Health officials look to regulate tattoo, piercing parlors in midstate

WARNER ROBINS -- One might think a profession that involves sticking needles into people would require some government oversight but not so with the tattoo and body piercing business in most Middle Georgia counties.

In the 13-county North Central Health District, only Bibb and Washington counties have any kind of regulations governing the body art business, said Carla Coley, district environmental director. State law requires a license for such businesses, but for it to be enforced, each county has to adopt an ordinance spelling out the requirements. Most in the district haven’t done that.

For several months the department has been working on a set of regulations that it will soon take to the local health boards for approval. If the health boards approve, the board of commissioners of each county would then be asked to make it law.

Coley said the aim is to have all counties approve it to make it consistent across the district.

Stephen Dunn, a body piercer at Boulevard Tattoo in Warner Robins, has been working with the health department in developing the regulations.

He said he welcomes what the health department is doing “with open arms.” Dunn, who has 14 years of experience, said most established shops follow good health practices, but some do not and give the profession a bad reputation.

The biggest problem, he said, is people working out of their homes with little or no training. Going to such people can be a temptation for customers as they try to save some money. After the amateur artists see they can make a little money, they open a shop.

Dunn believes the regulations could put some shops out of business.

“If they do want to stay open, they are going to have to learn and follow these regulations,” he said.

Gloria George of Fort Valley brought her 15-year-old daughter, Jennie, to Dunn on Wednesday to have a belly button ring replaced. George said when her daughter told her she wanted the piercing, her top concern was to have it done by someone who would do it safely. She asked around, and many people recommended Dunn.

Dunn said he learned piercing by working as an unpaid apprentice for a year. The regulations would require anyone doing tattooing or piercing to hold a permit and to have undergone training.

“Anytime you are dealing with the skin and haven’t been trained properly, there is always a massive chance of infection,” he said.

Coley said right now, except in Bibb and Washington counties, anyone in the district who can get their hands on some tattooing or piercing equipment can go into business. Under the proposed regulations, each artist would have to get a permit, and that will only be issued after they have undergone training on health procedures and sanitation.

Each business location will also need a permit and must be inspected four times per year. Nurses will be involved in the inspection to answer any health-related questions the artists may have.

The business will get a certificate with a score on it that must be placed in a visible location, much like restaurant health scores.

The health district includes Baldwin, Bibb, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Jasper, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs, Washington and Wilkinson counties.

The proposed regulations would increase requirements over the ordinances currently in Bibb and Washington, which only require a permit for the business itself. The new ordinance would have significantly more training requirements, Coley said.

Coley said the department has gotten a number of complaints across the district about body artists not following good sanitation procedures.

Antonio Cappas of Warner Robins has been tattooing out of his home for two years. He said he is fine with the government inspecting tattoo artists, but he believes there should not be a stigma against those who don’t have a stand-alone shop. He said he has studied safety aspects of tattooing extensively and carefully follows sanitation procedures.

“Being clean is very necessary when you are a tattoo artist,” he said. “I like being very clean.”

He said some people can’t afford the prices at an established shop, and artists such as himself can help people on a limited budget.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.