They're part-time tattooing wannabe's called "scratchers." It's a group of people who have taught themselves the art of "permanent ink." It's growing in popularity and leaving people with a lot more than just a design on their body.
From the beginning, Steve Cupp - a tattoo parlor owner - has been outspoken about safe tattooing practices. He's been creating body art since 1997, but what he's seen grow in popularity lately is just plain shocking.
"They will come in with holes in them, puss and all kinds of stuff and they end up hospitalized," says Cupp.
Steve's talking about the aftermath of "scratching."
"As a general rule, we'll get five or six clients a week or so that will come through the door with something awful," says Cupp. "As it grows, people think they want to be a part of it and they'll get on the Internet and find a machine and find some needles and with absolutely no training whatsoever start trying to tattoo their friends."
This may sound harmless enough in itself, but scratchers have been coming under serious attack by real tattoo artists because the untrained practice could be deadly.
"There are tons of infections you can get - Hepatitis A, B and C, there's Staph infection, there is MRSA," says Cupp.
Scratchers usually teach themselves how to ink with the help of videos and homemade tattooing equipment, then put their services out there for unknowing takers.
Alex Cooper became a victim at 16.
"I talked to one of my friends who I went to school with and he got a tattoo from a guy in a house and I didn't know the dangers of it so I got one," recalls Cooper. "Saran wrap on the kitchen table, no kind of cleaning substance, basically dry-wiping."
"You could be Picasso with a tattoo machine, but what you're doing is not right," says Doug Paxton, a professional tattoo artist. "It's always been an up-and-down phenomenon; it will be a fad for a couple of years then it goes down. It's always been that way, but the other reason is it's a fast and easy way to make money."
Doug Paxton says this type of tattooing could literally be the death of a customer if proper health procedures aren't strictly carried out.
"It's nasty and if it's not taken care of properly, you're going to the hospital or worse," he adds.
So how popular is a tattoo? The Pew Research Center in January of 2007 said 36 percent of 18 to 25 year olds have at least one tattoo.
"I feel like I was extremely lucky to not have any of that happen, like the mesa or any kind of staph infection," says Cooper.
Professionals say that if you're thinking about getting a tattoo, make sure the artist follows strict health and safety precautions with sterilization techniques monitored by health officials. They say if a studio is run by a professional, you're going to see equipment packaged in protective pouches that remain sealed until opened in front of a customer.
Local health departments regulate tattoo studios in many jurisdictions, which should give the person getting a tattoo some peace of mind about health risks. But you want to do your homework. Make sure you ask a lot of questions before you decide to let someone put that design on your body.
Here are some of the question you should ask:
These are only a few of the things that are absolutely necessary for a tattoo artist to know and they should be ready and able to answer if you decide to get inked.
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