By: Nicole Bayne
People in Richmond have always taken an interest in body modification, but this business boom brings an entirely new set of health risks most do not consider. Shop owners and health department officials are working to tighten the qualifications of tattooing and piercing in an attempt to weed out employees who do not know how to properly sterilize their workplace.
Brian Freda, a tattoo artist at Heart and Soul Tattoo, says the registration process is grueling, yet necessary.
“There are all these qualifications you have to meet. Obviously you have to be a good artist, but you have to take all these tests and there are application and registration fees. You have to study standard aseptic procedures so you understand how diseases are spread, and even after you get registered you can lose your license like that,” said Freda.
Tattoos and exotic piercings are becoming more apparent on men and women, particularly on younger generations in cities and urban areas like Richmond, Virginia. Freda, who has been tattooing for eight years, admits that not everyone applies for certification right away but can still find work. As a result, many people unknowingly buy ink from underqualified artists, which can lead to the spread of deadly blood born pathogens, or BBPs, like hepititus or even AIDS.
“They usually have no idea there was this whole process. I knew you had to wear gloves and stay exceptionally clean and use new needles, but some of the shops I first worked at couldn’t have cared less what I knew. They saw my talent and didn’t care. Honestly, it scared me. I can’t imagine being the cause of someone contracting a serious disease,” said Freda whose boss, Evan Isaacs, considers applicants for months before hiring.
“I attribute each individual’s registration paperwork before I hire anyone,” said Isaacs. “Especially here in Richmond where tattooing is so popular and common, there are very few shops that will hire someone who does not meet the certification requirements.”
These requirements include several tests of proper aseptic practice, meaning the applicant must know how to clean his equipment and sterilize the skin so as not to spread deadly pathogens. Health inspector Tamara Norman of the DPOR makes monthly rounds to tattoo parlors in Richmond to make sure all employees are up to date on cleanliness regulations.
“BBPs can be spread through unsterilized needles, a very important tool needless to say. An unsterilized needle could transfer the HIV to any unwitting client and using the wrong kind of needle on the wrong body part could cause permanent disfigurement,” said Norman.
Even though policies are tightening around how many tests on cleanliness and what sort of knowledge on diseases it takes to become certified, it remains up to the individual interested in body modification to do their own research on parlors around the city and make sure managers are up to date on information. Tattooing and piercing come with risks many people are willing to take, but it is important to select an artist who has solid knowledge of his or her craft and meets any necessary qualifications before letting them permanently modify your body.
“I like tattooing,” says Freda over his drawing pad. “I take it pretty seriously. People need to realize that for most of them the ink is for life, so make sure you know your artist so he doesn’t give you something that could cut it short. There are a lot of things more dangerous than a bad tattoo.”