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Regulations Make Body Art Safer

June 5, 2012

Marilyn Underwood, Ph.D.
Contra Costa Environmental Health

Download the audio (MP3)

More Body Art information.

If you're considering a new tattoo or body piercing, you need to do research— like getting recommendations from friends, looking at the cleanliness of local shops and reading about the risks online. These steps help protect you from bad reactions or serious illness. But how do you know a shop has made a similar effort to protect your health?

Hello, I'm Marilyn Underwood, Director of Environmental Health for Contra Costa Health Services. The fact is body artists are less regulated than the person who cuts your hair. The good news is a law takes effect this July creates statewide health standards for all body art businesses in California.

Body art can be many things: It can be cosmetic, artistic or symbolic, but it needn't be dangerous. There are many body art facilities that put your safety first. This new law will level the playing field for body artists and make it easier for all shops to do the right thing.

Starting July 1, piercers and tattoo artists will have to individually register with my office, the Contra Costa County Environmental Health Division, and show proof of a hepatitis B vaccine. Environmental Health Specialists will conduct random inspections to ensure the facilities are operating in a safe and sanitary manner. In addition to that, artists must be trained in blood-borne pathogens, first-aid and CPR.

Even though there will soon be oversight of body art, it is important for you to be aware as the consumer. Any time the skin is broken, there is a risk of infection, swelling, peeling and blistering. Unsanitary body art practices can lead to horrible diseases like hepatitis B and C, and AIDS.

These new regulations don't replace common sense. You can—and should—do a quick and effective evaluation. Find an artist who:

  • Practices in a clean and hygienic environment;
  • Uses safe equipment and inks;
  • Wears a fresh pair of disposable gloves;
  • Uses single-use, disposable needles and razors;
  • Safely disposes of those needles and razors;
  • Sterilizes reusable equipment;
  • Uses approved jewelry; and
  • Washes hands and surfaces often

And after July 1, make sure that Contra Costa County Environmental Health has issued a permit for the facility and has registered the body artist or piercer.

Before having any body art done, ask the artist how to care for the tattoo or piercing. Ongoing care, like monitoring and cleaning the body art site, is crucial to preventing disease and infection.

To find out more about the new regulations or to check if a body artist is registered in Contra Costa County, please call 925-692-2500 or go to our website at

Thanks for listening.

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