I-Team: Complaints against unlicensed body artists on the rise in Maine

State data reveals complaints about unlicensed body artists have doubled in last year. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) – State data reveals complaints about unlicensed body artists have doubled in the last year.

At Venom Ink Tattoo in Sanford, owner Chad Chase said he and his employees are passionate about art, but their number one priority is safety.

“It's of utmost importance,” Chase said.

According to the state, Chase is one of 197 licensed tattoo artists in Maine. Another 21 are licensed to do body piercings, and 42 can do both.

“You need to meet certain criteria that are in the laws,” Chase said. “They're pretty extensive.”

Artists have to take a bloodborne pathogen course just to get a license.

Facilities are inspected every other year, and state regulations require single-use needles, that have to be tossed out after each client.

Any other tools must be sterilized in an autoclave.

“That kills everything,” Chase said. “It’s heat and it’s pressure and it eliminates any chances of anything surviving.”

Not everyone is following the rules.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says there were 12 complaints of unlicensed body artists in 2017, which includes those who do tattoos and body piercings.

That number was up from six the year before.

“People who may get tattoos in an unsterile environment or under conditions that are not optimal put themselves at increased risk,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett said.

Just this March, the CDC warned the public about an unlicensed tattooist working out of their home in East Machias under unsanitary conditions.

Bennett said that can lead to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

“And in fact in Maine, we've discovered when we've looked at the data that about six percent of people with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C have had unlicensed tattoos,” Bennett said. “And that's a big proportion.”

Bennett said Hepatitis B causes nausea, vomiting and yellowing of the skin, while HIV can be flu or cold like.

Hepatitis C usually comes with no symptoms at all.

“If you have gotten a tattoo and you're worried, get tested,” Bennett said.

Bennett said it can't hurt to get vaccinated for Hepatitis B before getting a tattoo.

Otherwise, do your homework and shop around for licensed professionals with a good reputation.

“It really is common sense,” Chase said. “You wouldn't go have a surgery done in your friend's basement.”

Any body artist found violating the state regulations faces a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail.

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