Skin Deep 166

This month’s editorial comes from the TPI, which if you didn’t know is the Tattooing & Piercing Industry’s union, which constantly fights for the UK’s tattooists’ rights from interference from unjust and uneducated proposed legislation. It also fights hard to keep the industry from a big threat to the professional tattooist – ‘Scratchers’ or unlicensed home tattooists...


Time and time again professional tattoo artists see the results of the appalling attempts at tattoos by ‘scratchers’ – unlicensed tattoo amateurs, inflicting misery and trauma on their sometimes all too willing victims. The TPI is working on solutions to eliminate the problem of scratchers and every time we see the appalling work of another one we ask the same questions… 

The first question you have to ask yourself is why?  Why does a usually rational person who is looking to get a tattoo, decide to go and get tattooed by some so-called ‘artist’ in their unregistered, unhygienic kitchen, bedroom or shed? 

Is it because they can’t be bothered to do some research into finding a good shop with a good tattoo artist? Probably. 

Is it because it’s going to be cheap? Probably.  Is it because they’ve been told by their mates ‘he can really draw, good innit?’ Possibly. 

Is it temporary insanity? Definitely!  What nobody entering the dingy world of the scratcher seems to stop and think about are the very obvious risks.  There are so many… 

The obvious and most dangerous risk is disease.  The unregistered scratcher does not have to adhere to any health guidelines or probably even know these guidelines exist. Every virus or infection is possible, from a relatively treatable skin irritation through to hepatitis or worse. 

Cross contamination is a major issue and something that is kept strictly under control in a professional tattoo studio, but the scratcher will be a cross contamination nightmare! 

Do they change their gloves? Probably not, ‘I’ve only got one box and they need to last mate!’ Do they change their needles? Probably not, ‘Hey, they cost money!’ 

Have they got an ultrasonic? Almost certainly not, ‘Hey they’re really expensive!’  Have they got an autoclave? Almost certainly not, ‘Hey they’re really, really, really expensive!’  Do they dispose of their waste or used needles legally? Don’t make me laugh! 

Will they tattoo underage people? Definitely. They don’t give a toss how old you are, as long as you’ve got the cash. 

Further risk is from incompetence.  Do these scratchers actually know how to tattoo? From the terribly done tattoos that professional tattooists see every day, absolutely, definitely not. So many times you hear ‘Well I let him have a go, everybody needs to start somewhere’ but bloody hell! Why would you let someone that can’t even draw, let alone tattoo, loose on you? The catalogue of disastrous and rubbish tattoos is massive. 

Nowadays it’s all too easy for all and sundry to get hold of cheap, poor quality tattoo equipment. 

A certain online auction site really has got a lot to answer for, but they don’t give a fig about the misery their blinkered views cause. Anyone can get a 30-pound starter kit from China and cause mayhem, no questions asked. 

Tattoo conventions could do better too. Many suppliers sell to anyone and everyone at conventions. Organisers need to go back to ‘registered artists only’ areas for suppliers. 

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are pretty useless when it comes to policing the scratchers. Unless they get specific complaints from parents of underage tattoo victims, they can’t be bothered to try and close them down. Even when they’re pointed in the right direction, the EHOs claim they have to catch the scratcher in the act. They’ll turn up on the doorstep; ask ‘Excuse me – are you tattooing from home?’ get told ‘No’. Then say ‘Ok, sorry to bother you’ and that’s the end of it. 

They are hopelessly ineffectual - unless you’ve got a registered, legitimate shop of course! Then they can give you a really hard time! 

From the professional tattoo artists’ point of view, they’re really angry that the scratchers avoid licensing and registration fees. They avoid shop set up and running costs, avoid rent, avoid taxes, avoid advertising costs; the list goes on and on. 

So what’s the answer to the scratcher problem? 

Without resorting to threats or violence, one possible answer may just be – education: Educating the public and educating the EHOs. 

The public need educating in what to look for in a good, professional tattoo studio. Certificates of registration and insurance, evidence of sterile procedures, cleanliness, sealed needle packs, and equally importantly, the standard of work - look for photos of tattoos done by the artist working in the studio (not pretty pictures ripped off the Internet). If they don’t have photos of ‘their own’ decent quality work, walk away. 

EHOs need educating in pretty much the same way. They all need to be working to the same standards and guidelines nationwide, standards formulated by industry professionals, instead of every borough council doing their own thing. 

The TPI is working hard to put this in place, continuing to hold seminars for EHOs up and down the country, highlighting what they need to be improving. This is resulting in a very positive reaction from all the councils involved so far. 

The sooner we eliminate the scratchers the better for everybody. Of course the best way is to vote with your feet and avoid unregistered home tattooists at all costs – if they don’t make money, they can’t buy equipment and they aren’t gonna tattoo you for free, are they?

Do your bit – support your local professional studio, help banish the scratchers and spread the word. 

Chic Child, TPI Press Dept 07518629386.

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