The word "safety" should have multiple meanings for you as a tattoo artist. You have to concern yourself with your clients' safety, of course--you have to maintain a sterile work environment, wear gloves when prepping and tattooing, and so much more. But what about protecting yourself? Tattooing safely also means taking precautions to keep yourself out of trouble, both legally and health-wise--precautions like:
- Obtaining and maintaining a license to tattoo, if it's required in your state
- Keeping your shop up to code and clearly displaying your business licenses
- Following OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, not just for your clients, but also to protect yourself and your shop employees
- The US Department of Labor provides a plethora of information on bloodborne pathogen training and OSHA resources, if you need help navigating OSHA's requirements or finding proper educational materials.
- Turning away clients who are intoxicated
- Alcohol is a blood thinner, so there can be excessive bleeding if you tattoo someone who's been drinking. Additionally, tattooing an obviously-intoxicated person could pose a legal issue for you when they sober up and decide you did something terrible to them when they weren't in their right mind.
- Verifying that clients are of legal age
- To learn about each state's stance on tattooing and its requirements pertaining to tattooing minors, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures' article, Tattooing and Body Piercing for Minors. It provides detailed information about what age a minor can be tattooed with parental consent and what citations may be issued if you tattoo a minor below a certain age or over a certain age but without parental consent in each state.
- Having clients sign tattoo release waivers before working on them
- Minimizing hazards to your own health with actions like disposing needles properly in Sharps containers
Tattoo Safety Checklist
The #1 way to protect yourself and your clients is to maintain a sterile work environment. You should treat every tattoo you do the same way a doctor would a medical procedure, which means stocking up on certain supplies to keep your workspace clean, your tools sterilized, and you and your clients happy and healthy. Here's a list of items that you should always have on hand and use in between and during every tattoo you do:
Gloves - Wear them when cleaning/prepping to do a tattoo, and then throw them away, wash your hands with antibacterial soap, and put on a fresh pair before you begin working. Anytime you have to touch something outside of your sterile field, you take a break, etc., change your gloves.
Cleaners & Disinfectants - You should clean reusable metal grips and other tools with Wavicide, which is a germicide disinfectant soaking solution. Wipe down your tattoo chair and the rest of your work area with Madacide fast-drying disinfectant (available in spray and wipe form). Use AutoClean Autoclave Cleaner & Enhancer to sterilize your autoclave. Bottom line: there are a lot of things you need to keep clean in your shop, and there's an ideal cleaner for each of them. Check out our Infectious Control: Cleaners & Disinfectants section to find the best of the best supplies for keeping your shop as clean as possible.
Sharps Containers - Prevent accidental needle sticks and properly dispose of needles in Sharps containers. There are a variety of Sharps recovery solutions available, so you can choose the right size container for when you're traveling vs. working in your shop. Read our Sharps Disposable Recovery System article for more information on how the Sharps program works.
Ultrasonic Cleaner - This is a good tool to have on hand as a supplement to your autoclave. Some tools should be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner with cleaner, others with water. Follow the instructions provided with the ultrasonic cleaner you choose.
Topical Skin Cleaners - It's important to thoroughly cleanse each client's skin before you start tattooing them. Green Soap is one of the most popular pre-tattooing cleansers, but it isn't your only option. You should avoid straight rubbing alcohol, though, because while it can assist ink in entering the skin more easily, it can also cause ink to be carried further into a person's system than desired.
Antiseptics & Ointments - Make sure you always have a good supply of things like Microsan RX Soap on hand, as well as A&D Ointment and/or Bacitracin and other first aid supplies to use as needed--things like Providone Iodine Prep, Ammonia Inhalant Pouches in case a client faints, and antiseptic wipes.
Disposables - Disposable items make it much easier to maintain a sterile work environment. So many of the supplies you'll need for tattooing are available in convenient disposable form, like clip cord covers, tattoo sleeves, cases of Precision Medical Cohesive Wrap that you can use to pad grips, gauze, skin markers for drawing tattoo patterns directly on your clients' skin, face masks, exam table paper to line tattoo chairs (or just spray them down with Madacide in between clients), and so on.
Disposable Tattoo Tubes - You can purchase reusable, autoclavable tattoo grips, steel tubes and tips, but it's a lot easier to find a disposable tattoo tube you like that has all those components in one convenient unit that you can use and then throw away. There are styles to fit every tattoo artist's preferences. You can get Victory Grip & Tube Sets with wide silicone comfort grips that allow you to hold your grip in a more relaxed way without worrying about it slipping out of your hand. If you prefer a tube set with a pen-like feel, then try our Classic Tube & Grip Sets. Whatever your preference, we have disposable tattoo tubes that will simplify your life.
Tattoo Needles & Tattoo Needle Bars - Needles aren't the kind of thing you want to try sterilizing and reusing. No matter how much cleaner you apply or how thoroughly you autoclave them, it just isn't wise to reuse needles. We sell sterile needles by the case in any style and configuration combination you could possibly want. Choose from flat, magnum, round, and stacked needle configurations, bugpin needles, short standard tapers, long tapers, and more.
Other Tattoo Supplies - We've listed some of the most important things you need for safe tattooing above, but we know that's not all you'll need to tattoo. Whenever you need a new tattoo machine, tattoo ink, ink cups and holders, power supplies, travel cases, or any other tattoo supplies, we've got you covered.
If you plan on placing an order for $100 or more worth of supplies, you can shop in our Wholesale Store to take advantage of the discounted prices we offer to industry professionals. If you'll be spending over $500, shop our Distributor Store for our absolute lowest prices. You can save with our weekly coupons, too. Just check the Events tab to see what our latest coupon is, or sign up for our newsletters by going to your preferred store (Retail | Wholesale | Distributor), scrolling to the bottom-right corner of the screen, and entering your email address. You'll then get weekly emails about sales, coupons, new products, and other info related to the store newsletter to which you subscribed.
Other Helpful Tattoo Resources
If you've found this tattooing safety guide helpful, you might also be interested in reading some of our other educational tattoo articles, like these:
- From our Tattoo Ink Series:
- Helpful Items for Traveling Tattoo Artists
- Tattoo Aftercare (You can share this link with your clients or use the information to create your own tattoo aftercare handouts to give clients as they leave.)
- Sample Tattoo Release Waiver
- Tattoo Needles (This info will help you sort through all the different needle size and style options available.)
- Tattoo Needles & Codes
- How to Use 2nd Skin Tattoo Practice Skin
- Choosing a Tattoo Power Supply