Once upon a time, long ago, we could decorate our bodies in only three ways: clothes, make-up and hair. (Think again … think wa-a-a-ay back!) Today, and for some time, tattoos and piercings have become almost universally accepted. They are no longer exclusive to cute people, sailors, outlaw motorcyclists and people with institutional postal addresses. Your dentist, or law professor, or your shrink are all equally likely to be illustrated men. Or women.
Everywhere you look today there are graffiti on the body of skulls, dragons, demons and angels. There are slogans in Kanji, Maori, Celtic and Latin. There are cacti, bonsai, orchids and stiff winter trees. There are Klingons and Cardassians and they attack ships from the shoulder of Orion. There are lions, tigers and bears; and George Takei who said “Oh my!”
Everything is alright! Finally, here is a form of expression for all of us who have not had time to pass the practice of a musical instrument or to design nude models. You have decided YOLO and you want to try it! Your only concern could be … is it safe,
Probably your artist at Titty Tatt (or any other study of your interest) will wear nitrile gloves, a surgical mask and have you buffered with antiseptic yourself and her area – hopefully. He will use a disposable needle – hopefully. He will have sterilized his equipment in an autoclave – hopefully. These are things you can (arguably) check, and the good reputation of the artist will have some weight, no doubt.
This is where it comes to a real obstacle, however. If you are one of the 21% of Americans practicing some form of tattoo, you may be shocked to find that there is no regulation of the law that requires sterility in tattoo inks! No, not one! The FDA is the oversight agency in this, and they consider the inks as cosmetics, requiring only that the inks receive approval before entering the market. Those ink producers could pee in the ink, just for whistles and giggles, and no one would ever know! Ok, so who cares,
Well, the good news is that the Center for Disease Control is rather worried. In 2012 they published some results. Apparently, there was a “patient zero” in the northern part of New York that contracted an ugly insect called Mycobacterium chelonae, which caused a particular type of infection called NTM (non-tuberculous mycobacterial). Other cases followed and 14 salons were identified as vectors of the disease. It turns out that the bacterium is strong enough, resisting most antibiotics and treatments. Investigations have shown that the artists were not doing anything wrong. Everything and everyone was sterile … but the inks. The backtracking revealed a line of gray Arizona inks as a culprit and the manufacturer was forced to release a recall.
The isolated incident is not so isolated, however, and in a number of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (Oh, yes, it’s an actual periodical!) Reported that 10% of unopened inks contaminated by some form or other little idiots. You can find this information yourself in the New England Journal of Medicine, or by checking the official website of the CDC. In the end the dangers will be addressed, but for now, the patrons of the body limbs are at risk.
So, once you have decided that you can safely spend your life with a tree frog on your left cheek or three turns of barbed wire around your neck, your decision-making process should really consider whether you are willing or not to take the other risks.