Apparently some tattoo studios in the UK suggest that they can’t, because they have refused to allow HIV positive people to get tattoos. Legally, they are not allowed to ask their clients to reveal their HIV status. But if they are worried that tattoo artists themselves, or their HIV negative clients, risk being infected if they accept HIV positive clients, they must believe that the precautions they take to avoid transmitting pathogens are not adequate.
The Vice article linked to above mentions the possibility that people who don’t know they are HIV positive may choose to get tattoos or body piercing, which is important. But there are also risks of other serious pathogens, such as hepatitis C, being transmitted. The Vice article concentrates on HIV positive people being discriminated against; but a much more important issue is whether anyone’s safety is guaranteed when they get a tattoo, body piercing or any skin piercing procedure.
Tattoos and body piercing are not the only cosmetic procedures that carry risks of transmitting bloodborne pathogens. It is now possible to get injectable steroids, tanning products, botox and other things that are administered by skin piercing tools, such as syringes, needles, lances and the like. You can order these products online, to be sent to your home, and get them at certain clinics and service providers. So they could be administered by people with little training, or even none at all; people can self-administer them and/or administer them to friends.
Anything that pierces the skin can carry a risk. Sometimes the risk is small, but sharing injecting and other skin piercing equipment can carry a very high risk. Someone else’s blood should never come in contact with yours unless you’re getting a blood transfusion, and your blood should never come in contact with someone else’s.
These incidents outlined by Vice highlight that the complainants have been denied their right to confidentiality, and would be discriminated against for revealing that they are HIV positive. But it also highlights the fact that people providing any cosmetic services that may involve breaking the skin do not all have adequate knowledge about skin piercing and dangerous pathogens. These procedures could even include manicures, pedicures, shaving and hair-styling,
Vice reports one person working at a clinic as saying “Well, if someone has HIV we take extra precautions, especially if they have cuts or broken skin”. But tattooing, piercing, etc, involve cutting/breaking skin, by definition. The very reason they should be taking precautions is because what they do breaks skin!
People providing such services should already ensure that they do not reuse unsterilized instruments, including machinery, paints and anything else that may lead to transmission of a pathogen. No pathogen whatsoever from one client should come in contact with another client, or with the person providing the services.
If service providers do not already take these precautions they should be closed down, and all their clients should be checked for bloodborne pathogens. If they believe they need to, or even believe that can take additional precautions just because their client is HIV positive, they should not be not be providing those services.