The meticulous guide to judging a tattoo studio’s hygiene standards

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With the rise in popularity of tattoos, we find ourselves with an over saturation of tattooists in our country. Emphasis predominantly given to how good the tattoo looks, and now with that being said, there is another aspect to tattooing that has always been shadowed by the artist’s work.

I’m talking about basic cleanliness and the importance of it in tattoo studios. About Hygiene. Now there has always been an inherent risk associated with getting tattooed and a huge part of that risk is getting an infection while getting tattooed. A major contributing factor is the level of hygiene in and around the studio you choose to tattoo you.

There are a few important things to make a mental note of, while visiting a tattoo studio and how to ascertain if the studio is safe to get tattooed in. In this article, I’m gonna try to be as meticulous as possible to make sure you know that you’ve made the right choice in getting tattooed by the artist you choose to work with.

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So most tattoo shops have a layout where you have a seating area/consultation area, and there’s a separate section or room where the tattooing process is done. This is important so it’s clearly visible for you as a potential client to checkout the tattooing area without walking into the tattooing space during your consultation. In this way, you would also be able to see how organized the artist is, are used tissues on the ground, are ink bottles scattered in different places, are designs on paper piled up, is the tattooing area collecting debris… these are all indicators for you on how professional the artist is.

When you enter a studio, ask yourself what’s your initial impression of the tattoo studio? Does it smell pleasant or is there a bad odour in the studio? Check for dust in the corners of the studio, or on the counter; this is important because if dust gets disturbed for whatever reason, it can easily come in contact with your tattoo and infect it.

Good tattoo studios usually have tiling or some kind of polish-able surface on the floor that’s easy to wipe up and doesn’t absorb liquid, preferably even in the consultation area. Professional studios usually clean up every single day when they come in and at night when it’s time to close shop. 

Check the furniture if it is clean. Is it wiped down? Is there unfinished food lying around? Basic stuff. Most artists will clean up completely with a disinfectant if the space of the studio only permits them to eat close to the tattooing station.

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Now there’s also something to be said about being too direct about this approach, don’t be a health inspector asking your artist if you can check his storage cabinet or his/her work station or whatever within your initial interaction. That is really putting off, and you could insult the artist to the point, where he’s probably thinking you’re a jerk when you question his/her ethics. Be subtle in your approach.

Another good thing to check is the artists’ rest room. Is it clean, or do you see stains all over the walls or hair in the sink? Are there cleaning agents around… and the obvious; is there floaters in the pot?! This is crucial because if the bathroom is dirty you can safely assume that hidden parts of the studio are just as dirty.

So, now if your first impression came off well, your consultation’s done and you’ve fixed a date that’s available to get tattooed, you’re satisfied that the shop is sterile, the artist takes hygiene seriously as far as the shop’s presentation goes, and you come back on the day of your appointment… what’s next?

On the day of your appointment, your artist will have the design prepared. Before the stencil application process, the artist should be wearing gloves at all times. On an average, a professional artist would change at least 3 pairs of gloves depending on situations during the whole duration of the tattooing process. He/she shouldn’t be touching your tattoo with his/her bare hands.

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The area of skin is shaved by either a disposable razor that’s opened in front of you, used and thrown away. Some artists use ustras as they find it shaves better. You should notice the artists’ disposition of the previous razor, how they clean the ustra with green soap (green foam) or a disinfectant and fit a new razor in front of you. This process is done so that you can put your mind at ease that hygiene is top priority.

A liquid solution (stencil stuff or whatever) would be applied by the artist on the area you’re getting tattooed and the stencil applied accordingly, so that the stencil transfers to your skin (this process of stencil application is not a requirement if the design is drawn on you directly by the artist).

Look at your artist’s station setup.

The station should always be cleaned before the setup with a disinfectant, wrapped down with cling wrap or a tattoo bib of some sort.

Professional artists never use those metal cap holders, they look like little trays to set their caps in it. Honestly, it’s just a block of bacteria, ink would just splash around all over it while tattooing, and disinfecting those are near to impossible.

Petroleum jelly, or some kind or a substitute such as A&D is usually put on the station using a disposable ice cream stick. These days, everything apart from the power supply, clip cord, foot pedal (if used) and machine should be disposable. Also, while we’re on the topic, It’s not meant to shoot you it not a gun, if your artist calls his tattoo machine a gun, get out of there!

The clip cord should always be covered with a sleeve/cover as it could drag in the tattoo while the artist is tattooing you. The knob on the power supply should be taped, if not, a tissue should be used by him/her to regulate the speed of the machine.

The machine is usually wrapped up with cohesive tape, if not wiped down with a disinfectant depending on the kind of machine before a tattoo, to prevent contamination. Most artists prefer using disposable grips.

The squeezy bottle or spray the artist uses should also be wrapped or covered. The needle should be opened in front of you. It’s a practice of most artists. Ink bottles should always be held with a tissue paper, shook and poured without touching the caps placed on the setup.

If the artist has a cold, he should be wearing a surgical mask so that he doesn’t sneeze into your fresh tattoo. Even before getting tattooed, it’s important for an artist to wipe down the chair/bed and the arm rest, if required, that you’re gonna be seated on/resting on, even if it’s been done earlier on.

Now there’s something to be said about an artist that’s OCD about this entire process. It just shows his/her professionalism. Professional artists are always aware about cross contamination from the equipment/artist to the client and visa versa. Blood born pathogens are a real risk while getting tattooed, and choosing your artist is the first measure of prevention that you have complete control over.

I hope this article has helped you with making the right choice when you consider getting your next tattoo.


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