July 2, 2012
By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
Berkeley will start inspecting tattoo parlors and body piercing studios for sanitary practices to prevent infection of their customers as part of the Safe Body Art Act that became state law July 1.
Ear piercing studios are exempt.
Berkeley has about eight tattoo and body piercing studios and about 25 practitioners, said Manuel Ramirez, manager of the city's Division of Environmental Health. Tattoo artists and body piercing practitioners already must register with the city as part of a previous state law. Now the studios in which they work will be regulated as well.
"There are some pretty specific sanitary requirements for sterilizing equipment and training around blood borne pathogens they need to adhere to," Ramirez said. "There is always some concern around infection."
Nancy Swart of Oakland, who said her son Eric died in 2003 from an infection received from a Sacramento tattoo parlor, is happy to see the new law in place. Although her son was born with a tiny hole in his heart and was more susceptible to infections than others, she wants people to know the risks involved, especially if they have medical conditions.
"The law is great if they are going to enforce it," Swart said. "The tattoo parlor where my son went listed various medical conditions as a warning, but his was not on the list. I just want people to know serious things can happen to people when you get tattoos, and you should be very cognitive of your own medical situation. If you have a medical condition you have to be diligent to make sure everything is clean and sterile."
Berkeley is just one of three cities in the state that has its own health department that will enforce the law locally. Tattoo parlors and piercing studios in other areas will have to register with their county health departments.
The new law also covers the practice of branding, where a pattern is burned into the skin with a hot iron that creates a permanent scar, but Ramirez said he does not know of any branding happening in Berkeley.
Tattoo studios like Sacred Rose Tattoo on University Avenue now will have to pay an annual fee of $366 to fund the inspection program, Ramirez said. That's on top of the $44 fee tattoo artists and piercing people already pay to register and receive information on sanitary practices, he said.
Karen Roze, owner of Sacred Rose, said her studio and others like it that have been in business a long time don't need such a law because they already adhere to sanitary practices. If they did not run a clean shop they wouldn't be in business "because this entire business is about reputation."
"I think it's overkill," she added. "People who tattoo out of their homes with cheap instruments they buy on the Internet from China, that is where the problem is. But they won't even be regulated. They're the problem. I don't see how this law will change anything."
At the same time, Roze said she is not intimidated "by any new laws they throw at us. It's just another layer of bureaucracy."
According to a report by Ramirez to the Berkeley City Council, unsafe tattooing can cause infections and spread hepatitis or HIV. Piercing can be risky as well, the report said, and can cause infection, allergies, nerve damage and excessive bleeding.
Berkeley's new tattoo law, which passed in May and brings the city in line with the new state law, requires continuing registration of tattoo artists and body piercing practitioners. In addition, each studio will undergo an inspection before being granted a permit under the Safe Body Art Act.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.