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New state law regulates body art industry; tattoo artists predict shift to the underground

JACINDA HOWARD - Federal Way Mirror Reporter  - 

The body art industry is facing new state regulations adopted to ensure public safety.

Sections of "RCW 18.300: Body art, body piercing and tattooing" went into effect this month. The law mandates that tattoo, body piercing, body art and permanent cosmetic practitioners obtain a license. Owners of businesses offering these services must now hold a location license. Prior, the body art industry was not been regulated. The law is designed to ensure consumers’ health and safety, but body artists worry the legislation could backfire, causing more artists to go underground or out of business.

State Sen. Jim Kastama (D-25th District) sponsored the bill that led to the new law. He wants to protect the public from a health threat, spokesman Rick Manugian said. Kastama was especially worried about the transfer of Hepatitis C through the use of unclean body art needles, Manugian said.

Improperly sterilized equipment can lead to infections and disease, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Most body art shops require customers to sign a release that indicates they are aware of the dangers. Artists are also aware of the risks.

“I sterilize everything when I’m done tattooing,” Federal Way artist Ben Marshall said.


The Department of Licensing (DOL) and Department of Health (DOH) oversee the regulation. DOH has adopted body art standards to help avoid disease. Artists must use sterile instruments during a procedure, wear gloves, and clean and disinfect areas that come in contact with clients. Artists must use single use stencils, razors, marking instruments and ink containers for each customer receiving body art, and apply barrier films to items such as spray bottles and work lamps, according to WAC 246-145-050.

DOL issues licenses. An individual license costs $250 and must be renewed yearly. A location license costs $300. Obtaining a license requires the artist to be age 18 or older, hold a pathogens certificate, be aware of the DOH standards and complete an application. The DOL may deny, revoke or suspend an artist's license. The state may shut down practitioners not complying with the law. A civil fine not exceeding $1,000 per day the artist practices without a license may also be administered.

Cash strapped

The law hits artists hard, said Marshall, owner of 3 Layers Deep Tattoo. He will pay $550 to license himself and the shop. He started his business in November and is still making people aware of it. Marshall was notified of the law two weeks prior to July. He stresses about providing for his family.

“With this economy as it is, it’s been hard for everybody,” Marshall said. “I’m hoping for a really good month so I can pay for all these fees.”

Shops will be checked on every two years. They must meet the DOH standards as well as requirements pertaining to fire codes, entrances and restrooms, for example. A public liability insurance policy not less than $100,000 for combined bodily injury and property damage is required. Marshall expects insurance to cost him $700 a year.

Signed liability waivers currently act as a form of insurance, said tattooer Joe Meyer with Federal Way’s 7 Deuce Tattoo. Meyer said he won’t be surprised if shops attempt to sidestep the insurance requirement.

Local artists support cleanliness, but don’t feel the law will guarantee that. Meyer and Marshall both said they’re in favor of the state ensuring artists and shops are practicing safely. But actual regulation will take more than a visit once every two years, Meyer said.

“There’s not a single ounce of regulation,” he said. “If you want your fee, then do something with it.”

The law may have effects other than those lawmakers intended. Marshall anticipates artists will leave the shop atmosphere in favor of tattooing from their homes.

“It’s going to send a lot of people underground,” Marshall said.

Meyer, however, said he thinks most people operating in a shop will stay there.

Tacoma resident Burt Browning Jr. wonders if artists are already finding other ways to offer their services. He came to 3 Layers Deep after the shop he regularly visited in Tacoma suddenly closed. No notice was given, he said.

“They’re really coming down on small business,” Browning said, referring to the Legislature.

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