is gearing up for this.”

New regulations would allow county health organizations to routinely visit and verify whether tattoo shops are indeed following health regulations.

“When you do a tattoo, you have to know what you’re doing. You also have to know how to handle customer’s health,” said Angie McClanahan, who owns Playin’ 4 Keeps, a tattoo parlor just outside Ionia. “Appearances aren’t everything in a shop. If you’re sitting down [for a tattoo] and something is being reused or doesn’t come out of a bag, that’s when it’s time to cut if off and leave. You can’t risk your health.”

Although the regulations are still being finalized by state officials, tattoo parlors utilize numerous cleanly methods from sterilization to simple hand washing that keep people’s health in mind.

That’s because if they don’t take extreme care, they could risk a patient’s health.

“There are universal precautions for any place where there’s a potential for contacting blood or body fluids,” said Paul Lewis, supervisor for environmental health for the Ionia County Health Department. “Facilities have to be extremely clean, kept sanitary and the procedures they use must be sanitary. Inspecting will be a prudent thing to do to protect public health.”

Each time a tattoo artist begins printing, he or she is faced with the potential transmission any one of 375 communicable diseases, ranging from common viruses like the flu and cold to serious diseases like hepatitis or AIDS.

Modern tattoo parlors use technology like autoclaves to steam, heat and pressurize equipment to effectively kill any pathogens.

Reusable things like body jewelry have to be sterilized before they are used; most tools for tattoos-drawing come pre-packaged in a sterile environment.

“Before you’re even registered, your shop has to be registered as a medical waste producer with the Department of Environmental Quality,” said McClanahan. “But the reality is that you’re not re-using anything like needles. That stuff gets thrown away right after the tattoo.”

Until these new laws become reality, tattoo shops will continue to monitor their safety techniques without oversight from county health officials.

But, Matthieu said, a proven track record in tattooing – and following through the city licensing procedure, which includes a rigorous background check, fingerprinting, a mug shot and various fees – means a lot.

“A tattoo is the signature of a soul,” said Matthieu, who has more than 20 years of tattooing experience. “When you’re getting one done, it might as well be in a safe, clean environment. I think that give customers piece of mind.”

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