New law not a problem for Merced area tattoo businesses

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 4, 2012 

— A new state law regulating tattoo parlors kicked in this summer, although for Stephanie Busbea-Tharp and John Tharp of Merced's Main Street Tattoo and Body, life is business as usual.

"For the most part we were already doing all the things that the bill requires," Busbea-Tharp said.

On July 1, Assembly Bill 300, or the Safe Body Art Act, went into effect. Ron Rowe, director for the Merced County Division of Environmental Health, said that under the new law, all body art practitioners must become registered and practice in facilities with a valid health permit.

In addition, practitioners must be trained in first aid, CPR, and preventing the spread of blood-borne pathogens, and must provide proof of current Hepatitis B vaccination before they can register through the Merced County Department of Public Health's Division of Environmental Health, he said.

"Environmental health specialists will conduct inspections to ensure tattoo and body art facilities are operating in a safe and sanitary manner," he said.

But before the new law, Rose said tattoo businesses in Merced County were typically complying with some of the requirements.

The law creates consistent statewide health standards for all tattoo and body art practitioners and businesses in the state, Rowe said. People in the industry were involved in developing the new regulations.

"The vast majority of tattoo and body artists in California have worked hard to help create the new law and follow standard procedures that protect the public and the industry," he said. "When implemented, the new law both recognizes and supports body art practitioners' efforts to significantly reduce blood-borne pathogen transmission."

Many local practitioners such as Tharp, don't see the law as a bad thing. Tharp said the new regulations are positive because it sets his business apart from those that might not be legitimate. "It distinguishes us, who do it professionally and responsibly, from those who don't," he said.

Main Street Tattoo and Body in downtown Merced sees anywhere from 30 to 40 clients every day, said Busbea-Tharp.

It's important for consumers to know that any time the skin is broken, there's a risk of infection, swelling, peeling and blistering, Rowe said. "Unsanitary body art practices can lead to diseases like hepatitis B and C and AIDS," he said.

The changes will allow the public health department to enforce the regulations and charge those businesses that aren't complying with the law, Busbea-Tharp said.

Now, people will be able to do their research before getting a tattoo or piercing and see what businesses are abiding by the law, Tharp said, for their own safety.

Still, the regulations don't replace common sense, Rowe said. People should make sure that their body art practitioner does business in a clean and hygienic environment, uses safe equipment and inks, wears a new pair of disposable gloves, uses disposable needles and razors and safely disposes of them, sterilizes reusable equipment, uses approved jewelry and washes hands and surfaces often.

Earlier this summer, the division of environmental health provided two workshops to bring those in the industry up to speed with the new law. Rowe said they had good attendance.

"It's nice that everybody is taking part in this together," Tharp said of the training.

Before the law was enacted, the California Health and Safety Code was enforced by the county, Rowe said. The regulations were pretty general, he said, and already required practitioners to be registered.

The new law requires that facilities store documents for three years, which Busbea-Tharp and Tharp said they were already doing at their business. Their facility would be inspected once a year by the county.

To find out more about the Safe Body Art Act or to see if a body artist is registered in Merced County, please call the Merced County Division of Environmental Health at (209) 381-1100.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at

(209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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