Tattoo and Piercing Safety

Topic Overview

Questions on safety standards

If you are thinking about having a tattoo or body piercing, go to a reputable studio. Look for or ask about the following:

  • Is it clean? The entire shop, including the bathroom, should be clean.
  • What type of sterilization procedures does the shop follow? Is there a procedure manual of written standards? Ask to see it.
  • Is an autoclave used to sterilize reusable equipment? An autoclave is a machine that sterilizes using heat. Reusable equipment should be sterilized and stored in sterile bags. The date of sterilization should be clearly visible on the bags.
  • How are instruments that cannot be sterilized handled? Make sure that instruments or supplies that can't be sterilized using an autoclave are disinfected after every use with a commercial disinfectant or bleach solution.
  • Are sterile needles used for piercing? Needles should be stored in sterilized packages, only used once, and disposed of in safety containers.
  • What type of training does the person doing the tattooing or piercing have?
  • Does the person doing the tattoo or piercing wear gloves? A fresh pair of gloves should be used for each procedure. Make sure that the operator washes his or her hands before putting on the gloves. Ask the operator to change his or her gloves if he or she answers the telephone or does anything else during your procedure.
  • Is a piercing gun used to do the procedure? Do not have any kind of piercing done with a piercing gun. These instruments increase your risk of infection because they cannot be sterilized between procedures.
  • What kind of jewelry is used for the piercing? Only use nonallergenic jewelry. Surgical stainless steel, gold, platinum, niobium, and titanium are the only types of jewelry you should use in a new piercing.
    • Do not use nickel or brass-plated jewelry.
    • Choose jewelry that has not been used or worn or that has been sterilized in an autoclave.

Although the piercing industry is not as well-regulated as the health care industry, some states have hygienic regulations to ensure safe tattooing practices. Check with your city or county health department to find out whether there have been any complaints about the studio you are thinking of using.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised May 3, 2012

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