Tattoos and piercings are a fun and creative way for people to express themselves, but many people do not consider the potential risks associated with getting a tattoo or piercing.
When safety practices are not followed, tattooing increases the risk of getting or passing on Hepatitis C, HIV and other infections. While professional studios and parlours should follow all safety practices, make sure to ask them what they use for equipment and how they clean their tools.
When tattooing or piercing happens outside of a professional environment, like at someone’s home, in prison, or elsewhere, safety practices are almost never followed completely or correctly.
Reusing or sharing tattooing or piercing needles, equipment and ink makes it easier to get Hep C, HIV or skin infections. Hepatitis C is a strong virus, and it can live outside the body and on or in needles, tattoo machines, ink and ink cups and rags for several days. Even if it looks like there is no blood on the item, it can still contain the Hep C virus.
There are different steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting or passing on Hep C, HIV and other infections, such as:
- Use new needles, sterile equipment and fresh ink every time. If for some reason you cannot use new equipment every time, use your own equipment, including ink and ink cups, and do not share them with others. Marking your equipment will make it easier for you to keep track of it
- Use bleach, if you have it, to clean tattooing needles and machines. Full-strength bleach does NOT kill all the Hep C but cuts down the amount of virus in the equipment. It can greatly reduce your risk of HIV too.
- Make your workspace as clean as possible by using bleach or rubbing alcohol to clean your area. The best places are inside and have smooth work surfaces and equipment that can be cleaned easily.
- Make sure to cover you new tattoo with a clean, sterile bandage. If you can’t find a bandage, plastic wrap will work too. You can hold it in place with some masking tape or medical tape. Keep the area covered for a few hours. After that, keep your tattoo and surrounding area clean with a gentle soap and water.
- Use new packaged sterilized medical-grade steel jewelry for piercing where possible. If you can’t, use bleach to clean the jewelry before piercing
- Dispose of needles, pens, razors, ink, ink cups, gloves, cloths and other equipment immediately after the tattoo is done. A sharps container or other bottle with a tight fitting lid (such as a bleach bottle, pop bottle, ice cream container) can be used to dispose of equipment safely
- Drinking or taking drugs before getting a tattoo or piercing can cause you to bleed and feel sick during the process. Try not to do these things before hand.
If you have ever been tattooed outside of a professional setting (at someone’s home, in prison, on the street, etc), consider getting tested for Hep C, Hep B and HIV.
For more information on safer tattooing and piercing:
hepCinfo: Tattoos and Hepatitis C – a great article outlining safer tattooing and piercing practices and Hep C risk
CPHA – information on safer tattooing and piercing