Before saying yes to teens’ tattoos

Before allowing your teen to get a tattoo, experts suggest calling your county or local health department to check on any tattoo laws in your community, check on complaints and ask for recommendations. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Last week's blog post “The Trouble with Tattoos ” generated plenty of comments – including some important points about tattoo safety. Laws in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey forbid tattooists from inking kids younger than age 18 without a parent or guardian’s approval. But the rise in home tattoo artists, called “scratchers” or “kitchen magicians”, who work outside salons and may not follow accepted safety standards, mean parents who OK tattoos will also want to help their teens find a safe shop.

This seems to be especially true in Pennsylvania, which doesn’t have statewide laws on the books regulating training and safety standards for tattooists and their establishments. New Jersey and Delaware do – and so do Philadelphia and Lancaster City. But well-run Pennsylvania shops make sure customers know that their artists are well-trained and take an 8-hour “blood borne pathogens” course that meets or exceeds standards set by The National Safety Council and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – and that the studio follows the same sterilization and safety procedures required in states and cities with tattoo health rules.

That’s important. According to the CDC, the hepatitis C virus is not spread through licensed, commercial tattoo parlors – but it is through unregulated artists and shops.

More and more teens and their parents are saying yes to tattoos. According to one internet poll, 15 percent of moms say they'd permit their teenager to get a tattoo and another 30 percent were open to the idea. If that’s you, don’t just say yes. Help your child find a safe shop.

According to The Nemours Foundation, these steps can help:

#1. Call your county or local health department to check on any tattoo laws in your community, check on complaints and ask for recommendations.

#2: Look for a shop that takes pride in cleanliness. Make sure the tattoo studio:

  • Has an autoclave to sterilize equipment. You should be allowed to watch as equipment is sterilized in the autoclave.
  • Follows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Universal Precautions. These are regulations that outline procedures to be followed when dealing with bodily fluids (in this case, blood).
  • Employs well-trained tattoo artists. Artists should be licensed, if required by law. In any case, they should be experienced and able to provide you with references.

Nemours also suggested that “If the studio looks unclean, if anything looks out of the ordinary, or if you feel in any way uncomfortable, find a better place to get your tattoo.”