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Tattooing With HIV: A Slap in the Face

April 14, 2014

Yesterday, I contacted a local tattoo parlor about possibly getting some work done. I have 3 tattoos and 3 piercings. I not only want some new work, but I also want to get some touch-ups on a few of the ones I have. Yes, tattoos and piercings are addictive and once you get one, you always want another.

I have not gotten a tattoo since my HIV diagnosis so I was not really sure of how to handle the situation. Part of me waited this long because I was afraid of rejection and how it might impact me. I know plenty of people who have gotten them while HIV-positive, but I just didn't know the exact procedures that needed to be followed. I figured now was a good time due to the fact that I now have an undetectable viral load and that maybe a tattoo would not be such a shock to my system. I contacted the parlor via email and asked what their shop rates were and if they had a policy against tattooing people with HIV. I felt that it was better to be upfront about it and let them know before I just went into the shop. A part of me regrets ever asking now, but I am always honest about my diagnosis, especially when there is a higher risk involved. I did get a reply back that was short and simple. They said, "No we will not. Thanks for asking and we appreciate your concern for the well being of our artists and customers."

This just kind of hit me the wrong way and at the time really pissed me off. This incident is the first time I have felt discrimination based on my HIV status in a very long time. I had almost forgotten what it felt like. I wanted to put them on blast and "educate" them but then I figured it would do no good. Even if I did send them a list of facts and educational material they would probably still say no, and if they did change their minds and say yes, I was sure as hell not going to let them do any work on me after all of this.

This whole incident is just a reminder of how far we still have to go in fighting the stigmas that are related to HIV, especially here in the South, where so many are still uneducated about it. Yes, there are plenty of other tattoo parlors in the area that I could contact and I am sure I can find a good artist that is willing to do the work.

I do believe I read somewhere last night while searching laws against refusal of service that the CDC has zero reported cases of an HIV transmission between a customer and a tattoo artist. I am not sure if this is fact or not and I tried to find the source again today but could not. I also read that a tattoo artist can refuse service to anyone for just about any reason, which could mean they don't like the way you look or smell.

All tattoo artists must take universal precautions and treat each customer as if they do have HIV or some other bloodborne disease. If a parlor and artist are taking the right precautions (new needles, sterilized equipment, and gloves) then there is very little chance of transmission. In most states, a tattoo artist must demonstrate knowledge of proper safety procedures before they can even get their license.

I guess the question comes down to disclosure. Are you required by law to inform a tattoo artist of your HIV status? I think it is a good idea, that way the artist not only makes sure they take the proper steps to protect themselves, but it also helps to protect you as well. Even if not required by law I think you should tell them. If there was some freak accident and the artist was pricked with the needle, you do not want to face criminal charges or be sued for not disclosing. I guess it really has to do with the local laws in your area.

All of this was just a slap in the face to me and was kind of a wake-up call. Just because I am comfortable now with my status and educated on the subject, it doesn't mean that everyone else is. I am still on the hunt for a good artist who is willing to do the work and I will always be upfront about it.

This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS-Related Discrimination Cases

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Matt90069 (Los Angeles) Mon., Jul. 14, 2014 at 1:02 pm UTC
I,am not going to say that being HIV+ is not a big deal but in the beginning I wanted everyone to know my status BOTTOMLINE your not having sex with him or her and if there not cool with it there are so many artists who are that I would seriously question if I wanted that persons work on my body. More importantly is remember that your immune system is more fragile and you may take longer to heal. Last tattoo artists are more worried about catching HEP C
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Comment by: Jerry (Arlington, Tx.) Mon., Jun. 9, 2014 at 10:37 pm UTC
I'm sorry that happened to you but we have to face the fact that it is a reality. I also respect that you were honest and upfront. As the gentleman said they also did appreciate that you were concerned for the employees health as well. Enjoy reading your journey.
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Comment by: Mike Sat., Jun. 7, 2014 at 12:43 am UTC
Not sure why you disclosed, since there's no legal or ethical obligation, and the parlor is probably exposed to more infectious agents on a regular basis anyways. Seems to me that they're not real confident in their ability to follow universal precautions though, so you may have done yourself a favor by inviting them to cross themselves off your list. Too bad you're not telling us the name of the place. The poz guy in me wants a lawsuit. The tattoo recipient in me is worried for their other customers.
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Comment by: Dev (Ohio) Wed., Jun. 4, 2014 at 5:56 am UTC
I have never heard of any regulations or laws against people with HIV needing to disclose their status and find it odd that you even thought there was a need to disclose. People with far more contagious blood born illnesses get tattoos, this is why the artists are required to use a new needle every time and follow blood born precautions. I'm personally undetectable and have had 3 tattoos since; since I'm not having sexual relations with my tattoo artist I see no reason for him to know my status. There is very little blood shed during a tattoo and even if someone was undetectable, it would take a very major and serious error to cause enough blood shed from both the artist and the customer to cause transmission. I'm i. The medical field and give injections and treatments on a daily basis...I follow blood born precautions, so there is no legal mandate or moral obligations for me to share my status with my patients.
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Comment by: Ed Blessing (Texarkana, Texas) Thu., May. 29, 2014 at 6:12 pm UTC
I admire you telling everyone up front and yea they don't like to hear anyone's positive status. I've never had a tat but always tell lab people about my status because in hospitals they often are not informed while taking blood. I've got very few professional lab techs to ask someone else to take the blood. Just twice. I would want them to do the same for me if I were them. Some people do not appreciate you being honest even if it is for their on good. Find a tat artist that is HIV. I know there are many and some know how to use protection that aren't. You did the right thing.
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Comment by: inxpot (Winston Salem NC) Wed., May. 21, 2014 at 5:56 pm UTC
I find it disturbing that an individual at an establishment like a tattoo shop would be so dismissive, but as the years pass, I find fewer are educating themselves on actually transmission risk and general knowledge of the virus. I have been a painter/sculptor for 16 years and a tattooist for 15 years and have never turned a person away due to their status. There are some out there that understand and donít get scared by a positive status due to Universal Precautions. It seems like a loss of dialogue is reverting people back to that late 80ís and early 90ís fear. But that is just my opinion.
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Comment by: Marcos (Colombia) Tue., Apr. 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm UTC
Brian, good night:

Let me start by saying that i am negative, and hence i`ve never suffered discrimination. The reason i visit this site is because in here i found plenty of information when i was worried over some incident in which i thought i might got infected, and it help me get rid of ignorance induced prejudice.

Performing a tattoo carries risks for both you and the artist. Your viral load could be undetectable and the artist should take every measure of safety for him and you. Even if he pricks himself, there are measures (PEP). But so it is when someone is having a sexual might have an undetectable VL, you might use protection, this can reduce the risk of transmission to the minimum. BUT risk is risk, and everyone has the right to avoid risks.

So yes, if i was a tattoo parlor i would appreciate if a client discloses his + status. Same with sex, there might be some people that could lie but it is up to the other person to decide wether they are willing to take the risk or not.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Dev (Ohio) Wed., Jun. 4, 2014 at 6:04 am UTC
There's never been a recorded case of an undetectable person transmitting HIV to a negative person during sex, even without protection and there are over 12 studies to back this to think that an undetectable person receiving a tattoo (which causes very little blood loss) would pose any legitimate risk to the artist seems a bit alarmist and paranoid to me. Furthermore, there are positive surgeons, doctors, nurses, phlebotomist, dentists and tattoo artists; should they too disclose there status to all patients and potentially put themselves out of work? The law doesn't say so, as there are fluid precautions and personal protective equipment put in place to prevent this from being an issue.

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AMarineAnd HIV

Brian Ledford

Brian Ledford

This is my story of how I found out I was HIV-positive while still on Active Duty in the United States Marine Corps and how I have tried to put the pieces of my life back together through the good times and the bad. I am currently a full time student working on a degree in Information Security Technology, which seems to be taking forever. I want to help make a difference and erase HIV related Stigma in the South, where due to lack of education people still do not know that much about HIV. If my story reaches out and helps at least one person, then I have made a difference.

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