Getting a tattoo is a permanent decision that should not be made lightly. Of primary importance when undergoing any body modification procedure is ascertaining that the equipment breaking your skin is sterile. If you get your tattoo at a reputable tattoo shop, your artist will be happy to prove to you that he has sterilized his equipment and that the shop's autoclave is in proper working order. An autoclave is a machine that uses high-pressure steam to kill any viable microorganisms on the equipment's surface.
Interview your tattoo artist before agreeing to let her tattoo you. Go to her shop to confirm that she and the other artists are following proper procedure to avoid cross-contamination. Artists should be wearing gloves while working. The cord of the tattoo machine should be covered with a disposable plastic sleeve. All surfaces with which the freshly tattooed body part comes into contact, such as the arm of the tattoo chair, should be wrapped with dental bibs or plastic wrap.
Ask to see your artist's autoclave room. There should be a sign hanging over the autoclave certifying that it has passed a spore test within the past month. If this certificate is not present in the autoclave room, ask the artist to show you a copy of it.
Ask to see your tattoo artist's personal license. Licensing tells you that your artist has completed courses in bloodborne pathogens and sterilization procedures.
Look at the bags your artist lays out on her tray right before she tattoos you. An autoclave bag looks like an envelope and consists of a paper backing with a see-through plastic front. Ask to see the indicator dots on the back of the bag to make sure they have turned brown, which lets you know they have been through a complete autoclave cycle.
Watch your artist remove the ink tube and the needle from their sterile packaging. Needles are often pre-made and for single use only, which means they will not be in an autoclave bag but in a plastic package sterilized by the manufacturer. Ensure that your artist has a medical-sharps container at her station to dispose of used needles after every tattoo.
Never get tattooed in any location other than a reputable tattoo shop. You cannot guarantee proper sterilization procedures were followed by artists working in a home or hotel room.