Investigation - Tempting ads may lead you straight to a no-holds-barred ‘scratcher’. Although not controlled, these secret tattooists still disregard all hygiene regulations and there are real health risks. Go for a tattoo, Yes, but at any cost?
“Cheap tattoos offered”. A tempting proposal… Let’s be on the alert straight away. From a post on a Facebook tattooist group, our suspicions got confirmed: he “only moves to clients”. This practice is strictly prohibited for hygiene reasons.
They’re called ‘scratchers’ in the business. Undeclared tattoo artists work in disastrous sanitary conditions, and their tattoo pen and inks are often of poor quality.They perform operations at night, or in the client’s kitchen with a bought-in toolkit.
In 2021, one in five French people has been tattooed at least once, and this number is still rising. Following the same curve as demand, the supply increases too: from around 20 tattoo shops in France in the 1980s, there is now more than 5,000, according to the National Syndicate of Tattoo Artists (SNAT) estimate.
It is unavoidable that not all people in the industry would be self-controlled, and those who are out of control are often wanderers. Behind the tide hides a vague booming business that attracts the interest of unscrupulous practitioners. According to SNAT estimation, more than half of tattoo artists are illegal, and this percentage can even reach up to 60 percent according to data from the Tattoo & Partage Association. This proportion is hard to measure as they are completely invisible to society. The health environment related to Covid-19 that resulted in the closure of shops for a year have only contributed to the development of these rampant practices.
The Worrisome Tattoo Health Abuse
The risks do not just stop at aesthetics either. Michael Jackson’s disfiguring on the shoulder is not just unsightly, it especially poses a risk of complications if made without any sanitary precautions. “It has been crap for the last three years," Jean-Philippe recalls, his “thighs made trashed by a friend of a friend.”
He told us of the trap. “The guy looked clean, his Facebook page was pretty professional." When he arrived at the tattoo parlor he was shocked to find him practicing on a coffee table in the living room. “He reassured me, and showed me his 'personal hygiene' training certificate. I believed him, taking it as a guarantee of quality.” After a blurry cleaning of the skin with a cloth, he started the job. His equipment seemed to have been already used, and uncertified. “I began to realize that I was being taken over.” When the tattoo artist's cat approached him to the beard on his thigh, Jean-Philippe ended the slaughter. But the damage had been done, “my skin was burned and there was a lot of bleeding.” The healing took several months, for Jean-Philippe to eventually erase the tattoo..
8 Crazy Numbers From The Tattoo Industry
Of course, the lure of these "scratches" is tempting, but how much of a price does your health pay? "Tattooing is not a trivial thing," recalls Isabelle Rousseaux, a dermatologist and member of the French Federation of Specialists in Sexually Transmitted Diseases. "Tattoo artists inject ink into the skin, so if the material is not clean, bacteria can easily penetrate and develop there in local or viral infections." Cellulitis, Staphylococcus, necrotic scars, type B or C hepatitis, and even HIV ... fortunately, these infections are rare in good tattooing conditions, "more common when the tattoo artist does not observe hygiene and the customer does not respect aftercare". Among these treatments borne by the customer: regular disinfection,
Unfortunately, Jean-Philippe is far from being an exception. "We are catching up with a growing number of failed tattoos, any way you look at it."
Removing a tattoo is just that, removing a tattoo. "Removing a tattoo is a medical act that must be performed by a doctor using a laser," recalls Doctor Isabelle Rousseaux. Laser technology produces shockwaves that break the ink beneath the skin. Then the ink particles are cleared away by the immune system. "Using a laser is risk-free, as it does not affect the skin," she says. On the contrary, she warns against using other methods to remove tattoos, including "magic pens" used by some beauticians, which are actually "a lactic acid injection that can burn the skin." She also advises against using creams that claim to remove tattoos after a few applications: "these are scams".
How not to get owned?
So, in such a context, how can the consumer make sure that his tattoo artist is reliable? Unfortunately, checking that the tattoo artist has duly declared himself to ARS is not enough ... he can indeed pay the fees but has never attended hygiene and environmental health training, since no one checks his attendance, or even checks if he attended the meeting.
Instead, use your common sense. "If this person only contacts you by phone, has no fixed address or website, you may already be taking precautions," explains Cécile Chaudesaigues. In addition, if you find yourself in his kitchen on your way there, turn around. Tattoo artists can conduct their work in an apartment, but the room must be dedicated exclusively to tattooing activities, and must comply with the sanitary regulations prescribed by law. Check if his equipment has been well cleaned after each customer, if he washes his hands and disinfected the area to be tattooed, if he uses disposable equipment (especially gloves) or if he disinfects.
"If you have any doubt, do not hesitate, slow down, tell him you come back another day. Do not do it rashly," the tattoo artist insists. Do not give in to competitive prices. A good tattoo is expensive and it is worth putting your hand in your pocket to avoid unnecessary complications ...