CBC news has learned the Thunder Bay District Health Unit is looking at the feasibility of licensing tattoo parlours — and some tattoo artists in the city like the idea.

At Central Body Art, where three staff members each tattoo as many as four clients a day, manager Beth Bennett said she's happy to tell customers how equipment is sterilized.

But people are more interested in the price.

"Cheap is not always good," she said. "Good tattoos aren't cheap. Cheap tattoos aren't good."

She noted its usually older customers are the ones who ask informed questions about health and safety practices, while younger customers are largely concerned about the prices.

What customers should look for:

  • Generally clean environment
  • Proof of inspection (if it isn't posted, ask to see it)
  • Setting everything used in front of you
  • Uses autoclave to sterilize equipment, or uses equipment that is disposable
  • Tattoo artists use gloves
  • Sterilizes surfaces
  • Make sure ink caps are sterilized or disposable
  • Fresh ink is used and disposed of instead of poured back into the bottle

The health unit does a yearly inspection of tattoo businesses it knows about but, as tattoo artist Peter Bennett said, when it comes to keeping the public safe from blood-borne viruses, regulations don't go far enough.

"In Ontario, you can buy a tattoo machine tonight on the internet and open your shop tomorrow," he said.

"You need a licence to cut people's hair, but you don't need a licence to break skin? Something's wrong."

Preliminary stages

Health inspector Jocelyn Pearson said that's why she feels tattoo parlours should be licensed "so that we can have a more proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach with these operators."

Pearson said talks with the city's bylaw department are still in very preliminary stages.

Bob Manson with AIDS Thunder Bay said safe tattooing is a serious issue since unsafe equipment can spread viruses and diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.

"Any kind of regulation would be good," he said. "But rather than them put the onus on the tattoo parlour, if everyone that was getting a tattoo would do their homework and know what to look for, I think both would be a good idea."

Several Canadian cities are already moving to license tattoo parlours, including Hamilton and Toronto.