The main points
- Any piercing equipment used during tattooing or piercing that is contaminated with someone else’s blood could allow a blood borne virus(BBV) such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV to be transmitted to you.
- If the body artist is a professional person, they will be happy to show you their safe practices.
What are the risks?
Tattoos and body piercing are popular forms of body art in Australia. Both tattooing and body piercing involve penetration of the skin with a needle. Any piercing equipment used during tattooing or piercing that is contaminated with someone else’s blood could allow a blood borne virus (BBV) such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV to be transmitted to you. Some BBVs are also passed from one person to another person during sexual activity and so getting a tattoo or piercing where contaminated equipment has been used, not only has the potential to transmit a BBV to you, but could also cause you to be infectious to others who you have sex with.
- Hepatitis C: a long term illness affecting your liver. At the moment, there is no vaccine but treatments are available.
- Hepatitis B: a long term illness affecting your liver. A safe, effective vaccine is available.
- HIV: the virus that can lead to the disease known as AIDS. At the moment, there is no vaccine or cure, but effective treatments and preventative medications are available.
You will also be at risk of bacterial infections if the person tattooing or piercing your skin doesn't follow safe (sterile) practices and/or you don't follow their aftercare instructions. Bacterial infections can be painful. In rare cases they can threaten your life if they enter your blood stream. It’s very important to see a doctor if you think you have an infection.
How do I minimise the risks?
Before choosing a tattooist or body piercer (sometimes called a ‘body artist’) make sure they can answer “yes” to ALL the steps on our safety checklist at the end of this fact sheet. Following these steps will minimise the risk of you coming into contact with any equipment that has been in contact with anyone else's skin and/or blood.
If the body artist is a professional person, they will be happy to show you their safe practices. If they give you a hard time because of your questions or cannot answer yes to all of them, it is safer for you to leave and choose another body artist.
If you're thinking of getting a tattoo or body piercing done while you're overseas for whatever reason, you still need to go through this checklist – some countries outside Australia do not regulate tattoo or body piercing operators and this may put you at more risk of a BBV. If the overseas body artist can’t answer yes to all of your checklist questions, it is safer for you not to have it done with them.
Can't I just get my friend to do it?
Because you need to get the steps in the checklist 100% right to reduce your risk of infection, you shouldn't let a friend do it, or do it yourself. You might save money, but you will increase your risk of exposure to an infection. For example, a body artist needs to be using a special machine called an autoclave to sterilise tattoo or piercing equipment. If operated and maintained properly, this ensures the temperature reached during the sterilising process is high enough to kill any BBV or bacterial infections on the equipment they intend to use on you. Sterilising the equipment in boiling hot water is not adequate to kill BBVs or bacteria.
Where to get more information, support or advice
- Contact your local doctor (GP)
- Contact Family Planning Victoria's clinics
- Visit Better Health Channel
- Visit Youth Central