WTOC Investigates: Illegal tattoo and piercing shops - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

WTOC Investigates: Illegal tattoo and piercing shops

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Unlicensed. Uninspected. Untrained.

Do you really know who is tattooing or piercing your body?

The Coastal Health District has strict health restrictions in place, especially with needles and blood involved.

In Savannah you need a business license and a health permit to perform body art. 18 are run legally within Savannah, but many more "underground" businesses are tattooing and piercing bodies illegally while posing serious health dangers.

"Just because you buy a tattoo machine on E-bay does not make you a tattoo artist," Dave Oldham, owner of Resurrection Ink, told WTOC.

Oldham has their licenses and health permits displayed on the wall. All equipment is sterile and inspected by health officials weekly.

"Just because someone opens a needle in front of you does not mean they are operating with sterile equipment. There is no one checking their sterile equipment. They don't own the equipment to make it sterile," Oldham said.

One problem is anyone can by the equipment. As for the work it self.

"This is a mud puddle. If you wanted a mud puddle you got a good one," Oldham said after looking at pictures from a shop operating in Savannah.

It's probably not safe or legal, he said.

"The public does not really understand the risks they take by getting tattooed by someone illegally," Oldham said. "One of the biggest risks is Hepatitis."

Viewers brought to WTOC's attention a business called Tatted Up, advertising with fliers and on their Facebook page with pictures of hundreds of tattoos and piercings they've performed.

"It is illegal for a tattoo artist to tattoo within an inch of an eye," Oldham said.

The pictures of eyebrow tattoos, as posted on Tatted Up's Facebook page, could be classified as illegal.

"We are appalled when we see things like that and anyone can see this is bad work," Oldham told WTOC. "About half our time is fixing bad stuff that was done in backyards, in kitchens. It's huge among college kids."

Facebook shows Tatted Up is run out of a shed in a backyard but the county health department has no record of the company holding any permits.

"They just want to tattoo someone and a lot of their customers just want a tattoo no matter what it looks like," Oldham said.

So, WTOC went to Tatted Up's address on Cranman Dr. When we pulled up, two young men, one with a saran wrap around his arm with fresh ink, walked out from the backyard fence and someone inside closed the gate. The men hopped in a car and left.

We knocked on the door looking for Karlito Ramos, who a few minutes later came to the door.

"Do you have a business license or permit," WTOC asked.

"No. Not yet," Ramos said.

Ramos said he is working on getting his permit and is going to work for Skin Arte, however, Skin Arte closed earlier this year. 

"Are you operating right now as Tatted Up," WTOC asked.

"No. It's the old shop we shut down about a month ago," Ramos said. I showed him the flier for Tatted Up advertising tattoo prices and pictures of previous work.

"So, you are not tattooing or piercing anyone right now?"

"No. Uh uh," Ramos said.

Minutes after we left, a picture of an arm tattoo was posted on Tatted Up's Facebook page. The caption read: "Just done."

"There are ways they can operate legally and ways to operate safely. They choose not to," Oldham said.

The Coastal Health District is now investigating but cracking down can be tough.

"The problem is many of these places are mobile. By the time we get there they are gone," Sally Silbermann, Coastal Health District, told WTOC.

"The ones who are really hard to catch are doing it in your house, not their house," Oldham said.

Oldham added his tattoo artists at Resurrection Ink have insurance and worker's compensation as an extra safe guard. As for illegal operations, insurance is highly unlikely.

"They don't have any of that in place to protect customers, themselves or, quite frankly, their own families which is why it needs to come to a stop," Oldham said.

The health department warns people to be smart, ask to see the licenses and permits for the business and tattoo artist, and if they don't have one, report them to the environmental health at the county health department. It's anonymous, and they say, keeps infectious disease from spreading due to unsterile equipment.

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