Authorities taking a stand on unlicensed tattoo 'shops'

Getting a tattoo can sometimes be a major decision, especially if it’s your first.  If you’re doing it the right way, you call or visit a licensed tattoo parlor, discuss your options, and make an appointment for the procedure.  Many, however, decide to get their tattoos from an unlicensed person they either know or know of by word of mouth.  This way may be cheaper and faster, but is oftentimes unsafe and, in the State of Arkansas, illegal.


Last year, the legislature passed a bill sponsored by Senator Missy Irvin that put regulations in place on the body art industry.  Licensed body artists around the state, including Roy Hicks of Star Tattoo in Heber Springs, heavily supported these regulations.  Hicks and Heber Springs Police Chief Bobby Walker were instrumental in bringing the dangers of unlicensed and unsafe body art practices to the attention of state legislators.


“It’s a public health issue,” said Walker.  “The Health Department got behind it and got it passed.  You have unlicensed people out here putting needles in people and if they don’t do it properly, they can transmit diseases.”


Unlicensed body modification, which includes tattoos, is a large problem in the county and around the state as a whole.  In an arrest just last week, Heber Springs Police Department confiscated materials that were being used by an unlicensed person giving tattoos in the area.  A quick look at the smudged, unsanitary bottles of ink makes it readily apparent that procedures in this particular instance could easily have been a breeding ground for disease, especially blood based pathogens.


“Hepatitis lives 30-45 days outside the body,” said Hicks  “Unless you went to a doctor, you wouldn’t even know you had it until you started showing symptoms 7-10 years down the road.”


Hicks said he, as well as other licensed artists, felt it was important to get safety regulations in place.


“It’s not just a public health issue,” said Hicks, “It also looks bad on the craft when things go wrong.”


While inks and tattoo equipment can be purchased in cheap kits over the internet, Hicks points out many of these are not safe.  In fact, the danger of bad ink is always present.  Just last month, White & Blue Lion, Inc. in California issued a nationwide voluntary recall of tattoo inks and needles due to pathogenic bacterial contamination.  Hicks pointed out that this was a company that voluntarily recalled and there are many companies out there that won’t necessarily take those steps unless there have been a number of problems that can be tied to their product.  For those affected by these bad inks, the repercussions could be drastic in regards to health.


“You wouldn’t believe how much I have to do that,” said Hicks when asked how often he has to perform reconstructive work on problems that arise from unlicensed body art that has gone bad.


Tattooing a minor under 18 years of age is illegal in Arkansas unless the child has express consent from the parent or guardian and only if that parent or guardian is present when the procedure is being performed. There are additional guidelines and rules that any licensed artists will be familiar with.


The Heber Springs Police Department and Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office are cracking down on unlicensed persons performing body art in the area.  Because of the serious and possible life threatening health risks of unlicensed body art, authorities have placed a heavy emphasis on shutting down these operations. 


If you are interested in learning how you can be licensed, contact your local licensed body artists, or you can contact your local health department and they can get you the necessary information.


“This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for you and all the effort you put into it,” Hicks told Chief Walker as we closed the interview.