The one place you should never go to get a tattoo

Published: May. 12, 2011 at 3:54 PM EDT|Updated: May. 13, 2011 at 2:30 AM EDT
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OXFORD, OH (FOX19) - They're part-time tattooing wannabes called "Scratchers." It's a group of people who have taught themselves the art of "permanent ink." It's growing in popularity and leaving people right here in the Tri-state with more than just a design on their body.

From the beginning, Steve Cupp - the owner of Vertigo Tattoo in Oxford - has been outspoken about safe tattooing practices. He's been creating body art since 1997, but what he's seen grow in popularity lately is just plain shocking.

"You know they will come in with holes in them, puss and all kinds of stuff and they end up hospitalized," said Cupp.

Steve's talking about the aftermath of "scratching."

"As a general rule we'll get five or six clients a week or so they will come through the door with something God awful," said Cupp. "As it grows people think they want to be a part of it and they'll get on the Internet and find a machine and find some needles and with absolutely no training what so ever start trying to tattoo their friends."

This may sound harmless enough in itself, but Scratchers have been coming under serious attack by real tattoo artists because the un-trained practice could be deadly.

"There are tons of infections you can get - Hepatitis A, B and C, there's Staph infection there is MRSA," said Cupp.

Scratchers usually teach themselves how to ink with the help of videos and homemade tattooing equipment, then those Scratchers put their services out there for un-knowing takers.

Alex Cooper became a victim at 16.

"I talked to one of my friends who I went to school with and he got a tattoo from a guy in a house and I didn't know the dangers of it so I got one," said Cooper. "Saran wrap on the kitchen table, no kind of clean substance, basically dry wiping."

"You could be Picasso with a tattoo machine but what your doing is not right," said Doug Paxton, a professional tattoo artist. "It's always been and up and down phenomenon that it will be a fad for a couple of years then it goes up and down its always been that way but these other reason is it's a fast and easy way to make money."

Doug Paxton told us this type of tattooing could literally be the death of a customer if proper health procedures aren't  strictly carried out.

"It's nasty and if it's not taken care of properly, you're going to the hospital or worse," adds Paxton.

So how popular is a tattoo? The Pew Research Center in January of 2007 said 36 percent of 18-25 year olds have at least one tattoo.

"I feel like I was extremely lucky to not have any of that happen like the mesa or any kind of staph infection…really," said Cooper.

Professionals say if you're thinking about getting a tattoo make sure the artist follows strict health and safety precautions with sterilization techniques monitored by health officials.  They say if a studio is run by a professional you're going to see equipment packaged in a protective pouches that remain sealed until it is opened in front of a customer.

Local health departments regulate tattoo studios in many jurisdictions, which should give the person getting a tattoo some piece of mind about health risks but you want to do your homework. Make sure you ask a lot of questions before you decide to let someone put that tattoo design on your body.

Here are some of the question you should ask.

  • What are the laws in your city/state on tattooing?
  • What certifications and/or licenses are required to tattoo legally in your city/state?
  • What is the procedure of operating an autoclave? what temperature must the autoclave reach and for how long?
  • What is a blood-born pathogen and how do you prevent the spread of it, and cross-contamination?
  • How do you thoroughly clean and disinfect needles and tubes before autoclaving?
  • What layer of epidermis of the skin must you not enter to prevent scarring of a tattoo?
  • What is plasma, and what does the leakage of plasma during a tattoo indicate?

These are only a few of the things that are absolutely necessary for a tattoo artist to know, and if you can't answer all of these questions with concise understanding, you are not ready to be a tattoo artist.

Here is the Cincinnati Health Department's Requirements of Operators:

(A) Compliance. All operators of tattoo and/or body piercing services must comply with all provisions of OAC 3701-9-05 and 3701-9-06.

(B) Training and Education. All person(s) involved in the operation that have access to the tattoo and/or body piercing equipment shall have annual training for:

(1) Basic first aid, similar in content to course offered by American Red Cross,

(2) Universal Precautions against blood-borne pathogens that meet requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) specified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1030.

(C)Operator Responsibility. The operator shall be responsible for all persons performing tattooing and/or body piercing within the operator's establishment.

(D) Other Requirements. Any additional requirements requested by the Health Commissioner.

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