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Tattooing & Piercing - Make It Safe

I want a tattoo or piercing. What do I need to know?

Tattooing and body piercing, including oral piecing has become very popular. Tattooing and piercing are risky, especially if they are done in unsafe conditions — at home, in jail, with used needles, or at a shop that does not know or follow safety guidelines.  Blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV can be spread from one person to another through unsafe tattooing and piercing. Other germs can cause skin infection and problems with healing. Infections can ruin the look of a tattoo or piercing.  Before you make the decision to have a tattoo, it is important to consider your reason for doing so. Remember that tattoos and most piercings are permanent. 

Minimizing your Risk.

The best protection against disease and infection is to carefully choose where you go to get your tattoo or piercing. Below is a list of things you should base your decision on.

The Artist

Choose a reputable artist who has experience and will:

  • Talk with you and answer your questions
  • Show you samples of their work
  • Explain how the equipment is cleaned and sterilized
  • Not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Wear clean clothing
  • Not smoke or eat during the procedure
  • Wash their hands for at least 15 seconds before and after each client, after handling contaminated items and before putting on and after removing their gloves
  • Wear gloves during the procedure
  • Explain how to care for your tattoo or piercing and give you written instructions. If the artist can’t or refuses to answer all of your questions, don’t be intimidated. Leave and find a different artist. It’s your body, your money, and your choice.
The Shop 
You should see:
  • A work area that is clean and brightly lit
  • A sink that can be easily accessed for hand washing
  • Smooth, non-porous work surfaces that can be easily cleaned and disinfected
You could ask to see the certificate of inspection from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. 

The Procedure
  • Areas to be tattooed or pierced are disinfected with a skin antiseptic before the procedure.
  • New disposable razors are used (if shaving is needed).
  • Tattooing and piercing needles are new and sterile for each treatment. They should never be reused.
  • Sterile jewelry must be used.
  • Piercing guns must only be used on ear lobes. Permanent damage and infection may occur if the gun is used to pierce other body parts.
  • Special tattoo ink is used (other ink may be toxic).

At Home

You need to take care of the following:
  • Hep B vaccine will help protect you from hepatitis B — check your vaccination record. Unfortunately there is no vaccine for hepatitis C or HIV.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before you apply lotions or ointments to the tattooed or pierced area and before rotating jewelry.
  • If you are concerned that your tattoo or piercing is infected (pain, swelling, redness or high temperature), contact your doctor.
Oral Piercing 
Piercing the tongue, lips, cheeks or uvula (the tissue hanging down at the back of the throat) is not always safe.
  • The moisture of the mouth creates an ideal breeding place for bacteria. This creates the risk for infections.
  • You can puncture a blood vessel in the tongue — scar tissue and nerve damage may occur.
  • The jewelry can chip and crack your teeth. Plastic jewelry will cause less damage than metal.
  • You may have an allergy or sensitivity to the jewelry.
  • The jewelry may also make it difficult for you to chew your food and speak clearly.

After Care...

If you already have an oral piercing:
  • Keep the area very clean around the jewelry.
  • Check the tightness of the jewelry to avoid loose pieces which you may swallow or choke on.
  • Remove the jewelry and wear a mouth guard when playing sports.
  • Brush your teeth two times each day for two minutes and floss daily to keep your mouth healthy.
  • Call your doctor or visit a medical clinic if you experience pain, swelling, redness or a high temperature. These symptoms can be a sign of an infection.
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