Think before you ink: tattoo safety information |

Think before you ink: tattoo safety information

Pam Graber
For the Nevada Appeal

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

Q: How can you tell when a tattoo business is safe?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you are thinking about getting a tattoo, plan to go to a licensed facility (the permit should be displayed) and take time to discuss safety procedures with the artists working at the shop. They should explain all that is done to keep everyone (including themselves) safe and healthy by using sterile needles and razors, washing hands, wearing gloves and keeping surfaces clean and sanitized.

Currently, there are four tattoo establishments, 10 permanent-cosmetic establishments, and one body-piercing establishment permitted in Carson City. (In Nevada, county health regulations for invasive body decoration exist only in Carson City, Washoe County and the Southern Nevada Health District. Businesses outside of these areas may be safe, but are neither regulated nor inspected.)

Health and safety procedures for body artists (people who perform “invasive body decoration”) are regulated by Carson City Health and Human Services. Reputable shops explicitly follow strict safety procedures to protect the clients and the artists. Regulations exist because tattooing involves needles or razors that pierce the skin and the chance of introducing an infection is real.

Invasive body decoration shops are inspected initially, in order to qualify for a health permit, then annually. Requirements for premises detail the color and surface of walls, ceilings and floors (for washability); square footage; ventilation; the absence of animals; hand sinks; waste receptacles and laundry. Other requirements concern sanitation, sterilization, equipment and documentation. Artists must be 18 years old and they must complete training on bloodborne pathogens. Smoking, eating or drinking are prohibited in the area where the invasive body decoration is performed.

Body artists are exposed and hence just as vulnerable to infection as their clients. “Most of the local artists are greatly concerned about their own personal safety as well as that of the clients.” says Neil Fox, inspector and Environmental Health Specialist at CHHS. “They have good sanitation practices.”

Tattoo artists protect themselves when following safe and healthy practices, such as: Using single-use, disposable needles and razors; Safely disposing of used needles and razors; Washing hands before and after using disposable gloves; Cleaning and sterilizing reusable tools and equipment; Frequently cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and work areas.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn consumers that there are risks involved with invasive body decoration, such as:

Infection: Dirty needles can pass infections like hepatitis from one person to another.

Allergies: Allergies to various ink pigments in permanent or temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause problems.

Scarring: Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.

Granulomas: Small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, including particles of tattoo pigment.

MRI complications: People may experience swelling or burning in the tattoo from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This is rare and the discomfort is brief.


The National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) is investigating some fundamental questions about tattoo ink. For example, when tattoos fade, either over time, from sunlight or with the use of laser removal techniques, where does the pigment go?

Researchers at the NCTR are exploring several possibilities:

Perhaps the body cells digest and destroy the ink, just as they rid the body of bacteria and other foreign matter as a defense mechanism.

Sunlight may cause the ink to break down so it is less visible.

Skin cells containing the ink may be killed by sunlight or laser light and ink breakdown products could disperse through the body.

The body’s lymph nodes, shown to be a migration destination for some pigments, may have a filtering function.

Because so much is yet to be learned about tattoo ink, the FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This includes permanent ink as well as temporary henna (which is approved for hair dye).


The FDA urges tattoo consumers to:

• Consider tattoos permanent because removal is expensive, time consuming, and doesn’t always work.

• Do not buy or order online do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. These acid-based products are not FDA-approved and can case bad skin reactions.

• Consult your health care provider – not a tattoo parlor – if you want a tattoo removed. The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery can help you find a doctor with experience in removal.

• Don’t avoid an MRI. If you need one, get it. Inform the radiologist or technician about your tattoo(s) so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

PARENTS: Don’t wait till the last minute to get your children’s immunizations. Schools require proof of vaccinations. Immunizations are offered at Carson City Health and Human Services every Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed for lunch.


In neighboring California, confirmed cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, is now four times that of last year. The five infants who died from it caught it from adults. Infants are not adequately protected by their whooping cough immunizations until they are 6 months old. For this reason, local health officials encourage Tdap boosters for any adult that is in close contact with an infant, as well as regular immunizations for infants and children. Whooping cough boosters for adults and vaccine for infants is available at Carson City Health and Human Services.

On the Web:

• Check out our new website at http://www.get

• Visit us on Facebook.

• Take a quick survey about smoke-free parks and events. The survey is available at s/26GV68W or through our Facebook page.


Carson City Health and Human Services

900 East Long Street, Carson City


Clinic Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., by appointment

CALL: 775-887-2195

Thursday is Immunization Day

HOURS: 8:30-11:30 a.m.; 1-4:30 p.m. No appointment needed

CALL: 775-889-2195

• Pam Graber is the Public Information Officer for Carson City Health and Human Services. Reach her at