How to Pick a Tattoo Shop

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 07, 2021
2 min read

So you’re getting a tattoo. You’ve picked out your design and now you need to decide where to get inked.

Well you’re not alone. According to a recent Harris Poll, tattoos are more popular than ever. Nearly 30% of Americans have at least 1 tattoo, and those with 1 rarely stop there. Almost 70% of them have 2 or more.

But how do you know whether the tattoo shop you want to use is safe?

In the United States, state and local governments are responsible for regulating tattoo shops. The rules can vary from state to state, and even town to town. Some communities might not have any restrictions at all. Minors, for example, can legally get tattoos in 5 states.

When you get a tattoo, the artist uses a hand-held machine containing one or more needles. The machine pricks the top layer of your skin and insets tiny drops of ink. The procedure doesn’t use any anesthetic and it can be somewhat painful.

But it can also make you sick if you have an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink. And you could end up with a skin infection like Staphylococcus aureus or a blood-borne illness such as tetanus, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C. There have even been reported cases of soft-tissue infections from contaminated ink.

So how can you be sure to avoid risks and go somewhere safe? There are a few rules you should follow if you want to get a tattoo and want it done right. For one thing, don’t do it yourself, and don’t let an amateur do it.

Instead, find a reputable artist with a license, if your state requires one. That means you have to check with your local or state health department. Also, follow these steps to find a solid shop:

  1. Only use a tattoo shop where all employees are properly trained.
  2. Make sure your tattoo artist wears new disposable gloves to minimize your risk of contamination. And that they throw them in the trash between tattoos.
  3. Check that they’re using needles from sealed containers, and that the pigment trays are new.
  4. Be sure the shop has a sterilization machine and uses it to clean equipment that is too expensive to throw away.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask how the employees sterilize the countertops, tables, and chairs. They should be using a bleach-based disinfectant. If the shop isn’t clean, get out. Blood travels and can contaminate all different types of surfaces.
  6. Ask where the inks come from. Some inks might contain metals and solvents that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate.

Here’s one of the biggest tips of all: Don’t let alcohol cloud your judgment. Getting a tattoo is exciting, but it’s also forever. Think long and hard, and when you do it make sure safety is top-most on your mind.