Scroll to the bottom of this story for an interactive database of the most recent inspection reports for every tattoo parlor in Mahoning County.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Over the past few years, Mahoning County has seen a fair amount of new tattoo parlors pop up.
But at least one local operator has noticed a different trend, one with potentially dangerous health risks: Unlicensed, unregistered artists giving tattoos.
“When I tell (people) I’m a tattoo artist that’s been tattooing for 34 years, they’re like, ‘Oh, I have a cousin that tattoos.’ I go, ‘Where does he work?’ ‘Well, he just kind of does it,'” Artistic Dermagraphics Owner Debbie Lenz said. “Not always will I say, ‘Well, you know, that’s illegal,’ because I am not the tattoo police…But it does disturb me that it’s going on.”
Lenz estimated that since the advent of handful of tattoo-themed reality TV shows in the past 10 years, the amount of unregistered tattoos has quadrupled. She attributed the increase to viewers seeing how professional tattoo artists work and trying to imitate them.
Tim Adair, owner of Twisted Metal Custom Body Art in Austintown, said that he thinks at least a third of tattoos in Mahoning County are done illegally, while Lenz estimated that 25% are done under the table.
“You’ll see pictures of them on Facebook or Instagram, doing it in the kitchen, they’ve got all kinds of different household items around that just don’t belong,” Adair said, noting that unsanitary conditions can lead to infection. “Doing a tattoo and then you’ve got a box of pizza next to you on the desk or you’re by the sink and you’ve got dirty pots and pans in the sink…it just doesn’t make sense.”
Mahoning County Director of Environmental Health Ryan Tekac said that since the beginning of 2014, there have been two reports of unregistered tattooing in the county: One in July 2014 in Boardman, another in March 2015 in Austintown. Tekac said those reports were forwarded to local police departments for further investigation.
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Austintown Police Lieutenant Jeff Solic said that police did not launch a formal investigation into the March 2015 allegations. Boardman Police Captain Don Hawkins said that his department did no tattoo-related investigations in July 2014 but did arrest one person in January 2014 on a charge of giving a tattoo to a juvenile at a local motel.
“I think that poses a risk for increase of potential exposure to blood-borne diseases,” Mahoning County Director of Nursing Chris Cunningham said of unregistered tattooing. “You also kind of wonder (about) the skill level, have they been properly trained to do that. If not, then there’s the potential of injury.”
Cunningham said that Hepatitis B, C and AIDS could all be among the diseases transferred by the sharing of tattoo needles.
Tekac did add that while there may be added risks for tattooing without a license, it isn’t actually illegal unless money is given in exchange for the tattoo.
WKBN performed a cursory search for tattoo artists advertising online in the Mahoning Valley area, including emailing someone who offered to do tattoo work on the internet sales site Craigslist, but was unable to talk to that person for this story. Tekac said that tattoos advertised online and done for money are legal only if they are done by a registered artist in a licensed tattoo parlor.
Lenz said she was part of the discussion when Mahoning County first began to regulate tattoo parlors, around the year 1990, before the state of Ohio did so. One thing that those regulations did not include, and still do not, is refresher training in health courses for tattoo artists, according to Lenz and Mahoning County Sanitarian Dave Fetchko.
Both Lenz and Adair said that they think re-training is not necessary, while Fetchko said that re-training would be difficult, since there are few locations at which to find courses and the county’s own courses are relatively costly.
But even if tattoo artists don’t get refresher training, there are a number of steps that people getting tattoos can take to protect themselves. The people interviewed by WKBN for this story suggested the following tips:
- Look for a permit from the county for the tattoo parlor on the shop’s wall.
- Make sure the waiting area of the parlor is neat and clean and that the shop seems generally well-kept.
- Ask to see an artist’s portfolio of previous tattoos, and make sure you like their work before getting a tattoo done.
- Look for, or ask for, the artist’s individual certification. Feel free to watch the artist do a tattoo before getting one done yourself.
- Make sure the artist is using clean, fresh needles and tubes, as well as an autoclave (a steam sterilizer).
- Get a plan for post-tattoo care from the artist. A tattoo is, essentially, a wound with ink in it, and as such, needs to be treated with some type of healing agent in the weeks after it is finished.
Check out the interactive database below for the most recent inspection reports, at the time of publishing of this article, for tattoo parlors in Mahoning County.