Part 2: Safety First, Safety First, Safety First!
Any basic human physiology lesson will tell you that the body’s biggest organ, the skin, is its first line of defense against infection. Unfortunately, tattooing involves breaching that barrier hundreds of times with several needles, and deliberately putting a foreign substance underneath. Obviously, this means that a competent tattooist will have, as a foremost concern, the safety of the client.
Even worse than leaving someone with a bad tattoo for the rest of their lives is leaving them with a disease…
Of course, things can go wrong even without infecting your clients with a truly debilitating illness. Simple skin infections are entirely possible. Allergic reactions also can occur, causing the body to reject the tattoo in a very unsightly fashion. These problems will not only be painful for your client, but can also damage the tattoo you spent so much time on. Knowing how to avoid causing these problems will keep you from irreparably damaging your reputation, as well as being your basic responsibility as a tattoo artist.
So how is this done?
The easiest way to avoid an allergic reaction is to test for it before doing any work. Before you work with a first-time client, use a sterile swab and smear some of the inks in an inconspicuous place, such as beneath the arm. The client should develop a minor rash within 15 minutes, if there will be any problem. The most common allergy is to red, because of the chemicals in that particular pigment. The other pigments are very unlikely to cause a reaction, unless a client has particular allergies to rarer metals, such as are found in tattoo inks.
Skin infections are a greater risk, but they can be mitigated by careful use of safety procedures, many of which are the same as those which can be used for more dangerous diseases. In particular, Hepatitis B and C are potentially deadly, incurable diseases of the liver. While any blood-borne illness can be transferred using dirty needles, these are a particular risk because of their permanency, and because they are very durable. Unlike other viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis can last a long time outside the body, and require very thorough cleaning and sterilization to remove completely.
Where do you even begin?
The first thing to take care of is your station. Before and between each and every client you have in your chair, every surface should be wiped down with a surface disinfectant. While your client’s skin might not touch your work table, for instance, you will. Even if you just brush an uncleaned surface, you can transfer germs from it to the client.
Thoroughly wash your hands. You’ll need a sterile, water-resistant, disposable surface, like a dentist’s bib, to lay your tools on, so you aren’t contaminating your work space when you put tools down. In fact, every object you work with will need to be disposable, sterile out of the package, or thoroughly sterilized between uses. Needles will always be disposable and pre-sterilized, for instance. Covering every surface possible is important, and will save on cleanup time later. Disposable covers for chairs, as well as covers or plastic wrap for armrests, are frequently used by conscientious tattooists.
Any reusable, stainless steel components need to go through a two-step process of cleaning. First, they are exposed to an ultrasonic cleaner, which shakes loose even microscopic debris. Then, they must be sterilized in an autoclave, which heats them to a level at which any organism would be destroyed. Anything less than this, every time, with machines and any other reused metal object that touches the client puts the client, and therefore your business, at risk.
In my bestselling course, Elite Tattoo Pro I cover not only how to tattoo SAFELY, but also how to…
- Setup your tattoo machines correctly, quickly, and with the right needles
- How to safely sanitize and sterilize your equipment, what to do and NOT to do!
- I share the Elite Tattoo Artist “Code of Ethics” that any SERIOUS tattoo artist should follow
- Secret methods for practicing tattooing, without hurting yourself or others!
- All the above plus all the fundamental techniques of tattooing, shading and coloring, PLUS over 120+ online videos!
Once you’ve got your safety procedures covered, it’s time to move on to choosing the right tools for your artistry…
Primary among these is the tattoo machine. There are several types and materials to choose from. Tattoo machines will be the subject of the next part in this email series. It is the first real step toward defining yourself as an individual tattooist.
We will cover that in the next few days! Be on the lookout for it!
Brendan Jackson is not only a fine tattoo artist, but is also a huge lover of everything to do with the art and history of tattoos. He is the founder of Tattooing101.com, and also the creator of the bestselling tattooing course, Elite Tattoo Pro.