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Choosing the right shop takes more than a nice street sign and a catchy name. The most important characteristics for long-term satisfaction are cleanliness and certification. You may find a great artist, but if your tattoo becomes infected or if you leave the shop with hepatitis, your experience will ultimately be unsatisfactory. I think most of us instinctively know the importance of safety, but how do go about assessing these all-important factors? 

Let’s begin with certification. Each state and some cities have their own licensing and inspection procedures. You can contact your business licensing bureau or health department or you can ask at the shop to see the state license and health certification. Most shops will have these posted, if not framed.

Once you’ve determined that the shop is properly licensed, you can assess the cleanliness yourself. Watch from the beginning of a tattoo on someone else. Does the artist or apprentice sterilize the tattooing area, including the table, tray, equipment and his/her own hands? Does the artist remove a new, sterile needle from original packaging? Is the tattoo machine covered in sterile wrap and is your artist wearing gloves? Do she/he change the gloves after answering the phone, refilling a bottle, or handling money? Are the pigment trays new or sterilized? Can you see an autoclave machine in the shop? If not, ask if one is used for non-disposable equipment. Ask yourself, is the shop clean?

Lastly, watch the application of aftercare. Is the artist dipping into a tub that can result in cross-contamination or is the aftercare a personal container for each client or better yet, a spray or pump that does not require opening, thus keeping the seal to prevent any introduction of pathogens?

Visits to shops may require that you put off getting your new tattoo for a day or two, but in the long run, you will be protecting yourself and ensuring that the environment you have chosen for your new ink will contribute to permanent satisfaction.

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