More than a few first tattoo stories begin in someone’s basement and end with a very DIY-looking piece that, later on, pales in comparison to more professional work. There’s no denying that tattoos done at home have an alluringly gritty, punk rock air about them, but that doesn’t make them a good idea by any stretch of the imagination—the dangers of home tattoos are incredibly real.
What separates a home tattoo experience from one at a studio, is, of course, the studio itself. Terry Downs, a tattoo apprentice at Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlour in Brooklyn, New York, tells Inside Out that your average tattoo studio takes a slew of safety and sanitary precautions. For example, all the surfaces in the shop are covered to ensure that they’re nonporous to avoid infection transmission, and all equipment is sterilized and re-sterilized. Basically, every single decision is made in order to prevent the contamination of anything in a given workspace. And, according to Washington-based tattoo artist Nickhole Arcade, that level of care simply cannot be reproduced at home.
The dangers of home tattoos start with the home itself
“There’s never enough light [in a home setting],” she explains. “There are usually kid and pet germs, [plus] cooking, sleeping, and other life habits happening around the tattoo area, thus contaminating it.” Plus, with cheap tattoo supplies being sold on Amazon and self-described, self-taught tattooers offering how-to tips on YouTube, it’s no wonder that people get the idea that they can get a tattoo at home without running into any major issues, notes Arcade. The truth is, most reputable tattoo supply retailers require that their customers be licensed in order to purchase their products — and as far as learning how to actually tattoo goes, it takes a hell of a lot longer than a few hours spent watching videos.
Naturally, with the discrepancies in cleanliness and professionalism associated with at-home tattooing come increased risks of bacterial and viral infections. Without professional-grade equipment and cleaning supplies, there’s no guarantee that the area or tools used will be totally sanitary. Downs notes that proper aftercare is also imperative to a healthy tattoo — and an inexperienced tattooer, rather than a professional artist, probably won’t be able to offer adequate aftercare instructions.
And also exist around what is in the home
The risks to your safety go beyond how the tattoo itself is done: Arcade reminds us that studios usually don’t allow children or pets, and tend to be very focused, calm environments. “Say you’re doing a crucial line [on] the nose of a pinup, and out of nowhere a baby screams or a dog howls unexpectedly because it hears a siren in the distance,” she says. “We cannot predict all of these things or when they’ll happen, so instead we can prevent them by not tattooing at home.” In other words, home setting aren’t just unsanitary — they can be completely unpredictable.
Plus, at-home tattoos can be downright illegal
In addition to the risks that at-home tattoos pose to your health, they’re illegal in many parts of Canada and the United States, to boot. “With any tattoo, research the artist,” Downs recommends. Even if you find that they’re a licensed, professional artist, think twice before seeing them outside of a studio setting. It’s common for studios to need a license or permit of their own in order to function as a legal tattoo shop. And, again, a space that’s used for anything other than tattooing (say, for eating or just hanging out) is bound to have the everyday sorts of dust, dirt and crumbs that have no place in a professional setting.
“The number-one thing I cover up the most (besides names) are tattoos done in houses,” Arcade says. Even if nothing bad happens during or immediately after getting an at-home tattoo, your mileage will vary wildly when it comes to the quality of the piece. Rather than going with the first person who says they’ll tattoo you or whoever suggests it as a cool thing to try, find your artist through research and trusted recommendations. No amount of street cred is worth ending up with something you’ll regret in the long run.
If you liked our post The Dangers of Home Tattoos Are Far Too Real, make sure to check out 6 Myths About Tattoos That May Surprise You.