Are you considering getting a new tattoo or piercing but have concerns about the possible health risks associated with the procedure? If so, you may want to investigate whether the studio has test records documenting that their sterilizer has been tested with biological spore strips through an independent testing laboratory.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized the risks associated with the use of small sterilizers in the tattoo and piercing industries, primarily in the potential transmission of blood related diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis-B, and HIV. If you were to receive a tattoo or piercing with un-sterile equipment previously used on an infected person, you could be at risk in contracting the disease. As a result, tattoo, piercing, and permanent cosmetic businesses are rapidly coming under new regulations governing the sterilization of equipment used in daily operations. These regulations outline requirements for testing sterilizers (autoclaves) with spore strips, also called biological indicators. Some states currently do not have regulations requiring spore testing. Some states that do have regulations do not actively audit the studios to ensure the testing is being done. Whether a tattoo or piercing studio is required by law to perform routine spore testing or not, it should be a part of their standard operating procedure. Routine spore strip testing not only ensures that the sterilization equipment being used is capable of sterilizing, but also is an indicator of the operator’s ability to run the autoclave correctly.
So what is a spore strip test and how does it work? A spore strip is a small piece of filter paper that is impregnated with thousands of bacterial spores. The strip is sealed in a permeable glassine envelope and is used to monitor the effectiveness of an autoclave sterilizer. When ran through a sterilization cycle, if the spores are destroyed, you can be assured that any potential pathogens on the items being sterilized have also been destroyed. Normally the studio owner contacts an independent testing laboratory to purchase a spore test kit through a mail-in program. On a routine basis, typically weekly or monthly, a spore strip is placed in the sterilizer with a normal load of packaged items to be sterilized. When the sterilization cycle is complete, the spore strip is mailed back to the testing laboratory for further processing. If the test result is negative growth, indicating sterility, an acceptable test report is mailed back to the business to be kept on record. If the test result is positive growth, indicating a sterilization failure, the business is contacted immediately by telephone and informed of a problem with the sterilizer. A positive (failed) spore test report is then sent to the studio and should also be kept on record. If a tattoo studio receives a positive sterility failure, they should quarantine all items that have been sterilized with that sterilizer and not use them on customers. Once the problem has been identified and corrected, the items should be re-packaged and re-sterilized. A sterilizer that has failed a spore test should not be used until the problem has been corrected and a negative (passing) spore test is performed. Most studios maintain a back-up sterilizer in the event that they have problems with the primary one.
If these procedures are followed, the studio has demonstrated that their sterilizer is working properly and that they are working to ensure your health and safety through proper sterilization practices. So if you’re planning on getting a tattoo or piercing, be sure to ask to see documentation that their sterilization equipment has successfully passed a spore strip test. The tattoo studio should willingly provide these records for your review. Most testing laboratories also provide a certificate for display at the studio to indicate that they actively participate in a biological spore strip testing program. If a studio has no certificate or records of routinely passing spore tests, there is no way you can be assured that their sterilization process is safe.