A cleaner inkmage: Pennsylvania ponders tattoo regulations
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 00:10
Pennsylvania’s flourishing tattoo industry might soon see an end to its practice of self-regulation and unmonitored standards of safety and sanitation.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner called for regulation and licensing of the state’s 750 tattoo parlors this week, but area owners have mixed feelings on regulation to the growing industry.
In a letter sent to the general assembly, Wagner called for licensing of all tattoo parlors by the department of health, regular inspections and minimum training for tattoo artists which may possibly include apprenticeships, a requirement that businesses have liability insurance and fines for practices that operate illegally.
“It’s an invasive technique and therefore needs a licensing process. Pennsylvania is really behind the times in this area,” Wagner said, citing the fact that all of the states surrounding Pennsylvania require licensing for tattoo parlors.
According to Limm Griffin, regional director of the Auditor General’s office, this is a “bill of common sense” that should face little disagreement when it’s reviewed in committee before being passed on to the state Senate and House of Representatives.
“The idea is something everyone can agree upon,” Griffin said.
Veronica Ray, owner of South Side Tattoo and Body Piercing on East Carson Street, agreed that the tattoo industry should be regulated. The fact that they are not is surprising to most patrons, especially since businesses such as nail salons, tanning beds and beauty parlors are regulated.
“Nobody asks us what we do here,” Ray said. “There’s nothing that needs to be had to open a tattoo shop.”
According to Ray, South Side Tattoo and the majority of other parlors in Pittsburgh already operate at safe standards without government regulation. Her parlor disposes of needles and paper cups between customers and sterilizes all reusable items in a hospital-grade autoclave that cleans them with gas and heat. In addition, the shop tests monthly for air-borne pathogens, has impervious flooring to avoid chemical absorption and requires all employees to work with clean and gloved hands.
“It does not take a lot to make sure people are safe,” Ray said. “It’s so easy to make sure that everything’s safe that I think you’d have to be really bad not to.”
Sophomore psychology major Tasia Blair was not aware of the lack of regulations or that artists are not required to be licensed or certified. Even though she already has received one tattoo in Pittsburgh, she said she is now wary of going to another tattoo parlor in-state.
“I would just not get one,” Blair said. “If something happened [in PA], I would have less ability to complain about it.”
Jason Lambert, owner of Black Cat Tattoo in Oakland, agreed that tattoo parlors are capable of regulating their own safety standards.
“It’s bad business if you don’t do it,” Lambert said, adding that his shop has high sanitation standards. “I wouldn’t allow someone to work here who didn’t know what they were doing.”
Griffin disagreed that self-regulation is possible.
“It’s one thing to say that and another to have someone contract a serious disease from a place that isn’t regulated,” Griffin said.
Blair agreed, but added that standard regulations would put many customers at ease.
“I think that sounds good, but I could go to a place that doesn’t self-regulate and then why is that my fault that I picked a bad one?” Blair said. “I would feel a lot more comfortable that they were all set to some standards.”
Sophomore physical therapy major Paige Irwin agreed, but questioned how an unregulated industry could not be “chaotic” or “dangerous.” She received her tattoo in New Jersey where shops are state-regulated and, after learning about the lack of restriction in Pennsylvania, is hesitant to get one in-state.
“People assume that they are [regulated],” Irwin said. “If they knew that they weren’t they would change their mind and choose not to get one.”
When regulating tattoo parlors was last attempted in 2003, it was met with resistance from a state-wide coalition of 150 to 175 businesses led by Tim Azinger, owner of Pinnacle Tattoo & MOM Productions in Dormont. The group organized petitions, meetings and contacted state congressmen to oppose the bill, which was eventually discarded, Azinger said.
“Personally, I am against government involvement in tattooing, but the coalition is more of a watchdog group,” Azinger said, stating that its purpose is to keep the public informed about new legislature concerning the tattoo industry.
According to Azinger, the fact that the new legislation originated outside the tattoo industry means that it is unfamiliar with how the business operates.
“When people in the tattoo industry aren’t involved in the legislature, you end up with all these crazy rules and regulations that make it difficult to actually do your job,” Azinger said.
In addition to already operating according to the health standards outlined in Wagner’s proposal, Ray said that South Side Tattoos also ascribes to its employee training regulations by requiring all of its artists to pass the yearly blood borne pathogen exam.