Going Back to the Tattoo Parlor

After closing for an extended time under shelter-at-home orders, some of you might get back to tattooing soon.

As we transition to this new way of doing things in a different economy and new reality, many are wondering what the future of tattooing will be.

In some states, body art parlors will be among the first businesses to re-open their doors. Will customers come back? If so, to what capacity? Before we jump to any apocalyptic prophecy, let’s explore what we’ve learned.

Our community is trained to be vigilant against pathogens and viruses, always assuming that clients carry dangerous viruses. We pass stringent certifications and the tools we use are all created to prevent cross-contamination. But during this pandemic, what will the ushering of this new era teach our community?

What has the pandemic taught us ?

Three tall, narrow windows with various panes in wooden, white-painted frames, and a neon "tattoo" sign inside, implying that it's open
Tattoo Shop: Open for Business

Our industry has been praised worldwide for our actions in donating Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to those on the frontline. Perhaps, we better than almost any industry, understand the imminent risks against cross-contamination and our role in preventing infectious diseases. We know this. Our peers and distributors know. But do the people know?

While the closing of body art shops was devastating to business, we can make the reopening better. As the conversation switches, the time has come to educate the world how our industry is sanitary and how artists always take precaution to ensure hygiene. Yes, some states have different protocols when it comes to sanitary regulations, it is up to us to uphold the strictest policies. Even if not mandated to do so, we must all take the first step.

Some regions have started to lift regulations for re-opening body art shops but nothing prevents the shop from remaining closed. As artists, our clients depend on us to create art. It is a profession, where our mood and behavior can directly change the result. Outside stresses, anxieties and other moods can have a direct impact on our art. Even with all the training and protective gear, an artist might still not feel safe to tattoo.

That is ok. We must learn to not judge an artist for refusing to tattoo during the pandemic. On the other hand, we must also not judge those artists whose government has allowed them to return to work. Business owners and artists are anxiously deliberating whether they should re-open. Ultimately, the decision should come down to each artist.

Taking extra precaution to ensure the greater community is safe has to be a must. Even when taking extra steps, some people might not feel comfortable returning to work. Others might be more eager and have scheduled appointments already with trusted clients.

When everyone is cleared to safely return to work, there will still be anxiety, questions and transitions we must adapt to.

For the time being, the future of tattooing will look very different than the one we are used to. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has banned gatherings of 10 or more people. Some precautions tattoo shops are taking are:

  • limiting the amount of people allowed in the shop

  • alternating shifts

  • distancing between stations, usually 10 feet

  • seeing clients by appointment only

  • providing PPE materials, such as masks, for clients and artists

  • not tattooing areas near the face

  • increased sanitation, including hiring assistance for deep-cleanings

Many tattoo shops around the world donated their PPE to hospital and healthcare workers on the frontline. There is a shortage of PPE right now and it will be a challenge for everyone to acquire this coveted necessity. Challenges like these must be considered before shops can open. These new hygienic protocols will also bare a financial cost to artists and business owners.

Sanitation will be key. Perhaps creating a schedule to clean high-traffic areas such as doorknobs, keyboard, bathrooms, and cash registers every hour. By nature, artists are trained in cross-contamination and pathogens. Now more than ever these strict hygiene policies must be followed and respected. Preferably, hospital-grade disinfectants should be used. Artists are used to having these supplies, but with the shortage and continuously cleaning, it might be harder to find a steady supply.

Also, refusing to see clients that are sick or displaying flu-like symptoms is crucial. Before a scheduled appointment, artists can call the customer and ask if they have a cough, fever or fatigue. If the client has symptoms, advise them to stay home, reschedule the appointment and do not charge a rescheduling fee. When the client is feeling better, they can come back. To be on the safe side, the CDC recommends to wait at least 14 days, the incubation period of the virus.

Since it is physically impossible to tattoo while maintaining social distance, perhaps shops can start tattooing areas of the body away from the face. For example, maybe start progressively with back and arm tattoos for some time. When it is safer to tattoo other areas, artists and shops can access the risk. No tattoos should be done to the face or lips as the artist gets close to the client.

While some tattoo parlors and body art shops have been given the green light to open, let’s please remember to exercise caution. If you feel sick or have been around sick people, stay home, too. Protecting the greater community is a duty we must all exercise as artists.

Now is the time to come together as one body art community. If our fellow artists return to work when the government allows them to, we must respect their choice. If an artist chooses not to return, we must respect that, as well.

Remember everyone is fighting a battle, some that we might not know. Let’s lead with compassion. Our industry has received the respect and admiration of the world. We can continue this legacy through practicing safe tattooing and going a step further.

Right now, it is hard for everyone. The reality is we may not go back to “normal” anytime soon but we will emerge stronger as a community. As artists, we are tough and resilient. The virus will only make us stronger together. Let’s confide in each other and remember that our community will be there for one another.