New Body Art Law Makes Tattooing, Piercing Safer Practices

By | January 17, 2014

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Good news, all you fans of tattoos and piercings: The state of California has enacted a law that will standardize safe practices for body art shops.

But the new law, the Safe Body Art Act (AB 300), won’t change much in Monterey County, California, because local regulations were already in place to protect consumers who seek to decorate their physiques.

In fact, Monterey County appears to be pretty squeaky-clean when it comes to best practices for tattooing and piercing, with local shops advertising a “clean, sterile and safe environment,” to quote one website, and with procedure rooms that look more like part of a doctor’s office than a tattoo parlor.

“Tattoo shops here are surprisingly clean,” said Maria Ferdin, senior environmental health specialist for the Monterey County Health Department. “I’m very impressed with them when I go on inspections.”

Rick Webster, manager of Gold Coast Tattoo in Monterey, California, said the new law comes as no surprise to the local body art community: “There aren’t a lot of changes … for the most part, the law doesn’t affect the true shops, just the fly-by-nighters.”

Tattooing has moved from society’s fringes to being close to a mainstream practice; piercing is not far behind. These days, body art has become simply another way for people to express their individuality. But because the procedures involve penetrating the skin, the new law is necessary to protect consumers.

The Safe Body Art Act addresses not just tattooing and piercing, but also permanent makeup services, done with methods similar to tattooing. Also covered in the law is branding, a procedure in which a brand is applied to the skin to create designs. (The law in its entirety can be read at; click on the Environmental Health link.)

“AB 300 sets minimum standards for everyone in the state. Before, there was just this void,” said Ferdin. Individual counties were free to set their own requirements, but these varied from county to county.

The Safe Body Art Act went into effect July 1, 2012, and sets minimum standards for regulating body art practices throughout the state. Previously, said Ferdin, each local jurisdiction set its own standards for body artists; now, you can go to any county in California and receive similar care while being pierced or tattooed.

Residents who have never set foot inside a body art establishment might have a preconceived notion about how tattoos and piercings are carried out, but the truth is that in the 21st century, body artists are well aware that keeping their clients and themselves healthy is good for business.

Not only must Monterey County body art practitioners take classes in health and safety practices and be registered with the health department, some also are trained in first aid and CPR as well.

Since 2004, said Ferdin, all businesses within the county that provide tattooing, piercing or permanent makeup have been required to undergo annual inspections and have an up-to-date permit from the health department on display in a public area of the shop. Body art practitioners must also be registered with the health department.

Before a procedure can be done, clients must read and sign forms that state that they are at least 18 years old, that they understand the risks associated with the procedure they’re about to undergo, and they will comply with aftercare recommendations to allow their new body art to heal correctly.

Ferdin said that under the new law, all body art practitioners in the state have to display an ID card with their photo at their station, similar to what hairdressers are required to do.

Currently, body artists in Monterey County who want to be registered must show proof of training in the prevention of bloodborne pathogens and disease, a potential hazard that comes with the territory.

Ferdin said that in her inspections, she actually observes piercing or tattooing being carried out, and watches to see how the operator cares for the client, and also how the operator cleans his or her workspace in preparation for the next person.

She notes that operators must wear disposable gloves, which they change frequently to avoid cross-contamination of their workspace. They must also dispose of anything that is contaminated with blood or fluids in a proper way, which includes Q-Tips, gloves, ink wells, and other one-time-use materials, in a biohazard container. Needles and razors must be placed in a sharps container. In addition, all equipment that is to be reused should be sterilized and maintained properly.

This isn’t just for the benefit of the client, but also for the operator, according to a blog for the Centers for Disease Control. “Contact with another person’s blood may expose workers to bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),” write Everett Lehman and Amy Mobley. “These bloodborne pathogens can be dangerous and may cause permanent illness.”

Webster’s feeling is that the new law will stop shoddy and substandard work from occurring, and will be positive for the body art community in general.

“Everyone expects to walk into a professional atmosphere,” he said, and it’s important for clients to do some research when looking for a body artist. Established shops and artists are the best bet.

Ferdin said the easiest way for customers to protect themselves is to look for the body art establishment’s health permit and for the operator’s ID card, and “avoid the garage.”

Interviews with Rick Webster and Maria Ferdin, June 2012

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