Inked up: A close look at an under-regulated industry

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POSTED: Sunday, May 5, 2013 - 10:00pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 8:18pm

Mitch Wells isn't afraid to go under the needle for a little artwork, with more than two dozen tattoos he loves almost all of them, except one. It’s a simple portrait he got done a few years ago by an unskilled artist he didn't know.

"They said he was free and was like, 'ok. How bad can it be? It's just a little outline.’ And I guess it could have been pretty bad," explained Wells.

When he finally saw the tattoo, he knew he'd made a mistake. The inked up version looked nothing like what wanted, now he is literally stuck with it.

"it was just a miserable experience and then the tattoo ended up not being great at all," shared Wells.

For Wells the only lasting effect of his tattoo nightmare is a distorted picture of one of his favorite singers, but some aren't so lucky.

"I know that the FDA does not regulate a certain ink for all tattoo artists to use the same. So they're not all created equally. Sometimes the patient can actually have a reaction to the ink color itself because it's not regulated," said Kristi Robert, a laser tattoo removal expert at the Williamson Cosmetic Center. Robert has seen her fair share of tattoo nightmares, often as she's removing them from someone's body.

"About 10 percent of the United States now has or will have a tattoo. And 50 percent of that, at some time or another, decides they'd like to have it removed," Robert shared.

Trevon Spillman understands that, he has been asked to skillfully cover up unskilled tattoos several times. He owns a local tattoo shop, but at his shop his artists follow strict rules and regulations, something he said is not the norm at other shops.

"It's very misleading because like I said, people in this industry, that is so saturated now, don't come in and look at portfolios like they should. They come in and if you see a certificate on the wall that means you know exactly what you're doing," Spillman shared.

Spillman said that certificate to tattoo is often too easy to get a hold of, as long as you have $100 on hand.

"They just fill out the application, send it in with a money order and they get it back and they're allowed to start tattooing," said Spillman.

The Department of Health and Hospitals is responsible for issuing those certificates and keeping artists in check. They told us for the most part that they let artist regulate themselves.

"Our regulations are pretty much up to speed on what needs to be there. We again focus on the public health aspect of not getting somebody sick through dirty needles and something of that nature," said Mike Vidrea, an official with DHH.

Spillman said he and other artists welcome, even want, DHH to visit tattoo shops more often and hopefully avoid more tattoo nightmares.

"It needs to be two or three times a year. Even once every three months I think would be adequate. I would like to see more regulation because it's so easy for someone to get in to this industry," explained Spillman.

The Department of Health and Hospitals has an ongoing list of all the registered tattoo parlors in your area.
  

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