Owning and Operating A Tattoo Parlor


Tattoo artists, ink, needles, and many graphic pictures are only a few of the many important factors that coincide with owning a tattoo parlor. When a person walks into a tattoo parlor they are bombarded with photos, characters, drawings, and paintings of numerous forms of body art. Needles pierce bodies at a rate of a million times per day. The needle pierces the skin at an incredibly fast rate leaving ink behind in a now permanent state. Tattoos range in cost depending on the size of the tattoo and the artists’ experience. Tattoos are a permanent form of creative personal style imprinted on the bodies covering. When people come into a parlor they expect certain things from the owners and workers. For example, you cannot have a shop with dirty needles strewn across the floor. You also have to be able to trust that the artist doing your tattoo is competent in his work. As an owner you are in charge of all of these things and making sure you meet specific guidelines.

Juridic Controls

There are very specific rules and regulations written by the Department of Public Health and Human Services that must be abiding by in order to own and operate a tattoo parlor. A brief undefined list of stipulations include consent forms, tattoo application, color, dye, pigment, work room requirements, restrictions and prohibitions, pattern transfers, ultra sonic cleaning unit, tattoo shop requirements, sterilization, utensils and supplies, skin preparation, aftercare, handling and disposal of infectious material, client record, and operation.

Consent forms are based on the client’s personal information. Any and all of the client’s allergies and or diseases must be brought to the tattooist attention in writing. The consent form is to make sure the client understands the procedures and side effects. A signature is mandatory at the end of the document to secure consent.

The tattoo application guidelines state that if at any time the tattooist gets pricked with the needle, all tattooing must stop, and all materials must be replaced and re-sterilized. All ink cups must be disposable and used only once. All gauze or tissues used to absorb blood fluids and ink on the client’s skin must be disposable and only used once. There is no smoke allowed in the work room during tattooing procedures. If the gloved hands of the tattoo artist touch an eye, mouth, nose or ear the hands must be washed and re-gloved with new gloves. The same must happen if any object such as an ink container, telephone receiver, or doorknob is inadvertently touched or retrieved from the floor or otherwise comes into contact with the gloved hands of the tattooist. Dusting, cleaning, vacuuming, or other cleaning of the floors, walls ceilings or attached equipment during times when clients are being tattooed or while tattoos are exposed are prohibited.

Each tattooist must use colors, dyes, and pigments from reputable suppliers, stored in appropriate containers, to insure and maintain their integrity and sterility. After completing the tattooing procedure, the remaining dye or pigment in the disposable ink cup must be regarded as infectious waste, and must be discarded. If the client becomes aware of an allergic reaction or sensitivity to a pigment used in tattooing the condition and the pigment must be reported to the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Health Policy and Services Division, Food and Consumer Safety section in Helena Montana or the health officer. The reporting does not apply to skin sensitivity to antibacterial ointments, soaps, or tape adhesive used in bandaging.

There are various work room requirements which include but not limited to a separated work room from a designated waiting area. Animals are not allowed in the work room, except for guide or handicap dogs. A hand washing sink with hot and cold running water must be available. Work tables, counter tops, and other client contact surfaces must be sanitized between clients with a disinfectant solution having virucidal capability. Disinfectants, cleaning compounds, pesticides and other chemicals must be stored in a separate container. Tables, trays and tattooing utensils may not be shared between or among tattooists tattooing clients at the same time. Work tables must be constructed of metal or other material which is easily cleanable, smooth, non-absorbent, corrosion-resistant, and easily sanitized.

Tattooing restrictions and prohibitions state that the tattooing procedure may not proceed if either the tattooist or the client is under the apparent influence of alcohol or other mind- altering drugs, if either the tattooist or the client has a communicable respiratory or diarrheal disease if the client has not signed the consent form. The client, if under the age of majority (18yrs old), cannot receive the tattoo without the explicit in-person consent of the client's parent or guardian. The written physician referral is required before tattooing a client if the client is taking any drug which may induce bleeding tendencies or reduce clotting, the client shows signs of recent intravenous drug use, the client has a sunburn or other skin disease or infection such as a rash, wound, or puncture mark, psoriasis, eczema, or lesions at the tattoo site or the client declares or evidences allergies or contact sensitivity to pigments, soaps, or other substances used in the tattooing process. The tattooist may delay tattooing or require a medical referral before tattooing persons whose physical health, understanding or judgment may be in question.

The tattoo shop must follow specific rules during its running hours. Each tattoo shop must have a work room for applying tattoos and be maintained in good repair at all times during which the shop is operating. A hand washing sink must be located either within the toilet room or within 10 feet of the toilet room door, with a sink, soap dispenser, and hot and cold running water. A tattoo shop must be separated from any living or sleeping quarters by complete partitioning and solid self-closing doors.

A hepatitis B vaccination must be offered to the tattoo shop owner and the owner must require pre-exposure hepatitis B vaccine to the employees unless serologic testing indicates they are immune to the infection. A post-exposure hepatitis B vaccine must be administered to the employee who obtains a needle stick or other accidental exposure to blood or body fluids, or articles which may be contaminated with blood or body fluids.

The guidelines for sterilization are as follows, each tattooist must use sets of individually wrapped, sterilized needles, bars and tubes for each new client. Defective or faulty needles may not be used. If the sterilized needle, bar or tube is not used within 60 days of the sterilization date, the article must be re-sterilized before use.

Utensils and supplies must be either single use or disposable and discarded after one use or the needle portion must be detached from the bar and discarded after one use. Single use needles must be disposed of in a sharps disposal container after use. The tattoo shop must maintain on its premises at all times the following minimum supplies, one-half gallon of germicidal cleanser or tincture surgical soap, one-half gallon of 70% isopropyl alcohol one-half gallon of distilled water, eighteen sets of sterilized needles and bars per tattooist, three hundred disposable latex or vinyl examination gloves, and five hundred single use ink cups.

Prior to performing a tattoo the skin preparation each tattooist must administer includes clean under and around his or her fingernails with a nail brush, used solely by the particular tattooist, thoroughly wash and scrub his or her hands with hot running water, a germicidal hand cleanser and an individual hand brush, used solely by the particular tattooist. The tattooist must rinse the skin area at the tattoo site with a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution or an equivalent rinsing agent commercially labeled for direct use on the skin which contains alcohol or other solvents to remove all cleaning compounds and chemical residue.

The aftercare of applying the tattoo includes the tattooist washing the completed
tattoo allow the tattooed skin to air dry, and then apply an anti-bacterial ointment. The entire tattooed skin area must be covered with non-stick sterile gauze and bandage or other effective means of protection and infection prevention. Aftercare instructions must be provided to the client both verbally and in writing after every tattoo procedure.

When handling and disposing of hazardous materials each tattooist must ensure that sharps are handled and disposed of. A tattooist must use an implement or tool, such as tongs or pliers, to bend, separate from the bar or otherwise manipulate used needles and a brush, dust pan or tongs to pick up any broken glassware in the work room. A tattooist, having engaged in such cleanup, must wash his or her hands and re-glove before working with a client. Laundry which may have been contaminated with blood must be handled as little as possible and stored separately in a closed container prior to cleaning. All disposable infectious waste or material must be treated and disposed.

Each tattooist must maintain a client record for each client. At a minimum, the client record must include a copy of the signed consent form the name of the tattooist who performed the tattoo, and the address and telephone number of the tattoo shop, special instructions or notations regarding the client's medical or skin conditions, and a written physician referral if a referral is required. The client records must be maintained on the tattoo shop premises for a
minimum of two years. The records must be available for review and verification by the department or its authorized representative.

In order to operate a tattoo shop one must possess a current certificate of sanitation from the department to operate and display the certificate of sanitation in a prominent place in the
tattoo shop.

The department or its authorized representative may conduct inspections at all times when the tattoo shop is operating. The department may, after providing notice and an opportunity for
hearing, refuse to issue a certificate of sanitation to a tattoo shop, or may revoke or suspend a certificate of sanitation, for violations of these rules. 1


The amount of information can be extremely overwhelming. Tattoo artists are slammed with stipulations for each move they make. One wrong move and their career could be on the line. If they drop something for an instant and pick it up and resume tattooing the client is at liberty to sue the shop. The rules are extremely precise, even down to the appearance of the bathrooms. The client’s tattoo will not necessarily be affected by the bathrooms, yet the rules specify an exact regulation for them. There is always the threat of a health inspector popping in to pick apart every crevice of the shop and try and find any wrong detail.

There is also the fear of one swift slip of the needle. If the tattooist slips or gets bumped they make a permanent lasting error on the skin of their client. This could cost them their career or even their shop.

Tattooing is an expression of personality, emotion, or passion. When there are so many guidelines that overtake the actual reason for the job it can be burdensome on the tattooists. Tattooing itself has no restrictions in reference to design and area of the body, or how much of the body is tattooed. Tattooing can be weighed down by numerous stipulations thus taking away from the experience and reflection.


Every week tattoo parlors are closed down by heath inspectors. The rules are tight and nobody will usually move from them. However, hiding negative aspects of your business is one way to get around the rules. In Kalispell for example, a tattoo parlor was a central location for marijuana deals. The pot was hidden and never discovered until the day a fire in the shop exposed their secret. So hiding is always a way around the rules, that is until karma and the laws come for you.

Having an in with the health inspectors would be a way around the rules. Make close connections with your inspector so they will be more lenient to let you off the hook for minor deal breakers.

Making the choice to illuminate tattoos would be the only direct effective way to surpass the controls created by the states. If a person doesn’t want to deal with the overbearing list of rules, then they can choose a different life expression.

Works Cited

1. http://www.tattoodesign.com/tattoo_laws/country/United_States/Montana/1.htm (History: Sec. 50-1-202, MCA; IMP, Sec. 50-1-202, MCA; NEW, 1998 MAR p. 967,
Eff. 4/17/98; TRANS, from DHES, 2001 MAR p. 2429.)

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