It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. In a matter of just a few days, we’ve gone from casually considering the threat of COVID-19 to, in several places, shutting down businesses—including tattoo studios—to stop its spread. Across all affected countries, many tattoo shops have made the difficult but necessary decision to cease operations until further notice. Not all shops have closed, though. So for those of you who have upcoming tattoo appointments in shops that are still open, you’re likely wondering: Is it safe to get a tattoo during the COVID-19 pandemic? For now, the answer is no.
If you have a tattoo appointment in the next couple of weeks, you should probably reschedule.
On Friday, the United States declared a national state of emergency in response to the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases across the country. Local governments have also implemented state-wide regulations: New York has forced restaurants to close their seated dining areas, meaning they can only provide take-out and delivery services; Pennsylvania has closed all state liquor stores, and schools in several states have cancelled classes. North, in Canada, government actions have been similar—the border has closed to all outsiders and most non-essential services (basically everything other than grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks) have been asked to shut down.
These measures have resulted in many tattoo shops closing until the end of the month, if not longer, which according to Dr. Vinita Dubey, spokesperson for Toronto Public Health and Associate Medical Officer of Health, is necessary to help stop the spread of the virus.
“It is important for all of us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of residents,” she says. “Social distancing—the limiting of close interactions with others—is important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Every social interaction that doesn’t happen will further prevent the spread of COVID-19 and helps prevent people from transmitting the virus to vulnerable residents of our city, including seniors and people with pre-existing health conditions. Since tattooing services require close contact with clients and, as it is a non-essential service, it is recommended that tattooing be postponed at this time.”
In short, if you’re booked for a tattoo appointment between now and the beginning of April, it’s strongly suggested that you reschedule. It’s the responsible thing to do and will help keep you, your loved ones, your tattoo artist, and your community safe.
Why exactly should you avoid getting a tattoo?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people infected with COVID-19 are thought to be most contagious when they’re exhibiting symptoms, but asymptomatic individuals (those who are infected but don’t show any symptoms) can also be spreading the virus unknowingly. “We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told CNN.
You should never get a tattoo if you’re ill because getting new ink is tough on the body. But what if you’re asymptomatic? In that case, you’ll feel fine but getting a tattoo will put your artist at risk (as well as anyone else in the studio and everyone they come in contact with). This is why social distancing is so important right now. Stay in until you know you’re in good health.
Another threat comes from the fact that tattoos put you at greater risk for infection. A tattoo is a self-inflicted wound that involves forcing a foreign substance (the tattoo ink) into your body. Your body’s immune response kicks in to help you heal after you get a new piece, and during that time you can actually be more susceptible to illness.
When will closed tattoo studios reopen?
Honestly, we don’t know. Most studios are closed for a minimum of two weeks, but those closures could be extended depending on the severity of the spread of COVID-19 in each locale. You’ll need to keep track of updates from your specific tattoo studio to know exactly when it’s planning to reopen.
In the meantime, there are other ways you can support your favorite artists.
Most tattoo artists are self-employed. They don’t make a set salary, instead they take home a percentage of the cost of every tattoo; anywhere from 30 to 70 percent. The remaining percentage is given to the shop (if the artist works out of a studio) to help pay for things like rent and utilities. If your tattoo studio is closed right now, that means that your go-to artist is out of work.
If you’re able, there are other ways to support your favorite artists and shops and to help ease their financial burden, though. Many artists have side hustles, for instance. Mira Mariah, the tattooer better known as Girl Knew York—she’s one of Ariana Grande’s go-to artists—regularly drops new merch. Curt Montgomery and Alex Abbey resident artists at our very own Inside Out studio, make a percentage of every sale of their semi-permanent tattoo collections with Inkbox (you can find Montgomery’s collection here, and Abbey’s collection here). There’s also Australia’s Peta Heffernan who sells cute sticker sets. And the list goes on.
Alternatively, some shops and artists are offering sales and gift cards to help them get through these trying times. Olivia Fayne, owner of Anthologie Tattoo in the UK is offering a 20 percent discount on her designs throughout March and April, and Brooklyn’s Welcome Home Studio is accepting donations in addition to selling merch and gift cards.
If your go-to artist or shop hasn’t shared any information about closures or ways to support them during this period, you can always reach out to them directly for more information.