Creating a Tattoo: Sterilization
An autoclave sterilizes tattoo equipment before each use.
A tattoo machine creates a puncture wound every time it injects a drop of ink into the skin. Since any puncture wound has the potential for infection and disease transmission, much of the application process focuses on safety. Tattoo artists use sterilization, disposable materials and hand sanitation to protect themselves and their clients.
To eliminate the possibility of contamination, most tattoo materials, including inks, ink cups, gloves and needles, are single use. Many single-use items arrive in sterile packaging, which the artist opens in front of the customer just before beginning work.
Time and Money
A small tattoo -- under one inch -- should cost from $50 to $100. Custom tattoos and larger designs are more expensive, and elaborate pieces can require multiple sessions. Prices for elaborate designs are whatever the market will bear, according to tattoo artists.
Reusable materials, such as the needle bar and tube, are sterilized before every use. The only acceptable sterilization method is an autoclave -- a heat/steam/pressure unit often used in hospitals. Most units run a 55-minute cycle from a cold start, and they kill every organism on the equipment. To do this, an autoclave uses time, temperature and pressure in one of two combinations:
- A temperature of 250° F (121° C) under 10 pounds of pressure for 30 minutes
- A temperature of 270° F (132° C) under 15 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes
Prior to sterilizing the equipment, the artist cleans each item and places it in a special pouch. An indicator strip on the pouch changes color when the items inside are sterile.
The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tattau, which means "to mark," and was first mentioned in explorer James Cook's records from his 1769 expedition to the South Pacific.Tattoos were also found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies that date back to about 2000 B.C.
Before working on customers, tattoo artists wash and inspect their hands for cuts and abrasions. Then, they should do the following:
- Disinfect the work area with an EPA-approved viricide.
- Place plastic bags on spray bottles to prevent cross-contamination.
- Explain the sterilization process to the client.
- Remove all equipment from sterile packaging in front of the client.
- Shave and disinfect (with a mixture of water and antiseptic soap) the area to be tattooed.
Now, let's look at how the artist creates the tattoo.