Sanitation First!

So this isn’t necessarily a glamorous topic, or beautiful by any means — unless you’re a PMU artist (PMU = permanent makeup artist). Sanitation, sterilization, and safety are pretty important things to be in the know about, whether you’re an artist or a client. Tattooing will expose both the artist and the client to bloodborne pathogens, and can definitely spread infections and disease. YIKES!

As a client, it’s easy to have blind trust and faith that the artist you’ve chosen is trained and knowledgeable on how to keep their station clean, and free from bloodborne pathogens. I know, that’s the second time i’ve used that term. In case you don’t quite get what that means, here’s a definition: Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms in human blood that can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to, hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Sounds scary? It should.

As an artist, it’s also easy to have blind trust and faith in your trainer and assume everything they’re doing is on the up-and-up. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re properly trained and certified on bloodborne pathogens, and have the appropriate tools and safety measures to protect both you and your client. Here are a few things to make sure you should keep on hand:

  • Pigment cups and rings – all pigments and numbing agents should be dispensed into a pigment cup or ring to avoid cross contamination. Artists, if your pigment cups come in a bulk package and aren’t individually wrapped, you should soak them in 70% isopropyl alcohol to make sure they’re sterile.
  • Barrier film – if you’ve got something that isn’t single use, like your pigment cup holder, or your microtonic dispenser, wrap it in barrier film so that you can touch it freely during the procedure. after you’re done, unwrap and disinfect.
  • Disposable needles/microblades – your tattoo machine cartridges and microblades should be single use and disposable. Unless you’ve got an autoclave, you need to toss it in a sharps container once you’re done because you can’t sterilize them otherwise.
  • Clip cord sleeves and machine bags – your tattoo cartridge may be disposable, but your machine isn’t! And again, unless you have an autoclave and know how to take your machine apart and reassemble it — your best bet is to barrier it with a clip cord sleeve and a machine bag.
  • Dental bibs – you can use these as a waterproof barrier for your tray and your procedure bed. I personally use puppy pee pads to line my procedure bed, and i take a kitchen garbage bag and feed the tray of my tray table into it. when i’m done, i put all of my disposable garbage on my tabletop, bag it up, and it’s all in one place ready to be tossed. A quick lysol wipe of my tabletop, and i’m set for my next client.
  • Sterilizing tray and CS20 – for things that need to be sterilized like tweezers and scissors. CS20 is a high level disinfectant/sterilant that can be used to clean off your tools that you’re not going to toss. Make sure you’ve got a sink nearby to wash your tools with soap and warm water, and that you’re changing out your CS20 every 2 weeks.
  • Sharps container – You should dispose any sharps (microblades, shaders, cartridges) in a sharps. Make sure the one you’re getting is tall/long enough to find a pre-assembled microblade. When it’s full, take it to the pharmacy where they can dispose of it properly. Chances are they won’t have the same size container to exchange it with for you (they’re usually getting sharps from people using it for medical reasons so their syringes/sharps are smaller and fit into a standard sharps). I get my larger sharps containers from U-Line, and have it mounted on my wall. When i’ve gone thru all of my empty sharps, i just order more and chalk it up to operation costs.

Also remember that anything you put on your tray table that isn’t being sterilized at the end of your procedure should be thrown out. This includes qtips, extra cotton pads, unused alcohol swabs, or even that shading tool you thought might use but didn’t end up needing. THROW. IT. OUT. And when you’re cleaning up after your client has left, put gloves on as you tear down your tray table setup. Any time you’re touching something that’s been in contact with pigments, or bodily fluids — glove up. Any time your tools may touch something that can come in contact with bodily fluids and it’s not disposable or sterilzable, barrier it. When in doubt, err on the side of caution! It’s yours and your client’s safety we’re talking about here!

Remember, every municipality/province has their own health department. Make sure you check in with them to be safe, because they’ll have an eye for something that you will have missed. At my first training, they were just plopping on a dab of numbing gel from the bottle right onto the client’s skin sometimes — cross contamination. Pigment cups weren’t in individual sterile packs, but they also weren’t sterilized from the manufacturer. So many little things that I didn’t have the eye for! You don’t know what you don’t know.