HIV & Tattoos: Everything You Need to Know and Do
Since the pandemic hit the world, the entire world faced the fact that we all need to be extra cautious with regards to our health. However, getting tattoos or piercings always required that extra caution. Reputed tattoo studios were as clean as an Operation Room even pre-pandemic. Yet, many assume that while tattoos are aesthetic, they're a risk to one's life and are a leading cause of HIV. False!
What is HIV and How Can It Be Contracted?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system causing the body to become more vulnerable to infections. When untreated, HIV leads to AIDS.
HIV is transmitted only when you get in contact with the bodily fluids (like semen or blood) of an infected person. It doesn't spread through air like the common cold. That's why it is essential to be aware and cautious about HIV even in hospitals where infected needles can transmit the virus.
Does Getting Inked Always Expose One to HIV?
Since tattoos are also needles penetrating the skin and coming in contact with blood, it is imperative that tattoo artists/studios take safety measures. This means that you have a chance of being infected with HIV, if and only if the tattoo studio doesn't meet the hygiene and safety requirements.
A while back, an incident was reported where a client contracted HIV via the tattoo they got. This makes one question, how safe are tattoos then?
Like we mentioned, they're absolutely safe but you have to do your due diligence as well to ensure that safety.
Popular tattoo artist, Lucky Solanki, says "It's not just one party that can be blamed here" while speaking about this recent incident. He mentions that while tattoo artists are to be questioned for following unsafe practices, it also has to be considered that clients demand budget tattoos and claim to have gotten cheaper quotes elsewhere. That leads to an upcoming or struggling tattoo artist to compromise on safety measures. It is in no way justified, but the reasoning behind "Why would an artist do that?" is clear.
It is also important to remember that it's not just the client but also the tattoo artist who gets exposed to the virus. Hence, safety should be at the top of the list of every tattoo studio/artist always.
Additionally, suppliers aren’t to be blamed for the supplies being infected either. Chances of contracting HIV are minimal or zero is entirely based on the artist or studio’s hygiene. The safety of a client and an artist is compromised when the artist compromises on the safety and not when they buy cheap supplies.
What Can Tattoo Artists/Studios Do?
Well-established tattoo artist, Tenzin, mentions that the lack of awareness amongst clients as well as tattoo artists is what makes these incidents occur. He mentions that local street artists need to be made aware of the importance of sterilization and disposal of used disposable materials. Thus, it's important to know the setup for a hygienic tattoo parlor.
Talking on the safety standards, renowned tattoo artist, Lokesh Verma, talks about how there is a lack of standardizations in India set by the government which makes it easy for tattoo artists to follow unsafe practices.
As an internationally certified tattoo artist, he says "We have to care about our clients, our artists, our environment, and the reputation of our studio. I am certified in hygiene and sterilization training from the European Union, and I ensure that everyone follows and adheres to the same standards at our studio."
The standards have to be set by artists themselves to implement safety for everyone. Lokesh points out how it is not possible for an artist to see the bloodwork of a client and know that it's safe to ink them. Many people are unaware of being infected as well. Hence, he suggests that it's always better to assume that everyone is infected and work accordingly with utmost care and safety. Cross-contamination is to be steered clear of at all costs, from minutest of things to the most obvious ones.
Ways to avoid cross-contamination:
1. Throw away disposables ALWAYS
Not a single disposable item like needles, razor blades, gloves should be reused. These have to be discarded safely after every use. They are single-use products. Also, make sure that once you start the procedure, you don't touch any surfaces with the gloves and use something else to get more ink or anything else you need to do.
2. Change film barriers and covers after every use
These covers get in contact with the client's exposed blood as well as your own gloves. It is essential to change these every single time.
From the machines you use to the furniture you and your client are on. Sterilizing your environment and equipment is crucial to ensure your studio is safe for everyone and there is no cross-contamination.
What Can I Do?
As a client, remember that while the major part of the safety lies in the hands of the artist/studio, the process begins with you. The ways to ensure you don't get exposed to HIV are:
Thoroughly research the artist and/or studio. Check out their portfolio, client reviews, and make sure you don't try to gain knowledge online only. Meet your artist and understand whether they're the right fit for you. In most cases, that visit to the studio itself will help you gauge whether the safety standards are being met or not.
2. Don't compromise for a cheaper tattoo
When you pressurize an artist to cut costs, they will be forced to cut those costs where they can, which is safety. Morally and ethically, it is wrong but it's the only way struggling artists can give you great aesthetic tattoos without cutting costs on equipment. Cheaper isn't better in things like getting inked. You'd not go to a plastic surgeon who would do a nose job for 500 rupees. You'd know there's something fishy. Tattoo artists don't want to be con artists either. The competition forces them to give in. Hence, save up and get a tattoo only from a place that's hygienic and meets the safety standards.
Don't simply wait for the artist to mention what they follow. Ask questions. Ask them whether the film barriers are new. Ask them if they changed the needle. Ask them if their gloves are new. Ask them questions and be sure. If an artist tells you the needle is new, that's good but that's not the only thing. So, ask questions. Become responsible and aware.
Are There Any Certified Tattoo Studios?
While there isn’t a specific certification board for tattoo artists/studios in India, there are tattoo artists who are internationally certified and at The TattooPedia, we also provide certification to tattoo artists and studios after going through their studio and practice to ensure they provide the safest and best tattoo environment and service for the artists and clients. Research for certified artists and studios to make it easier to find the right artists for you.
So, Are Tattoos Safe?
Tattoos are 100% safe, but that safety comes with terms and conditions. Terms of safety set by the artists themselves and the hygienic conditions to ensure that. Do your research, become more aware, and spread the awareness as well.
There are other things as well to be aware of and take care of after getting a tattoo. So, make sure you read up on all of that as well and take an informed decision that you'd be happy with ultimately.