It isn’t just about creating a work of art on a living canvas — for most tattoo artists, keeping that canvas healthy is also a major concern.
“We have open wounds with every customer,” said Nick Quinn, co-owner of Black Eagle Tattoo in Kanawha City. “With every tattoo or piercing we open the skin, so they’re definitely open to airborne illnesses, infections and things of that nature.”
Quinn, who has been a professional tattoo artist in the area for 13 years, said he and his colleagues are very conscious of the potential for infection in an industry that draws so much blood. So is the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, which is why it has uploaded a database that tracks the inspections of body art establishments across Kanawha County.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, health officer for the KCHD, said the agency recognized the importance of making inspection information available to consumers online, and wanted anyone seeking a tattoo or piercing in the county to be able to use the KCHD's website as a resource for choosing an establishment.
“Body art is extremely popular,” Gupta said. “Having our inspection reports online will enable our citizens to make informed decisions on where to seek services.”
Shops in Charleston, Cross Lanes, Dunbar, Hansford, Marmet, Nitro, St. Albans and South Charleston are all listed on the site, as well as details of their most recent inspections. Of the 18 shops listed online, none had received violations from KCHD inspectors, and only one, Underground Tattoo in Hansford, did not have recent inspection information available for it.
“As our inspectors are inspecting these places, they will be putting that information online,” Gupta said. “As time goes on, those facilities will have a lot more data to draw from.”
Gupta said the KCHD has been inspecting body art facilities for years, and added that the agency began maintaining a list of restaurant inspections on its site a couple of years ago in the interest of the public.
“We’re going to develop this database as we go forward,” he said. “That's intentional; we don't want our staff to waste time uploading old data — we want them out there collecting new data.”
For Quinn, the database is a step in the right direction for an aspect of the industry he believes is under-regulated.
“This shop has a license — we gained it by getting a business license and undergoing a health inspection. Anyone who works in the shop falls under that umbrella,” Quinn said. “I could hire someone to start tattooing, and they could start tomorrow. There’s literally nothing that is required from an artist. They aren’t required to have any kind of cross-contamination training, so although they're potentially exposed to blood-borne illnesses on a daily basis, there’s no requirement that you know what those are or how to protect yourself against them.”
Quinn said that unlike many states, West Virginia does not require tattoo artists receive cross contamination training, although anyone who performs body piercings must undergo the training. Tattoo artists are also not licensed through the state in the same way cosmetologists or hairdressers are.
“You need all sorts of licensure to cut someone's hair, but I can stab someone repeatedly with a needle while they bleed everywhere, and it doesn't matter,” he said. “I'm sure that many people don’t consider it, and a lot of the shops in the area have been in business long enough that it’s not as much of a concern, but around the country, there are shops that pop up here and there that don’t necessarily follow guidelines.”
Quinn said that although none of his customers have ever contracted an illness, anyone interested in getting a tattoo or piercing should understand the risks involved.
“We have more than the required number of questions on our release forms, and sometimes people don’t even bother answering them, and we have to remind them,”
Quinn said. “It can be pretty scary how open people are to this.”
To view the body art facility inspections for Kanawha County, visit www.kchdwv.org and click on the “Health Inspection Reports” icon.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org