Fraud in Tattooing

I’ve been talking to an old friend that’s a tattoo artist who’s pretty straight-shooting and no-bullshit in his attitudes about some of the trends we see among top artists these days. The one that I whole-heartedly agree with is this tendency to fill portfolios with pieces that couldn’t possibly heal well, but look great fresh. Tattoos that look incredible the day they’re done — bright color realism with almost no black-shading is a good example of stuff that often turns into a faded out nothing in time — but looks like garbage when it’s healed. I’ll quote some of what he said, keeping things anonymous because I’m not looking to point fingers here.

There is a very ugly tendancy today in tattoo business of taking pictures of fresh tattoos, doing realism that will look like shit in twenty years — or in four months even — and going from convention to convention, making 100% black money, with no touch-ups, no follow-up of clientele. Those are the most famous artists in the world. I have no problem doing tribal [edit: he is referring to an image I posted of a “less than inspired” tattoo that I spoke ill of] for people who ask. If I can’t change their mind, I’ll do it. It allows me to keep cool pricing for everybody, to keep tattoo art something it SHOULD remain, that is, a POPULAR art form.

You can build up a realistic tattoo that is stable — P*** A*** and J*** G*** can do it, so it’s possible, but when you see older tattoos from D*** or S*** [edit: he’s naming top artists here and I don’t need another lawsuit], it’s nowhere that impressive. As a matter of fact, the “convention” tattoo artists don’t give a fuck, at least, a solid majority of them don’t. When you work mostly in your shop, you see people again, and therefore you can’t afford to mess up that bad. I would even say that *** *** Inks, as a whole concept, are just done for that — put in a single-pass easy color that will look cool till you’re paid, took your photo, and took part in the “Best of Day” competition… but it’s just the worst shit I’ve ever used. It’s a whole culture that is taking over, and it’s a shame, because everybody feels forced to adapt to it.

I agree whole-heartedly. Although I can’t say whether “convention artists” doing these pieces that fail once they heal are willfully committing fraud when they fill their portfolio with fresh pieces that look nothing like the healed examples, but that is what it amounts to, intended or not. I want to show the example that my friend shared with me. This is a fresh tattoo on the left from a well-respected artist, and on the right, the same tattoo not long afterwards. And to be honest, this example isn’t even that bad. I’ve seen loads of tattoos that fresh look world-class — I mean, the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen — from “name brand” tattoo masters, that look like scratcher garbage when healed.

If a tattoo artist’s portfolio contains nothing but fresh photos, consider it a warning sign — to say nothing of being paranoid about Photoshopping to pump up saturation and levels. And if your tattoo artist can not show you well-healed examples of their work, they are not someone you should be going to. You do not have the luxury of wearing a photograph of the fresh tattoo. You will be spending your life with the healed version, and if it doesn’t stand up to what you were expecting, it is you that will suffer. Insist on seeing healed photos!


Click to see that picture a little larger of course.

Edit/Update: Because I am sick and tired of people STILL claiming this is deception on my part, here are screencaps from Facebook showing both images in the tattoo artist’s gallery, full unedited versions, including the name of the artist. They may well have pulled the images by now, but these screen caps are accurate. Damn all the haters for dragging the artist’s name into this, because that was never the point of this.

proof-fresh proof-gallery-1 proof-gallery-2

proof-healed proof-unedited-fresh proof-unedited-healed

Can you ever be “too clean”?

At what point is addressing sterile field control overkill? I mean, on one hand it’s never a bad thing per se, but in a cost-competitive world, lines have to be drawn somewhere or you’ll lose money providing protections that are redundant. Should one always strive to be better? Or does one reach a level of risk mitigation where no reasonable improvement is left to be had, and it’s better to move on to other areas?

I’m really blown away (in a good way) by the level of concern Ronaldo “Piercer Snoopy” Sampaio of Sao Paulo, Brazil ( pays to even “basic” procedures like navel piercings, wearing full surgical gowns and a mask in addition to the industry standard gloves. We all accept that gloves are needed. This is not so much to avoid skin-on-skin contact between the piercer and their client, but because changing gloves is the easiest way to control cross-contamination. Oversimplifying the matter, the primary purpose of gloves is to provide a barrier between clients (even though they’re rarely in the room at the same time), to stop transmission of blood-borne diseases from one client to the next. Gowns, hair nets, and masks on the other hand primarily provide a barrier between the piercer and client. In addition to these protections, in some cases this studio does the procedure through a “window” in a surgical drape. In addition to creating psychological clarity by isolating the procedure from the rest of the environment, this minimizes the risk of pulling any bacteria from the surface of the client’s skin into the wound.

On one hand, all of these protections reduce the chance of infection and related complications as well as projecting an air of professionalism. But on the other hand, humans have been piercing each other with dirty sticks in caves for perhaps the last hundred thousand years. What do you think? Where do you draw the line for acceptable minimum standards? What do you expect of a top-notch shop? Is there a level where you begin questioning the allocation of resources? Do different procedures have different rules? No matter where you think the line should be drawn, I hope you agree it’s wonderful that people are working at such a high standard to even allow such questions to be asked!


Still-Swollen Postbirth Pregnancy Belly

Ok. Not quite. But that’s the image that came to mind when I saw Scott Creel’s (of Southtown in South Fort Smith, Arkansas) bumpy forehead, swollen and with a slight excess of skin after removing the large 5th generation subdermal horns he’s worn for the last two years. This photo was taken a few days after removal, and the swelling should last as long as a week. When Scott first got the horns, he was debating between subdermals and transdermals, and after a couple years of wearing the subdermals he feels it’s not the aesthetic for him and that he should have gone with the transdermals, which will happen once everything is healed, perhaps in combination with some white ink and scarification.


While I’m posting removals — and speaking of transdermals — I can’t avoid this gory excision of a big pile of early transdermals (perhaps to be replaced with the new generation later?) done by Samppa Von Cyborg. It may look like a lot of trauma, but removing them in large strips is much less messy than the cutting each one out separately, and more importantly, ensures that all scar tissue is excised, leaving as smooth a scalp as possible when the procedure is complete and healed.


Mycobacterium chelonae infections in tattoos

After reports of long-term rashes from tattoos, a CDC investigation showed it to be Mycobacterium chelonae, a hardy and fast-growing bacteria that can be found in tap water. It can lead not just to rashes (technically this is a “granulomatous inflammation”), but cellulitis, difficult-to-treat infections, and abscesses are possible as well. It is especially dangerous for immunosuppressed people, for example those with HIV/AIDS. In addition, and this must be noted in the age of eye tattoos, ocular keratitis and related conditions can occur, as the eye has specific weaknesses in regards to this bacteria. The rash-type infections are quite common in tattoos, and can come and go in some people as they flare up in certain conditions with itchiness, sometimes painful, and small raised bumps, often with redness, although this may not always be visible in the case of a solid tattoo, especially blackwork. It typically starts two to three weeks after the tattoo is done, but can also take longer. Assorted studies by health departments, the CDC, the FDA, and scientists and medical researchers internationally seem to show that tattoo contamination from this bacterium is happening on a regular basis all over the world.

As I said, all it takes for a tattoo to become infected with Mycobacterium chelonae (and I suspect there are many other microbes I could say this of as well) is for the tattoo ink or components of the tattoo equipment to come into contact with tap water — this could happen when cleaning the equipment or when diluting the inks. More disturbingly, it may be completely unavoidable by the artist because a number of the infections have been traced back to the manufacturer, who used tap water at some point in their manufacturing process. There’s no way — other than infected clients after it’s already too late — for the tattoo artist to know whether their ink is contaminated, short of using sealed sterile ink. It’s only recently that tattoo ink companies have started offering single-use sterile packages of ink, and only a fraction of artists use these products at present. In addition, a study by the European Journal of Dermatology analyzed about sixty bottles of tattoo ink from different manufacturers, and found that 10% of them were microbially contaminated by a variety of bacterium (and they weren’t even checking for Mycobacterium chelonae — no definitive study has been done to date on what percentage of tattoo ink is contaminated at the manufacturer level).

Treatment of this bacteria is difficult because it is extremely hardy. At a minimum, local wound care for the lesions is required. In some cases antibiotics can help kill the bacteria — and we’re potentially talking about four to six months of treatment that can have serious side effects, although it’s often faster — and in other cases surgical removal (think of skin removal scarification — excising the affected tissue). If the infection is in an eye, surgical debridement is always required — in my opinion, any ink dilution for eye tattoos (and all tattoos) must be with sterile water, and the ink itself should ideally come from single-use sterile packages. It should also be noted that ophthalmic corticosteroids which are sometimes prescribed to deal with the healing of eye tattoos and to deal with the increased intraoccular pressure can cause this type of infection to get worse. All things considered, M. chelonae may turn out to be the largest risk in eye tattooing. Surgical excision of all the affected tissue is usually curative because the bacterium does not seem to spread significantly (which is why you may even notice flare-ups among only certain colours). Multiple surgeries can be required and will almost certainly result in significant scarring (and not the good kind).

The CDC for once gives some advice on the subject of body modification that I agree with, saying that ink manufacturers need to be held to higher product safety standards including production of sterile inks. They recommend that tattoo artists:

  1. avoid using products not intended for use in tattooing
  2. avoid ink dilution before tattooing, and if dilution is needed, use only sterile water
  3. avoid use of nonsterile water to rinse equipment (e.g., needles) during tattoo placement
  4. follow aseptic techniques during tattooing (e.g., hand hygiene and use of disposable gloves).

I would add that I’d like to see tattoo artists using sterile ink whenever possible, seeing as many of these infections traced back to reputable ink manufacturers, and there would not have been anything the tattoo artist could have done to mitigate the problem. They also recommend that customers do the following to reduce their risk of infection:

  1. use tattoo parlors registered by local jurisdictions
  2. request inks that are manufactured specifically for tattoos
  3. ensure that tattoo artists follow appropriate hygienic practices
  4. be aware of the potential for infection following tattooing, and seek medical advice if persistent skin problems occur
  5. notify the tattoo artist and FDA’s MedWatch program (or other appropriate national program in your country) if they experience an adverse event.

I would also add to this that it might be worth printing out this blog post to share with your artist since they may not have the time to keep up with medical news, and being better informed is the most important first step in being safe. Finally, here is a collection of photos of what such an infection can look like. Click the picture to zoom in.


For more information, there is a good technical introduction with scientific paper references in the CDC’s frighteningly named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report here: In addition, because of the volume of cases that are being seen now (this is being characterized by health officials as “not common, but not rare either”), you may see it in the news as well. Here are a few links to get you started, and Googling for “mycobacterium chelonae tattoo” will of course find many more: Study: Tattoo infections traced to tainted ink, Mycobacterial Infections: The Link to Ink, Tattoo ink causes health scare, and Tainted Tattoo Ink Led to Skin Infection Outbreak.

Gem-set Jewelry Experiment FAIL

You’ve all probably seen horror stories about rusty jewelry or “titanium” jewelry that turns out to be cheap steel that was painted, revealed with the colour peels off. But this jewelry comparison is more subtle, the difference not between high quality and garbage, but more like the difference between high quality and mid-range “meh” jewelry that might not instantly set off alarm bells. A.J. Goldman took some “expensive” jewelry and some cheap jewelry (not that either of these will break the bank) and put them both in a saline bath for the weekend. Both bars had the same sparkling clear stones when the experiment started. The saline should have basically zero effect on the jewelry, and thankfully it didn’t seem to alter or damage either bar (one being stainless and the other titanium), but what did happen is the gems in the cheaper jewelry turned dull and discolored. The most likely explanation is the cheap foil-backed “gems” they used, or even the epoxy used to set them, reacting to the saline. The quality jewelry uses gems that are held in place by the metal’s shape itself, so there is no foil backing or epoxy to discolour.


Feel free to distribute this picture

Think about how long the jewelry is going to be in your body — and the fact that you’re getting the piercing to enhance your body. If you’re not willing to spend that extra $10 or $20 to do it right, is it really worth doing? What is it saying about what you think of your body when you put low-quality tarnished or dulled or discoloured crap in yourself? From my point of view, it is better to wait a little longer until you can afford top-notch jewelry, and wear something that will look beautiful for the life of the piercing. There is nothing worse than getting a body modification that you thought would be a thing of beauty, only to be betrayed by it because someone decided to cut-corners on the jewelry to save or make a few dollars.


The result of getting your buddy who learned to pierce by “watching videos” to work on you in his kitchen… is that you’ll eventually end up getting yourself repaired by someone who is actually based out of a reputable studio. The famous and notorious “Autoclave Cookbook” (this really does exist) aside, you should not be able to cook a proper supper in a body modification studio. This ear repair was done by Papacho Body Art and Christian Moron of 316 Tattoo Studio in Caracas, Venezuela. I will never get used to looking at necrotized ears. That is only permissable if you are a zombie or otherwise a member of the undead — and even then it’s completely undesirable.


On pins and needles

Alright, this is going to be one of those posts where I start out with a warning.  What you’re about to see is very risky, and shouldn’t be done without extensive knowledge and research.  The materials used in particular are not traditionally used in this way and and the chance for serious injury is high.

So what’s all the fuss about?  How about a 220 point suspension using only 22ga needles.

Keep on reading to see what happened when they lifted up the rig.

As you can see, it ended up being successful, and I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like. Keep in mind that just because this suspension was successful, it shouldn’t be repeated without careful consideration.  You can see the rest of the photos in the Suspension Galleries.

Sale Extended!!! 40% off Diablo Organics Jewelry!! Coupon Code: 40offdiablo

Public Service Announcement

Attention; LOGMAN94

The inside of your philtrum, should NOT look like this.

Thanks, your friends at


In all honesty, I imagine that LOGMAN94, was submitting this picture to show how bad it looked. However, since it didn’t mention anything about the piercing being problematic in the description and I couldn’t find him on IAM, I figure I best put this warning up………just in case.

The amazing vanishing scarification!

Almost 2 years ago Modblog made this post about my friend Robin’s scarification piece that was done for her at Scarwars.  It was a well done piece by a respected artist, yet now (almost 3 years after it was originally done) it has all but vanished.


Robin, sent me these pics and asked if I would be interested in posting them here. Of course i was interested. This is an important thing for people to see. Robin (like myself) is not prone to scarring heavily and even the best work, and most diligent aftercare isn’t enough to guarantee the raised and highly visible scar that was desired. I post this not to discourage people from getting scarification work done, but to educate them of the realistic possibilities it will not end up as bold as intended.

For two more shots, keep on keeping on.



A note from Ron

Ron messaged me and asked if I could repost the entry on the rotisserie suspension with an added note of warning. I explained to him that reposting  the exact same post wouldn’t fly. However, in that exact same day I was shown a video of a recent suspension performance where a guy suspending suicide fell. I couldn’t quite make out if the rope broke or a knot came untied but either way it was an easily avoidable mistake. Luckily, for all involved, the suspendee was hanging fairly low and in an upright position so there was minimal chance of injury.

Nonetheless, seeing that video  more than justified me posting Ron’s updated note of caution (regarding the rotisserie suspension video):

When you see the clip, all you may see is the awesomeness of a rotating suspension.. what you DON’T see is all the time , research, planning and practice going into this.. When you watch the clip, you will also see my dear friend Richard Nunez during one of these show practices where he flew off the rig and had to be taken to the hospital for a concussion and sutures. As scary as it was to deal with , it was even scarier to be the one responsible for what happened and to have hurt a member of my family like that.

This episode is a VERY LARGE part of why I feel the way I do about suspension safety these days. Sure we weren’t doing normal suspensions.. but neither is a lot of the stuff going on these days either.. The time has come to step and bring safety into the 21st century as well!”

Kids, respect your elders.