What Is Tattooing?

Tattooing uses one or more needles attached to a tattoo machine to insert pigment under the skin’s top layer. The needles rapidly pierce the skin over and over again, inserting a tiny drop of dye with each pierce, leaving a permanent design on the skin.

What Are the Health Risks?

A tattoo needle breaks the skin, so you can get a bacterial skin infection or have an allergic skin reaction. If the tattoo is not done properly, you could also get a blood-borne disease such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. You can protect yourself from hepatitis B by being vaccinated. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C or HIV.

What Should I Look for Before Getting a Tattoo?

It is important to get a tattoo from a studio inspected by public health. Toronto Public Health inspects all known tattoo studios annually to make sure they are taking the right steps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. You can contact Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 if you are uncertain a studio is inspected or would like to know about its inspection history.

Before receiving a temporary tattoo, confirm with the artist that the ingredient para-phenylenediamine (PPD) or hair dye was not added to the ink or the paste. The use of PPD in cosmetics that are applied directly to the skin (such as with “black henna” temporary tattoo ink) can cause serious allergic reactions and are banned from sale in Canada.

How Can the Risk of Infection Be Reduced?

Go to a studio that is inspected by your local public health unit. Your artist should undertake the following infection prevention steps as well:

  • Wash his or her hands with soap and water or use a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer and put on new gloves before starting the tattoo procedure. If the tattoo artist has to stop tattooing at any time (to answer the telephone or touch a light switch etc.), the artist should clean his or her hands and put on new gloves before continuing with your tattoo.
  • Use a disposable, single-use razor if a part of your body needs to be shaved.
  • Clean your skin with soap and water and then use an antiseptic such as 70% alcohol before the tattooing begins.
  • Use only single-use disposable stencils to transfer the tattoo outline onto your skin.
  • Use only new, sterile single-use needles. You should be able to watch the artist open the package in front of you.
  • Throw used razors and needles immediately into a special “sharps” container and not into the regular garbage.
  • Use sterile, individually packaged equipment such as tips, grips and tubes. The package should be opened in front of you.
  • Sterilize instruments using an autoclave, chemiclave or dry heat sterilizer. Glass (hot) bead “sterilizers”, UV “sterilizers”, ultrasonic cleaners, pressure cookers, microwaves or boiling water are not acceptable methods of sterilization.
  • Have the mechanical sterilizer tested using a “spore test challenge” every two weeks to ensure it is working properly.
  • Cover the tattoo machine and the cord with a plastic film that is discarded between clients.
  • Use only unused pigments and trays. The artist should pour the ink from the bottle into disinfected ink caps right before starting your tattoo. If additional ink is required, a new ink cap must be used. Leftover inks and used caps must be discarded after each client.
  • Dispense all lotions and creams in a way that does not contaminate the remaining lotion or cream (no “double dipping”).
  • Cover your tattoo with a non-stick bandage when the tattoo is finished.
  • Avoid drinking, eating and smoking while tattooing.
  • Explain to you how to care for your new tattoo and give you written instructions. The artist should tell you to see a doctor if your tattoo develops pus or becomes red, swollen or tender. These might be signs that your tattoo has become infected.

What Else Should I Expect from My Tattoo Artist?

  • Your tattoo artist should ask you if you have any allergies to pigments, latex, iodine (antiseptics) before getting started.
  • Your tattoo artist should be willing to answer all your questions about the procedure and any infection prevention steps taken.
  • The tattoo parlour should be well-lit, clean and tidy.
  • Your tattoo artist should ask you for your contact information for record-keeping purposes.
  • Your tattoo artist should deny you service if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How Can I Report a Complaint?

A complaint about infection control practices in a tattoo studio, in the City of Toronto, can be made by using our online BodySafe Complaint Form or by calling TTY 416-392-0658. All complaints are confidential and can be anonymous.