Founder of this Naples site of NeighborHelp Referrals.
Body Art (159) in Naples or Collier County
Go to jail.”
That’s the store’s unofficial motto, scrawled in a black Magic Marker. There’s a lot of meaning behind the words.
People released from jail a few blocks away want their jailhouse tattoos fixed. Others may be looking for something cheap and on the fly.
They’ve come to the wrong place, said owner Jimbo Carriero, who opened Collier County’s first tattoo parlor in 1994 on Davis Boulevard. In 1999 he moved to his present location at 1650 Airport-Pulling Road S. in East Naples.
“The good guys have to live down the bad guys, what they are doing wrong,” he said. “They are very short-lived, one or two years and they are gone.”
Forget minors, even if they have a consent form signed by a parent or bring a parent with them.
“I don’t care if they bring Jesus with them,” Carriero said. “If you are not over 18 with a government-issued ID, we won’t work on you, period.”
Carriero and other tattoo studio owners who are serious about their profession say they want more government oversight, given what exists now is almost nonexistent.
Florida law doesn’t require tattoo studios to get a license from the state Department of Health. There is no certification requirement where tattoo artists must demonstrate their knowledge of safe tattooing and infection control.
That could change, perhaps next year, if one or more groups can persuade the Florida Legislature to either beef up the existing law for tattoo studios or adopt regulations similar to body-piercing businesses.
Body piercing is regulated by the state health department.
“I think that is one idea that is included in this proposal, to do more regulation, to get it under the Department of Health,” said Ed Golding, an environmental specialist with the state health department in Tallahassee.
The Florida Professional Tattoo Artists Guild and the Florida Association of Blood Banks, in collaboration with the state health department, are behind the effort to start regulating the tattoo industry, he said.
Right now, anyone who gets a tattoo is prohibited from donating blood for a year out of concern for hepatitis. But with the growing popularity of tattoos, use of disposable needles and other sterilization improvements in tattooing, some states are allowing people to donate blood three months after getting a tattoo, Golding said.
The caveat is the tattoo must be done in a “regulated” parlor, he said.
If the state begins to regulate the industry, the blood bank association could pursue lifting the one-year wait for blood donation in favor of a shorter deferral period.
“I think bringing the blood banks into the issue to help obtain regulation gives a little more strength to the idea that we should regulate the tattoo parlor more so the blood supply can be increased,” Golding said. “Now, the Legislature, by and large, doesn’t see a need to regulate tattoo parlors any other way than it is done now.”
Another consideration is to allow the professional tattoo artist guild to inspect studios to satisfy the health and safety concern of the blood bank industry, said Bill Hannong, president of the guild and longtime tattoo business owner in Fort Myers.
He didn’t have information about how many state health departments are regulating tattoo studios.
Under current Florida law, tattoo studios must have supervision from a physician, dentist or osteopathic doctor — but that doesn’t mean the physician is on site at all.
The intent is that the physician provides periodic inspections of the equipment and develops written procedures with the tattoo parlor owner for how emergencies will be addressed.
At issue is how much oversight a supervisory doctor maintains with a tattoo parlor, something that concerns dermatologists, plastic surgeons, blood banks and professional tattoo groups.
“It’s a joke,” said Dr. Glenn Zellman, a dermatologist in Fort Lauderdale and current president of the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.
The rule is absurd, said Dr. James Spencer, a dermatologist and president-elect of the dermatology society.
“Just because something is on the books doesn’t mean anything is going to happen,” Spencer said. “We put these things on the books and there is no way to enforce it.”
Although it is against the law to tattoo a minor without parental consent, it still happens, Spencer said.
“I think they kind of ignore that and, let’s face it, the police have a lot of things to do in life and undercover investigations of tattoo parlors is not on the top of their list,” he said. “I don’t think it is the kind of thing families will report, and they will be more mad at the teen.”
Chris Nuland, the attorney for the dermatology society, said members hear anecdotally that some tattoo businesses have no relationship with a doctor.
“The rule is probably appropriate but it’s not effective without enforcement,” Nuland said, adding that the state health department doesn’t track complaints against tattoo parlors since it has no oversight of them.
That is true, Amy Alexander, a department spokeswoman, confirmed in an e-mail.
When someone with a complaint goes to a local health department, the individual will be told to contact the doctor supervising the tattoo business, she said.
If a customer says he or she acquired an infection after a tattoo — which can include staph, or even HIV and hepatitis — local health officials can investigate for proper sterilization of equipment, Alexander said.
After that, the health department can contact the supervising physician or law enforcement, but it has no authority to close a tattoo parlor, she said.
There are an estimated 600 tattoo parlors in Florida, based on the number of biomedical waste permits issued to tattoo parlors.
While local health departments have no inspection jurisdiction over tattoo businesses when it comes to customer health and safety, they issue biomedical waste permits to make sure the businesses properly dispose of such waste.
They inspect the tattoo parlor but only to ensure they are handling biomedical waste properly. That’s done annually or every three years, depending on how much biomedical waste each tattoo parlor generates.
There are nine tattoo parlors in Collier County and 35 in Lee County, according to each county health department’s issuance of biomedical waste permits.
Health officials in both counties say they haven’t received any complaints against tattoo businesses in their respective counties in the past year.
They also ask to see documentation that verifies the tattoo parlor has a supervisory physician.
Some of the businesses also do body piercing, which is regulated by the department for sterilized equipment and where the staff must be certified and take classes in safety against blood-borne disease infection.
Chris Bath, owner of Cherry Hill Tattoo Co. of Naples, 335 Airport-Pulling Road, would have no objection to tattoo parlors having the same or similar regulations as body piercing businesses. His business also does body piercing.
“It would be a lot easier. If we could have the same stuff, it could eliminate bad shops from opening up,” Bath said. “If you don’t do body piercing, you can fly under the radar. A lot of places are not doing body piercing.”
What’s happening in Naples is people are doing tattooing out of their homes, which is illegal.
“We see it all the time,” he said. “They come in and want it (a bad tattoo) fixed.”
Requiring tattoo artists to be licensed is fine but it wouldn’t stop the illegal tattooing in homes or of minors, Bath said.
“Not everyone cares. I’ve had people come in with really, really bad tattoos and they think they are great,” he said. “People tattoo 12-year-olds and they don’t care.”
The dermatology society tried to get more teeth into the supervising physician rule six months ago with the state Board of Medicine, which has authority over doctors, said Nuland, the attorney for the dermatology group.
The medical board decided its definition of a supervising physician was sufficient but that there is inadequate enforcement, Nuland said.
Still, the board said its authority is over physicians’ practices and not that of tattooists, so nothing was done, he said.
There has been some talk of creating a board of tattooists, similar to how there are boards for every other type of health-related profession, Nuland said.
He’s not aware of any legislation having been filed to that effect.
“When there is a problem, these patients end up in a dermatologist’s office or a plastic surgeon’s office,” he said. “That is one reason our respective societies are so concerned. They see the problems. How prevalent are the problems, we don’t know the denominator.”
An infection can happen when someone doesn’t follow tattoo after-care standards, said Bath, owner of Cherry Hill.
For instance, people are told not to swim for two weeks, not to use a tanning bed, sit in hot tubs or take baths — but they do it anyway.
“With single-use needles and single-use equipment, you are not going to get (an infection) from us. It is all opened in front of you,” Bath said.
Carriero, owner of Body Branding, concurred.
“After care, that is the biggest thing with tattooing and body piercing,” he said. “Everybody uses new needles and we use plastic tubes for the tattoo machine. It’s impossible to get an infection.”
It is difficult to determine if a tattoo itself is the culprit when someone develops an infection or is diagnosed with hepatitis, said Golding, with the state health department.
“It is really hard to come up with concrete evidence as to how an infection is produced,” he said. “It is very hard to assign guilt epidemiologically. There are just too many variables.”
Carriero said he would support licensing for tattoo artists.
“I am very much pro-health department regulations because we worked with them when (the state) did the piercing law,” Carriero said.
Under the body-piercing regulations, an individual must get certified and take a safety class for blood-borne infection control, demonstrate a “mock” piercing, and the health department inspects all the equipment.
“They should have done tattooing and piercing at the same time back in 1999,” Carriero said.
“I think the people who make their living doing tattoos are acceptable of regulation,” Golding said. “I know many body piercers are acceptable of regulation. They want to be known as a safe and clean industry. You don’t want to be an industry that is suspect.”