Washtenaw County tattoo businesses adjust to new regulations prompted by surge in home tattoos
Justin Garcia, owner of Lost and Found Tattoo in Ypsilanti, says his business and most other shops in the area have followed safety procedures on their own for years before state regulations recently began requiring licenses for all body art businesses.
Whenever Justin Garcia gets ready to tattoo a customer, the owner of Ypsilanti’s Lost and Found Tattoo gets a brand-new needle out of the package and pops in a single-use container of ink. He only uses equipment that’s been properly sanitized.
Clients at the shop may have assumed some law or regulation required Garcia to follow such procedures so as not to spread blood-borne illnesses.
But that wasn’t the case until state law began requiring his business - and every other Michigan business offering body art - to become licensed by the beginning of the month.
While many counties throughout the state had their own regulations for years, Washtenaw County didn't have any regulations beyond previous state guidelines. Those rules barred minors from getting tattooed without parental consent and made it illegal to tattoo someone who was intoxicated with alcohol or other drugs.
The new regulations, which apply to those providing tattooing, branding, permanent makeup or piercing other than of the ear, require certain safety and notification procedures.
Many local tattoo businesses say they’ve already been following those rules for years.
“That’s the way it’s done. If you protect yourself 100 percent, you protect your clients 200 percent,” Garcia said. “I have kids, and I don’t want to take something home to them.”
The motive behind the regulations passed by the state was to reduce the chances of blood-borne illnesses or infections being spread by unsanitary body art equipment. It was important to put such regulations in place now because body art is becoming more popular in mainstream culture, said Mike Kucab, body art facility coordinator for the state.
With the Internet, it is easier than ever for individuals to purchase tattooing equipment and more common for people with little or no experience or understanding of safety procedures to sell or barter their services on social media Web sites like MySpace and craigslist, officials said.
A recent search of both websites did not appear to have any Washtenaw County listings for tattoo artists who were not working out of established businesses. But it did have multiple listing for purchasing or bartering for tattoo equipment.
By mid-month, 10 businesses in Washtenaw County -Â including Garcia'sÂ - had been licensed through the county's environmental health division, which is overseeing the regulations.
"I think a lot of people operated under the assumption this was already happening," said Angela Parsons, environmental educator from the department. She said most of the businesses she's come across were already conscientious about safety procedures and supported licensing which would further legitimize the industry.
Local body art businesses say they’ve prided themselves on safety precautions for years to protect their own and their clients' health to protect their reputations and to protect themselves legally.Â Many local body artists say they’ve worked in other parts of the state where there have been regulations for years and have continued to follow precautions at their locations inside the county.Â
"We've pretty much always followed Ingham County's regulations because they had pretty good regulations in place," said Kerri Zuck, a manager for Name Brand Tattoo in Ann Arbor.
Since the implementation of the new regulations, the business has had to make very few changes in safety procedures but did have to change some of its paperwork and had to begin giving customers a copy of its release form.
While business owners said they support having someÂ overarching guidelines across the industry, they questioned the licensing fee - which goes to the state and not the county, which administers the program - and changes they've been asked to make in their shops.
Garcia said he's paid $900 so far in fees and will have to spend about $400 more putting in a new sink.
Lori Halloway, owner of Voila Salon and Spa in Saline, said she's performed permanent makeup services for nearly a decade before she filled out the paperwork for a license for the service for the first time late last year.Â She said she's always been diligent about following proper procedures, but said there are a lot of folks out there who aren't.
"Hopefully, it will make businesses run their ship a bit tighter," Halloway said. However, she and others expressed concern the county would spend its time keeping an eye on legitimate businesses while underground operators might still offer their services without seeking a license from the state.
"I heard someone say a quote that made my stomach churn," Halloway said. "They said, "You know what they say. It's better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.'"