- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tattoo artists told a D.C. Council committee Wednesday they support legislation to regulate their industry for the first time as long as the associated fees and rules do not overburden them.

A quintet of tattoo-shop owners told the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs that any decent tattoo or body-piercing shop should meet or exceed standards in the bill, introduced by committee Chairman Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and six of her colleagues.

The legislation would require tattoo and body-piercing artists to register with and obtain a license from the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. It also establishes minimum health standards for the industry.

“The proposed bill contains a clear statement of purpose - to protect public health, safety and welfare,” said Paul Roe, owner of Britishink Tattoo Studio and Gallery on H Street Northeast.

He said regulations should be structured to “encourage and support the industry standards that professionals already follow every day” but not to “discourage legitimate practitioners from conducting business in D.C. with overly burdensome laws and unnecessary fees.”

Derek Davis, chairman of the Board of Barber and Cosmetology, said the regulatory framework should be handled specifically by his board, as it is in various U.S. states.

The bill prohibits the body piercing or tattooing of a minor without the consent of a parent or guardian, but some shop owners testified that it should require customers to be 18 before getting inked.

“In my opinion, minors have no business getting tattooed and making permanent body-alteration choices,” said Matt Jessup, owner of Fatty’s Custom Tattooz, near Dupont Circle. “Just think of the bad ideas and choices you may have made as a minor. And just think if you were permanently stuck with those choices.”

He noted that most minors can, with parental consent, get a piercing, then remove it with minimal impact on their bodies. But tattoos are a different because they may morph on the body of a minor who has not finished growing.

The legislation also requires an artist to provide customers with written instructions on the proper care of their piercing or tattoo. Violations of the provisions in the bill are punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to three months in jail.

“There are health risks associated with tattooing,” testified Dr. Gary L. Simon, director of infectious diseases for George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. “Most of them can be minimized.”

Shop owners said they already dispose of needles after use, sort pigments into separate containers to avoid cross-contamination among customers and sanitize the skin in a prudent manner before tattooing. The real problem, they said, rests with “jokers” who host tattoo parties in homes.

Karl Hedgepath, owner of Jinx Proof Tattoo Studio in Georgetown, and Matthew Knopp, owner of Tattoo Paradise in Adams Morgan, testified they never saw a customer return to complain about a health issue as the result of a tattoo.

They acknowledged it is feasible for tattoos to cause infections or other problems but said such scenarios are uncommon and more likely to occur among tattoo artists who attempt the craft in private homes.

“When we got here, there were no rules for body piercing or tattooing,” said Mr. Hedgepath, who opened his shop 15 1/2 years ago. “And we have gone above and beyond industry standards to see to it that we are not responsible for that type of situation.”