More than one in five American adults has a tattoo – and still the federal government doesn't have laws or regulations that require inks to be sterile.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to change that, calling for higher product safety standards in a new report that focuses on 23 confirmed cases of post-tattoo skin infections, most of which took place in New York.
The report's authors say the use of ink that was contaminated either before distribution or just before the actual act of tattooing led to the infections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treats tattoo ink as a cosmetic, and as such, there's no FDA requirement that tattoo ink be sterile.
As the CDC notes, because that ink is injected into a person's skin, that's not a good thing.
Johnny "Bear" Rodriguez is a tattoo artist at Sky High Ink in South Los Angeles. He says he likes things the way they are.
"There are a lot of people doing tattoos [out of] their houses, and a lot of shops are losing money because of that," he said. "But if shops are paying taxes and they've got all their paperwork straight, I don't think [the government] should mess with them."
Rodriguez said the ink that Sky High uses is organic, "very expensive" and comes from big companies – Huck Spaulding and Mithra, to name a couple. He trusts the quality of his ink, and says he focuses more on how customers care for their tattoos.
"Treat it like a cut – a tattoo is a cut," he said. "Just take care of it." Rodriguez said Sky High employees give newly-tattooed folks information on how to take care of their ink: Keep it out of the sun. Try not to sweat on it too much. Stay out of the pool.
The "CDC recommends that ink manufacturers be held to higher product safety standards, which should include production of sterile inks," the report reads. The CDC also recommends that tattoo artists:
1. Avoid using products not intended for use in tattooing.
2. Avoid ink dilution before tattooing; if it's necessary, use sterile water to dilute it.
3. Don't rinse equipment with non-sterile water.
4. Be mindful of hand hygiene during tattooing.
As for its recommendations for consumers, the CDC says:
1. Only use tattoo parlors licensed by local jurisdictions.
2. Request inks that are specifically for tattoos.
3. Ensure that artists are being hygienic.
4. Be aware of the potential for infection after getting a tattoo, and seek medical attention if you have persistent skin problems.
5. Notify the tattoo artist and the FDA if you get a bad reaction.
The CDC has more on body art.
Photo by Jhong Dizon via Flickr Creative Commons.