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Safety and Health for Tattooists and Piercers

Posted on by Amy Mobley and Everett Lehman

woman with neck tattoosTattooists and piercers work in an industry that is unique in opportunities and challenges. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began visiting tattooing and piercing studios in the 1990s in response to workplace safety and health concerns raised by artists in the industry. Based on these visits and interviews with artists, we found many had concerns about exposures to blood and bloodborne diseases. As a result, we created the NIOSH Body Art Topic Page in 2007 in an effort to clarify how bloodborne pathogen rules and regulations apply to these workers and how artists can lower their risk of contact with blood.

We would like to better meet the needs of tattooists and piercers by addressing other problems or topics of concern among body artists.

Areas of interest include:

  1. Concerns tattooists and piercers may have about their work environment and/or work practices.
  2. Topics or problems artists would like us to address.
  3. What we can do to improve the body art topic page.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

From these suggestions, we hope to better address these problems by more frequently updating our topic page and incorporating a spotlight section called “Get to the point.”

If you would like to learn more about body art, or comment more generally, you may also visit our previous body art blog entry from February 2008.

Amy Mobley, MS, is a Health Communications Specialist in NIOSH’s Industrywide Studies Branch in the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations & Field Studies.

Everett Lehman, MS, MBA, is a supervisory epidemiologist in NIOSH’s Industrywide Studies Branch in the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations & Field Studies.

Posted on by Amy Mobley and Everett LehmanTags

49 comments on “Safety and Health for Tattooists and Piercers”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    One hazard that came to our attention at a state health department is workplace violence, between shops in competition and because of the artists’ affiliations outside of work.

    Lack understanding of use of sterliztion process and equipment involved

    lack of cooperation and consitancy with inspection and undersating of the arts from health departments

    proper disenfactants for shops not bleach.

    Understanding why certain devices should not be used for piericng and tattoo, defernce between our devices and medical these lines are questionable at best

    I agree with the above comment that lack of understanding of the arts from health departments is an issue. As with any occupational group, it is important to understand the culture and workplace dynamics of body artists. Asking the artists directly about their health and safety concerns is a great start to understanding their needs.

    I would be interested in how tattoo artists are affected by hand-arm vibration. Tattoo machines vibrate, and some artists spend many hours holding them without taking regular breaks. I know several artists who complain of arm, shoulder, and back pain.

    There is little to no information available about the health effects that may result from using a tattoo machine. Without knowing much about the vibration frequency of these machines, it is hard to know the possible vibration exposure effects. There is a specific, standard method used to assess the risk of the vibration exposure. The health effects of vibration have been studied in other industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and even dentistry. In general, if the vibration magnitudes are sufficiently high and the major vibration frequencies are below 50 Hertz, it could cause wrist, arm and shoulder discomfort and pain. At higher frequencies, the vibration-induced problems are mainly in the hand and fingers, such as finger tingling, numbness, pain, and white finger. The tattoo machine seems similar to some dental tools and it may generate high frequency vibration. If this is the case, the vibration should not effectively transmit to the arms and shoulder and the arm and shoulder pain might not be directly related to vibration.

    There are other things besides vibration that could contribute to arm and shoulder pain. Many other ergonomic factors such as working postures and applied hand forces could also cause these problems. Keeping the same static hand and arm posture for a long period of time during the tattoo machine operation on a daily base could also cause the problems. Back pain is more likely related to posture and working load than vibration.

    If this is something artists are concerned with in their workplace, they can request a Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE), a NIOSH study of a workplace to determine if workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions.

    Based on the information provided, NIOSH responds to an HHE request in one of the following ways:

    a.NIOSH staff responds in writing with helpful information or a referral to a more appropriate agency.
    b.NIOSH staff calls to discuss the problems and how they might be solved.
    c.NIOSH staff visits the workplace. When this happens, they will meet with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the issues. They will tour the workplace. They may review records about exposure and health, interview or survey employees, measure exposures, and do medical testing. These activities may happen during one or more visits. At the end of this evaluation, NIOSH will provide a written report to the employer and to the employee representatives. This can take from a few months to a few years, depending on the type of evaluation.

    To learn more about the NIOSH HHE program or to place a request, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/HHEprogram.html.

    Renguang Dong is a mechanical engineer in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division.

    Another great post.
    Thank you for the information, Its good to see such quality posts.
    Im subscribing to your blog.
    Keep them comming.

    The simplest truth is that whilst the workforce could be in danger of injury, companies are susceptible to being reported to industrial tribunals, specifically when considering the rising number of personal injury solicitors.

    By taking up a few basic procedures it’s uncomplicated for both staff and businesses to improve safety in the workplace.

    This is always good information to have. When I got my tattoo of my dogs on my chest, the man was very clean and I was pleasantly suprised to have not been fearful at all.

    Cleanliness is next to godliness I always say.

    Government agencies need to impose stricter regulation when it comes to the sterilization and sanitizing processes used within the industry. Currently, there are very few laws that regulate how the equipment is cleaned, nor is there enforcement of the few laws that do exist.

    Ya… I totally agree that however, as beautiful as tattoos and body piercings look, they also increase the risk of getting disease, especially blood borne diseases. In addition, the place should be clean as you are at risk of contracting infection if the area where the tattoo or piercing is done is unclean or dirty. You have explained perfect necessary advises which i should shared with my friends too.

    I have noticed here on Long Island that the Tattoo parlors are looking increasingly high-tech and that the equipment handling, at least as far as I have been able to observe, is respectful and hygenic in just about every case I witnessed over the past few months. I also noticed that some parlors have initiated some very involved release forms which supposedly put most of the onus of the tattoo decision and execution on the customer.

    I expect recent regulations have had a lot to do with it, as well public consciousness. I provide a rich amount of information on tattoos and tattooing on my website, [http://tattoomundo.com]

    I only hope people keep reading and learning about what they need to know before proceeding.

    I think people will always cut corners to make a bigger buck..It always happens in most industries then the bad quality hurts the consumers.

    There is an important thing to consider in the ongoing effort to ensure optimum safety and a great experience for anyone who wishes to express themself through either piercing or tattoos.

    That is not to simply force laws and regulation onto studios with substandard practice, but reward the studios who make every effort to ensure their client’s tattoos or piercings are a great experience, and make potiential consumers aware of this recognition.

    Asking the artists directly about their health and safety concerns is a great start to understanding their needs. With the types of transmittable viruses out in the world, one would think there would be some of the most strict safety guidelines set in place.

    While piercing and tattooing are popular, both present definite health risks. Tattoos can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B and C, and theoretically HIV, when proper sterilization and safety procedures are not followed. Body piercing also presents the risk of chronic infection, scarring, hepatitis B and C, tetanus, and skin allergies to the jewelry that is used.

    The health risks of piercings and tattoos include allergic reactions, keloids, a type of scar that forms during healing, infections, etc. To reduce the risks, make sure that the facility is clean, safe and has a good reputation. Proper sterilization of the equipment is important. Be sure to follow the instructions on caring for your skin.

    I just had a idea that may be helpful for Health Inspectors that inspect Tattoo Shops.

    I have worked 17 years as a Tattoo Artist. On Inspections, it would be hard to spot little particles of blood with the eye. And, it also is hard to see with UV light. But here is where my idea comes in: Tattoo Artist use A and D – or petroleum jelly is used – while they are tattooing at first to keep the design from wiping off, so petroleum products are applied. So the A&D and Petroleum jelly is contaminated with blood. And this is all over gloves, as well.

    So if a Health Inspector had a UV light and looked at the work area to look for contamination on surface that may have be touched table tops, power supplies, clip cords, tattoo machines, chairs, light switches and other object to detect blood. So if a petroleum product shows up under the UV light, it is picking up contaminated petroleum mixed with blood. Also with Body Piercings Petroleum products are used during the Piercing process to lube needle before Piercing.

    This is something I thought would be a good tool for Health Inspectors.

    The decision to get a tattoo or piercing is a personal one. We simply want to ensure that the process is safe for everyone, including the tattoo artists and piercers.

    Thanks for posting this write-up. It is always interesting to see what is going on in the world and convergence of tattooing and the government. As tattoos and tattoo shops become more popular there seems to be more people giving the trade a try with lack of respect and knowledge for the history and importance of proper apprenticeships. Many just want the instant gratification of being a tattooer or having a tattoo so places with proper education is crucial for all parties. We have started a tattoo forum where we try to offer/facilitate insight and communication with some of the best tattooers and shops with customers. If you want Amy and Everett you should come join us as well as anyone else interested in progressing tattooing positively and informed. the new forum is called Last Sparrow Tattoo and is at [http://www.lastsparrowtattoo.com]

    I think these steps should be done. Because everyone should now compromise when it comes to your health. A person who is going to get a tattoo must adopt some steps for safety.

    I am a full time tattoo artist and i have been getting sever numbness and tingling in my finger it will last up to two to three days on times i am getting concerned about the effects the vibration of the tattoo machine may be causing is it possible i could be causing nerve damage or causing carpel tunnel do you know of any long term affects this could be causing or dangers i should be aware of i am thinking of getting cilicone grip covers to minimize the amount of vibration transmitted to my fingers. i recomend this for all artist to help minimize finger numbness and tingling becouse this has effected my work and ability to work for several hours any information would be helpfull chris.

    The topic of damage or pain caused by tattoo machine vibration has been raised here in the past. Here is a bit of information that we know from other jobs that face similar problems:

    There doesn’t appear to be much information available about the health effects that may result from using a tattoo machine. The health effects of vibration have been studied in other industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and even dentistry. The tattoo machine seems similar to some dental tools and it may generate high frequency vibration. At higher frequencies, the vibration-induced problems are mainly in the hand and fingers, such as finger tingling, numbness, pain, and white finger.

    This is a topic we are considering investigating further to try to better understand any long-term effects and what tattooists can do to avoid these problems. We’ll be sure to post any additional information or recommendations we are able to provide.

    Renguang Dong, PhD, is a mechanical engineer in the NIOSH Health Effects Laboratory Division.

    First of all, It is not a gun. It is a machine. If you choose to involve yourself in what’s said and goes on within a tattoo shop. Please understand the tool of the trade. A Tattoo MACHINE.

    We have seen and heard these terms used interchangeably but you are correct that “machine” is the more precise term. We have changed all NIOSH references to tattoo “guns” to tattoo “machines” in this blog. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    If you have a blood borne disease it’s probably best to tell the artist before having the tattoo done so he can take the any necessary precautions he might not otherwise, also if you’re new to tattooing you should know that a tattoo is a open wound so you’ll have to make sure it’s clean to avoid infections for a while. I’m getting a tattoo quote done tomorrow tattoo quotes have always been my favorite got three already! Stay safe and happy tattooing!

    Both person receiving the tattoo and the tattoo artist should take precautions, it takes two to tango so be truthful if you have some kind of blood borne disease.

    Though I’m not a tattoo artist I do use a hammer a lot to strike a chisel and the vibrations do cause some discomfort but I’ve found it usually subsides after a few days and it doesn’t always happen.

    Tattooists and piercers should be practicing universal precautions, regardless of whether they know the health status of their client. This will protect both them and their clients.

    Hey Amy,

    Has NIOSH ever investigated ergonomical issues tattoo artists may experience in their work environment and conditions? I’m a MSc student in UBC’s occupational and environmental hygiene program with an interest of doing my ergonomic work site assessment project on tattoo artists.

    Unfortunately there is minimal literature on this work type.

    While minor, compared to occupations more typically associated with vibrations, has anyone studied how the effects of the continual vibration of the tattoo gun? Imagine how long it would take to create a tattoo like the American Eagle displayed on the post on this site: [URL removed].

    As a Professional Bradford Dentist in Canada, it always amazes me when I see someone with a tattoo in their mouth – either on their tongue or gums. Because of the saliva, the ink will wear off and all of it will go into the bloodstream (including any pathogens that may have been on the equipment). Since the inks can be made of heavy metals such as mercury or lead (you may not know since manufacturers do not necessarily have to reveal ingredients), its just not a safe idea to get an oral tattoo.
    Please consider the long-term health risks before making this decision.

    Thanks for sharing the information about the tattooing because tattoing is to dangerous. Some people use effected needle which leads to dangerous diseases

    Thank you for this article. Will definitely keep in mind next time I feel the need to get inked.
    Toby

    Be sure ointment, ink, water and other things must not be returned to a worldwide container after it’s been removed to be used on a client. This is for obvious health reasons. Essentially anything a tattoo artist uses on your should be thrown out and anything with blood on it should be placed in a biohazard container.

    By taking up a few basic procedures it’s uncomplicated for both staff and businesses to improve safety in the workplace.

    We really need to address the workplace safety and health concerns of tattooist and piercers to protect the consumers. I believe stricter regulations should be imposed when it comes to the sterilization and sanitizing processes used within the industry. Thanks for sharing!

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