Every idiot that thinks they can buy a tattoo machine and start inking up their friends always seems to forgets one key element - the prevention of cross-contamination. This is the part that can make your "clients" really sick or even kill them, but your average scratcher usually doesn't pay any attention to it. As long as they've got a working machine, a needle and some ink, that's all they need to become the next great tattoo artist, right? It's time for a wake-up call, folks.
First of all, what is cross-contamination? The glossary describes it as "the spreading of germs, bacteria and/or disease by carrying them from an infected area to a non-infected area". To make this more simple, let's take a look inside your own home. We'll use the kitchen as an example.
I think most people realize that we can't see germs and bacteria, although we acknowledge that they can be found everywhere. Kitchens are especially prone to these tiny organisms due to the presence of foods that we prepare and eat there. Raw meats are very likely to be contaminated with bacteria such as Staph, Salmonella, and E-coli which can make you very sick if you ingest it.
If you prepare a hamburger tainted with bacteria and then go wash your hands, you have just contaminated the faucet you touched to turn the water on. So the next time you touch that faucet, even if your hands are clean, you re-contaminate your hands. Now if you go and touch someone's plate, they may touch their fully-cooked (and now safe) hamburger on that tiny area you touched and re-contaminate their meat.
If you think this is very unlikely or a little over-the-top, check this out. "The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that between 6.5 million to 33 million cases of food borne illness occur in the United States each year. Worldwide, the numbers grow to staggering proportions...As many as 9,000 people in the United States alone, die yearly."
OK, this has little to do with tattooing or body piercing, right? Wrong. The above was an example of food-borne pathogens - microorganisms that make people sick and die every year from food. The scary thing is, food-borne pathogens are nothing compared to blood-borne pathogens. This is where this article applies to you.
Blood-borne pathogens are the microorganisms that carry infection, Hepatitis, AIDS, and a host of other illnesses. This isn't a little tummy ache from Aunt Sally's bad potato salad we're talking about. These are serious diseases that can be carried in people's blood, many times without them even knowing it. When you tattoo or pierce someone, you come in contact with blood and bodily fluids. If you do not know exactly what to do to prevent those fluids from touching and contaminating any other surfaces, you are putting lives at risk every time you tattoo or pierce someone, including yourself.
When you tattoo someone, everything becomes contaminated. The ink is contaminated, the machine is contaminated, the needle is contaminated, the tube is contaminated, your gloves are contaminated and sometimes even the air around you is contaminated. Your work station is a hazard, your client is a hazard, your equipment are hazards and even that stick of deodorant you use can cross-contaminate from one client to the next. Germs, bacteria and blood-borne pathogens are everywhere. You can't see them, you can't prevent them - the only thing you can do is prevent them from becoming a threat to you and your customers. If you don't know how to do that, then you have no right putting a tattoo needle or piercing needle to anyone's skin, period.
And if you're a client who thinks it's cool that your friend's uncle has a set-up in his kitchen and is willing to give you a really good deal on that tattoo or piercing, you had better listen up. This is why it's more expensive to get a tattoo in a professional studio, because it costs money to properly sterilize equipment and test it for any trace of contamination. If they didn't clean anything, they wouldn't have to charge as much either. But you get what you pay for, people. Go ahead and complain about those high prices - but just remember that every time you get a "deal" on a tattoo or piercing, you're probably putting your life at risk. If you don't think your health and life are worth a few extra bucks, then you agree to accept whatever consequences you endure as a result of your stupidity.
By the way, in case you were thinking that this article was going to actually teach you how to prevent blood-borne pathogen cross-contamination, it's not. That's the job of your mentor when you get a proper appreticeship.