KINGMAN - Hoping to be akin to California, Nevada, Utah and more than 15 other states across the nation, Mink Ink Tattoo owners Michele and Steve Perry are working to get local tattoo parlors regulated by the health department. "Some of the scars we see are just horrifying," Michele said.
When Michele moved to Kingman from New York to open her business, she sought out the health department to inspect her shop - even offering to pay any costs associated with it. But the health department declined, saying it was not in their jurisdiction and staff wasn't trained to do so.
Despite an absence of regulations, Michele contacted Confirm Manufacturing Systems, a private company, to inspect her equipment for sanitation
compliance and to obtain a certificate of inspection. She also uses Tomtronics, another private business, to service her autoclave annually.
Tattoos have reached a high level of popularity in the United States.
According to a 2006 study by the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 24 percent of Americans between 18 and 50 have one or more tattoos. The number jumps to 36 percent when the age group is narrowed to Americans between the ages of 18 and 29.
With more than 20 years of experience as a tattoo artist, Michele has knowledge and advice to pass on to anyone who is interested in getting a tattoo: seek out reputable shops through research, look at the tattoo artists in action and see their work after the tattoo has healed.
According to Arizona Revised Statute 13-3721, it is unlawful for a person "to intentionally brand, scarify, implant, mutilate, tattoo or pierce the body of a person who is under 18 years of age without the physical presence of the parent or legal guardian of the person ..."
The statute requires a person to use a sterilized needle or other substance that will leave color under the skin only once. The person cannot administer anesthesia unless they are licensed.
It is also illegal for a business to work out of a home or impermanent structure, including a tent, trailer or trunk. Violation of the statute is a Class 6 felony.
There are exceptions to the statute, however. It "does not apply to the ear piercing of a person who has written or verbal permission from a parent or legal guardian or to procedures that are prescribed by a health-care provider who is licensed ..."
It is a defense to a prosecution for a violation of the age requirements if that person requested age identification and relied in good faith on the accuracy of the information contained in the identification.
A local approach
Inspired to take action for the safety of their customers and their industry, the Mink Ink Tattoo owners plan on meeting with Kingman Mayor Les Byram in August following the move of their business to a new location. Steve said they wanted to start on a smaller scale and hopefully work their way up to regulations across the state.
"People are at risk," Steve said. "We don't want to make it impossible to work in this state, just safe."
Michele added that tattoo artists should treat each job as if they're performing surgery. "If there is one infection, or person in the hospital, that brings all our industry down," Michele said.
Rachel Patterson, environmental health manager with the Mohave County Department of Public Health, said her department has talked about regulating tattoo and piercing shops. "It's something that we would like to do," Patterson said. "There hasn't been the resources."
Patterson added they hope in the near future to begin working on something for the county. She said members of her department have met with officials from Coconino County, the only county in the state to regulate tattoo and piercing businesses, to gain some insight on their regulations.
On Jan. 8, 2002, the Body Art Sanction Code went into effect in Coconino County. According to Marlene Gaither, environmental health program manager with the Coconino County Health Department, the code took more than a year of planning to finalize.
"Our board of health thought it was an important thing to do," Gaither said.
The board saw that some injuries, infections and occasional transmission of diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, or other communicable disease occurred as a result of improper body art or after-care procedures.
Officials met with local tattoo artists and businesses to review how the ordinance would affect them and what they need to do to make sure they meet the requirements. "It was really important to meet many of the body artists, to see how they do things," Gaither said.
They also had to receive approval from the Coconino County Board of Supervisors.
Being the first county in the state to set up more stringent regulations on tattoo and piercing businesses, Gaither said the health board looked at the regulations in Clark County, Nev., and what was available from the National Environmental Health Association.
Tattoo businesses in Coconino County are required to be inspected at least once a year, and they must renew their licenses every year as well. It costs $135 per year for a business to renew.
Businesses are also required to annually obtain a certificate following a class on blood-borne pathogens. Gaither said a lot of businesses take part in the online class offered by the Red Cross. She said tattoo artists are proud to display their licenses.
"What overall response we've been hearing is very positive," Gaither said. "We really haven't had a response, 'we're not going to do it.'"
Tattoo artists are required to renew their certification every three years by completing a test on the code and obtaining a score of at least 80 percent. The cost for artists is $16 for the three years.
Artists must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum of six months experience or training in a duly-licensed establishment in Arizona or another state with similar licensing standards.
Coconino County does issue an operator-trainee permit, which is valid for a year, for individuals working under the direct supervision of a licensed operator, who are at least 18 and score 80 percent or more on the exam.
During inspections, officials look over the premises, hand and instrument sinks, tattoo and piercing equipment, sanitation and sterilization procedures, documentation and standard operating procedures.
If found in violation, depending upon the severity, they will have a follow-up inspection within 10 days or can be shut down immediately until they comply with the code.
Employees in her department also inspect food establishments as well as public pool and spa locations.
The code also steps up the requirements for piercings. It is prohibited to use a stud-and-clasp piercing gun or system more than once, unless it is capable of being disinfected and is actually disinfected after being used.