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Getting clean ink in Oshawa

Regional health department warns of tattoo artist who could be using dirty equipment


Dan MacKenzie listens to some music while getting a tattoo on his back from Robert Ethier, an artist at Motor City Tattoo Studio in Oshawa, The shop has cleanliness as its “number one priority,” according to owner Lorena Welsh. The Region of Durham’s health department is warning the public that a home-based tattoo artist has been giving tattoos in Oshawa with potentially dirty equipment.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Durham’s health department is warning the public of a man who was doing tattoos out of an Oshawa home, potentially with dirty equipment.

The region says Jamie Armstrong was giving tattoos out of 230A Bruce St., and would like anybody who has received tattoos as this address or from Armstrong to contact them.

The health department began its investigation after hearing about it from a resident.

“We had a complaint from the public, so we had to start an investigation,” Brenda Kwan, the region’s manager of environmental health, tells The Oshawa Express. “We’ve tried multiple attempts to contact this person, but through our investigation, we have heard from a fairly reliable source that this person is definitely offering tattoo services.”

Kwan adds that it appears Armstrong has moved on from Bruce Street.

“Since then, this person has moved from that particular address, so we’re not quite sure if this person is actually offering it somewhere else now. But because this person has been totally uncooperative with us, we’re not able to confirm any information in terms of any client lists or even if he’s using equipment that’s been sterilized properly or what equipment he’s been using,” she says.

The main reason the region is reaching out to the public, Kwan says, is because of the potential for blood-borne illnesses that can be transmitted through tattooing equipment that isn’t properly cleaned and sterilized.

Some of the more serious illnesses that can be transmitted through improperly cleaned tattoo equipment include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

“Blood-borne illnesses are our biggest concern and especially those ones because you might not get sick right away. Sometimes it might be dormant for 10 years before you actually see the disease pop up,” she says. “That’s why, for us, it’s always good to at least flag those clients that actually received services from this person so that we can contact them and send them off for testing so that they can have a baseline now.”

Cleanliness is an important factor for any licensed tattoo shop

“It’s our number one priority,” Lorena Welsh of Motor City Tattoo Studio tells The Oshawa Express. “If you don’t have the backings of a clean shop, then your business is pretty much pooched.”

Welsh says her studio operates on the principle of using a piece of equipment once and then throwing it out.

“We’re fully disposable. Everything is a one-time use, (everything from) needles to ink caps to dental bibs,” she says.

Artists at Motor City Tattoos will also show clients the unopened needles before getting started. The tags from the needles and other pieces of equipment used during a session are also kept on file for seven years in the event there is a product recall or a health advisory.

Regular testing

Last year, the regional health department conducted 35 inspections of tattoo businesses within Durham Region.

These inspections are needed to ensure that Durham’s tattoo artists – ranging from home-based artists to store front locations – keep their tools clean and needles sterilized, among other health concerns.

“When we do inspections on these particular places, we are mandated to inspect these places once a year,” Kwan says. “Whether or not you are selling the service or if you are just giving it to your friends and family for free or you’re apprenticing and practising on your buddies, we don’t really care. As long as you’re doing it, we want to know, we want to be able at least assess that you’re using and doing the right things.”

Home-based businesses are permitted under provincial regulations, as long as they are inspected just the same as a storefront business.

“We want to make sure that if you’re doing invasive services – there is blood involved – we absolutely want to know who you’re doing it on and that you’re using the right equipment.”

The difference between cheap equipment and reputable equipment makes all the difference, Welsh says, adding that Motor City goes to conventions to see what other artists are using and are satisfied with.

“We don’t go on eBay, find the cheapest equipment and start tattooing.”

Welsh says a tattoo done by someone who hasn’t been properly trained or licensed is easy to spot.

“They’ve been scarred because the artist doesn’t know how to properly penetrate the skin,” she says, adding the scarring will be caused by the needle going too deep. “Or the ink is faded because the skin didn’t hold it properly.”

To make things easier and safer for customers, Welsh says she believes there should be a regional registry of tattoo artists. This way, she says, customers know the person putting the ink on their skin sees this as more than a hobby.

“This is a career now, the industry has changed. The artists are really talented and it needs to be recognized as a job,” she says. “I feel Motor City Tattoos has conveyed that to our clients.”