New Ordinance Designed To Improve Safety Of Tattoos, Piercings In Tippecanoe County

Jun 17, 2015

Credit KEVIN HARBER / https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevharb/

A new ordinance requires all tattoo and body piercing shops in Tippecanoe County to obtain a permit.

Officials say the new rules are for the health and safety of both the artists and their customers.

Area shop owners appear to be in favor of the ordinance in theory.

But some acknowledge it could establish a financial burden that some may find difficult to shoulder.

The new ordinance lists requirements a business must meet to be able to provide tattoo and piercing services.

They include proper sterilization of equipment, providing written instructions to customers about proper after-care, and posting signs about the potential risks of body art procedures.

Tippecanoe Health Department Administrator Craig Rich says unsanitary practices such as reusing needles can lead to a host of problems, such as infectious diseases like Hepatitis B and C.

“There’s all sorts of skin-related infections that you can get," he says. "And so that’s one of the things we’re trying to help the people out with. You know, of they walk in there and see a permit they know at least they’ve taken some universal precautions.”

Rich says the ordinance applies to the entire county, including the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette. It doesn’t affect businesses that only pierce ear lobes using a traditional stud-and-clasp piercing gun.

He says county officials have identified roughly 18 businesses whose owners would need to apply for a $200 permit, plus an additional $100 license for each artist. Those establishments would be inspected a minimum of twice a year by the Health Department.

Rich says violation of the same rule in a 12-month period would result in a $100 fine. The fine increases to $200 for a third violation and serious repeat violations could have their permit revoked.

Carrie McGill is the co-owner of DragonsBane Tattoo in Lafayette. She favors the ordinance, but acknowledges it might be a hardship for some shops.

“We all are just making ends meet," she says. "I don’t know of any tattoo artist in this town that I would call rich. But I think if people plan ahead it will be easy enough to factor into the rest of their bills. I don’t really see it to be too much of a deterrent for anyone who cares.”

Still, McGill says setting up a studio costs much more than the fees in the new law.

“Like our setup, we have the booths all ready. That’s always been something we’ve implemented," she says. "Other shops don’t have that, and they’re going to be required to have that. So I think that part will keep the fly-by-nights from opening, the ones that stick around for six months and then move on. I think that will be a big deterrent. But the fees alone, not so much.”

Her husband, Sean McGill, says the public and legitimate business owners need to work together to make sure unsanitary and unsafe operations are either shut down or made to comply with the ordinance.

“And we have, as I’m sure the other shops have too, have been telling people when they come in and say ‘Oh my boy did this.’ Or ‘My friend does tattoos.’ ‘Well, you need to tell your friend to stop.’ And that’s the sentiment that we’ve been trying to get out there,” says McGill.

Rich says some aspects of the ordinance will be worked out as enforcement gets underway, including how to deal with someone who may be working out of their home.

“We’ll probably run into when we investigate it they’ll say they’re doing it for friends and family for free," says Rich. "Then again it will be complaint-driven so if you’re friends and family they can’t be that close if they’re turning you in.  That’s something we’re still hammering out.”

Lafayette resident Lexxi Spillers was 15 when she told her parents she wanted a tattoo. But they told her she had to wait until she turned 18, which was last week. On her birthday, Spillers had part of a prayer tattooed on her upper rib cage. She says she spent a lot of time researching tattoo parlors and artists before choosing a shop in West Lafayette.

“My mom put a Facebook post out and asked people just like ‘Hey, what are some good tattoo shops in town?’ You know, just who’s really reputable and clean and whatnot," says Spillers. "And then I went and did kind of a consultation type appointment. I wanted to see how they set things up, what kind of equipment they used and all that jazz.”

Spillers thinks the ordinance is a good idea.

She says even though she probably still would have done a lot of her own research, the law would have been another measure to reassure her she was making the right choice.   

“Just knowing that there’s some standards that are being set down for what’s required gives me more confidence," says Spillers. "I wouldn’t have worried so much about the safety of the shop I was using.”

Tattoo shops in the county now have 90 days to come into compliance.

Rich says the Health Department will be working with owners to make sure they meet all the new standards.