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Volume 70, Issue 46, Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Life & Arts

Cleanliness a crucial tattoo consideration

By Tina Marie Macias
The Daily Cougar

Getting a tattoo is a serious decision; the art is permanent and will stay with the person for the rest of their life. Along with choosing a meaningful design, its size and placement, everyone should be well educated in tattoo health and safety.

Although the city has health codes for tattoo parlors, no one enforces them, so it's up to the consumer to be aware of health dangers, tattoo artist Daniel Zorrilla of Sacred Heart, 327 Westheimer Road, said. 

Daniel Zorrilla, a tattoo artist at Sacred Heart Studios, 327 Westheimer Road, said that although there are many regulations for tattoo shops, most shops don't follow them so it is important for consumers to inquire about sanitation procedures before settling on a location.
Blake Whitaker/The Daily Cougar

"You have to be licensed by the Texas Department of Health, but there are a lot of shops that aren't licensed," he said. "There are a lot of places that just do things halfway and do things the way they want, because they're cheaper. There's really no one to make sure they're clean. The health department says it's the job of the police department, and the police department says it's the job of the health department."

Zorrilla said the health department is only concerned about money.

"When I opened up my shop all they asked for was the money," he said. "They didn't want to see my setup; they didn't want to see my autoclave; they didn't want to see (anything). They just wanted to see my money." 

The most important sterilization product is the autoclave. Customers should ask to see the autoclave and its cleaning record to make sure contaminated equipment is not being used.

"A big misconception is that when people go in to get a tattoo, (tattoo artists) show them these packages with their equipment in them, and by seeing a package and the equipment inside the package, they automatically think that it's brand-new because it's inside the sealed package," Zorrilla said. "That is not true at all. We buy those packages empty, and we put our equipment inside of them and seal them."

To make sure that the equipment is clean, the packages should have color change indicators and current dates on them. Always go to a reputable shop, because at bargain shops, there will be dirty equipment, because it is expensive to keep equipment sterile, Zorrilla said.

"There are even some shops here on Westheimer that use bean cookers as a sterilizer," Zorrilla said. "The indicators will change color with high heat, and these people can't afford a sterilizer because it costs about $5,000. So they'll go to the store and buy a $50 crock pot, and they'll make the indicator change color and they'll use this to fool people." 

Zorrilla stresses for consumers to always ask to see the shop's autoclave and lab.

"There should be a separate room away from everything else that has all the biohazard. The biohazard is all your used equipment and dirty stuff," he said. "They should have a biohazard lab and a sterilization lab where everything is sterile and clean. These rooms should be separate from all other work areas."

All bloodborne diseases can be transferred if a shop is using dirty equipment. This includes all sexually transmitted diseases and hepatitis.

According to Scorpion Studios, 1338 B Westheimer Road, make sure the artist pours fresh ink into new disposable ink caps. Under no circumstances should ink that has been poured out or used be poured back into ink bottles. Also, the artist should always wear gloves and anything that is touched should be covered in plastic or barrier film to avoid cross-contamination. 

"Too many shops don't practice this. So what they're doing is while their tattooing on someone and touching that person's tattoo, they're touching their bodily fluids and blood. Then they go on to touch their chair, a handle or their light and it isn't covered in plastic, so when they work on the next person and they touch everything again then they just cross-contaminated. Whatever the person had before them they just gave to that new person," Zorrilla said.

The tattoo artists should spray down the whole area and wrap it in barrier film, and when the next person comes in they should tear it all down and rewrap it, Zorrilla said.

According to Scorpion Studios, always look at tattoo artists' portfolios showing their work to make sure they can create the desired design. Customers should look at line quality and smoothness of blends of color to make sure the artist is reputable. 

As for tattoo maintenance, Zorrilla said different tattoos with different colors and sizes need different maintenance and the tattoo artist should provide this information. Mainly, don't pick or scratch at the tattoo, and moisturize the tattoo as instructed by the artist. 

"Be aware of the bargain. If you're going to pay something cheap you're going to get something cheap, especially on a tattoo that is with you forever," Zorrilla said. "A tattoo that can cost you $20 can cost you several thousand dollars in the end for medical or getting it covered up in the end. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is."

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