Tattoo artist working on a client. (Photo: Plexels/Cottonbro)

Tattooists warn of health risks from ‘lockdown cowboys’

Tattoo artists have warned of the health dangers and risk of infection from the lockdown trend for backyard ink by unqualified cowboy tattooists.

The trend for self-tattooing in isolation or getting tattoos from unqualified acquaintances has been fueled by the easy availability of equipment for sale on eBay and Amazon. ‘Stick and poke’ tattoos have also increased in popularity.

“It is not worth the health risks or fines that come with tattooing from an unregistered, unlicensed premises,” Flick, the owner of tattoo studio Art On Skin at Artarmon on Sydney’s North Shore, said.

“The home environment is not clean and sterile and it increases the risk of a serious tattoo infection or disease.

“There is also unlikely to be proper sterilisation of equipment such as the ultrasonic cleaner and autoclave used in tattoo studios and lots of surrounding furniture, items [and pets] that could be harbouring bacteria.” 

Many home tattooists don’t follow the single-use equipment method, meaning that they would at times use the same needle on multiple people and not opt for sterile ink or gloves when tattooing. This could lead to a plethora of health risks.

Professional tattoo artists, however, are fully equipped to apply tattoos using safe equipment and are trained on infection control practices.

Although there is an ease of accessibility to cheap tattoo equipment online, the equipment available may not always be safe and reliable. People purchasing their own equipment would also lack the training to operate the tattoo machine correctly.

Sterile tattoo station at Max’s Village Tattoo Studio. (Photo: Mia Alcordo)

Professional tattoo studios have been among the last industries allowed in the beauty sector to reopen their doors to clients again, after coronavirus restrictions were eased in New South Wales.

This left tattoo artists having to find other avenues to stay financially afloat and keep busy in the lockdown period.

Flick said tattooers had been selling their merchandise online as an alternative source of income – anything from clothing to prints and aftercare. Some artists even did commission artworks for clients such as drawings of pets and portraits of loved ones.

“Fortunately in Australia, most artists were able to get government assistance which helped with living expenses. In other countries, this was not the case and tattoo artists had to seek essential service jobs,” she said.

Peter Tiliakos, a tattoo artist from Max’s Village Tattoo Studio in Sydney’s Potts Point, said that because he qualified for the Jobkeeper payment scheme, he was able to have some sort of income to cover his costs of living.

“[During lockdown] I kept myself pretty preoccupied with painting, drawing and doing things around the house,” he said. He even has one of his lockdown paintings displayed in the tattoo studio.

While many tattoo lovers were eagerly anticipating the reopening of tattoo studios, some couldn’t handle the wait and began self-tattooing. It’s fair to say that boredom while in lockdown was the catalyst for what would eventually turn into a social trend, which many tattoo artists advised against following.

So for those wanting to get new ink, it’s best to seek services from a professional now that studios are open again.

Fortunately, for many tattoo studios like Art On Skin, there has been a spike in bookings, which comes as a welcome boost for the industry.