The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is encouraging residents to only use permitted tattoo/body piercing establishments when getting tattoos, body art or piercings. Residents are also advised to avoid participating in local tattoo parties where unlicensed activity is common.

Tattoos now enjoy mainstream popularity and permitted tattoo studios and body piercing shops are thriving. Yet, every year many individuals risk exposure to infection and blood-borne diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or MRSA by receiving tattoos from unapproved artists in unsanitary setting such as private homes or apartments.

Tattooing by definition is: an invasive procedure where you are placing dyes or inks into the skin, the epidermis. Using anything but sterile needles or sharps would obviously be a concern of transmitting blood-borne diseases to the recipient.

The biggest concern for public health officials are tattoos performed by unapproved tattoo artists called “scratchers” or in unregulated areas as in the case of tattoo parties.

Tattoo parties are events where an unlicensed person or business provides tattoos for their guests. These events often occur inside homes or hotel rooms using inexperienced artists and they are very popular with minors looking for an inexpensive tattoo without their parent’s consent. These types of unlicensed events are illegal in Ohio County and West Virginia and often take place under unsanitary conditions.

Re-using needles and sharing ink between customers is common in these kinds of parties and sometimes the ink may not be safe for the skin. Unapproved tattoo activity could result in the following complications: allergic reactions such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site, life-threatening skin infections – including MRSA – that could cause redness, swelling, pain and a puss-like drainage, skin problems like bumps (called granulomas) forming around tattoo ink and keloids (raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue) and a host of diseases that can infect the blood, like Tetanus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

Never get tattooed or pierced in someone’s house, apartment or in a hotel room. Only go to permitted, licensed and inspected studios. Before anybody touches you, ask to see the businesses tattoo permit (or if a body piercer their state issued license).  Verify that only new needles are being used and that unused ink is discarded after the tattoo is over. Look to see that your artist washes their hands and sanitizes their work surface prior to starting. They should also be wearing gloves and using protective barriers on equipment and work surfaces while doing your tattoo. When the tattoo is finished, reputable artists will provide you with proper healing instructions. Make sure you follow them to avoid complications.

Nearly 50 percent of West Virginians age 18-30 have a tattoo, according to a recent WVDHHR Study. About half of those individuals have two or more tattoos or “body art’ at a cost of $50.00 to $500.00, depending on the size, detail and location on the body. Extremely large tattoos can cost as much as $5,000.00.

Tattoo Studios and Body Piercers are regulated by both the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. Tattoo establishments must be pre-approved and inspected at least twice a year. Tattoo Studios are subject to strict requirements related to sanitation, record keeping, needle handling, age limitations and sterilization procedures. Every effort is made to ensure no person to person contamination.

Tattoo Studios and Body Piercers are regulated because they generate infectious medical waste sharps, disposable needles, syringes, scalpels and razors. Legal operations welcome the regulation and oversight and post their permits to operate in a highly visible location for the public to view, as required by law.

Most illegal tattooing involves the tattoo of minors. Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and written permission must be given to the artist for their records, as required by law. Most studios will not perform body art on children younger than 16 years of age, even with parental approval. This is because injury rate and infection rates are higher with minors when this type of procedure is performed.

Anyone, who knows of an unlicensed tattooing or body piercing operation, or has received a tattoo or piercing from an unlicensed vendor, should contact the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department at (304) 234-3682.



Skin Infection from a tattoo