Body Art: To tattoo or not to tattoo 

My mother was horrified when she heard the news:

I had pierced my nose.

It was a demonstration of my newly found independence, and I wore the little pink stud proudly. It was a spontaneous decision and, three years later, I haven't regretted it.

However, I walked into the situation not knowing anything about the shop or the artist. And there are risks, including exposure to hepatitis C and HIV, that I was not aware of. I tend to believe the chance of infection can be higher for college students, who are typically looking for a deal.

Drive through Colorado Springs, home to more than 50 tattoo parlors by our last count, and you'll see plenty of advertised specials ("$10 Piercings!"). It's hard to know which to pick. But as Rich Van Schaick, master artist at Pens and Needles Custom Tattoo, notes, "Sometimes you get what you pay for."

Van Schaick, who's been a tattoo artist for 17 years, recommends doing a lot of research.

A good starting point is Southern Colorado's Better Business Bureau (southerncolorado.bbb.org). There are three tattoo parlors locally with BBB accreditation: Pens and Needles, Art in Motion Tattoos and Piercing, and Pikes Peak Tattoo and Body Piercing.

Of course, that doesn't mean that all other places are less worthy of your business. Word of mouth can also speak to the quality of a shop. (Consider: West Side Tattoo has been voted Best Tattoo Emporium by Indy readers for four years in a row.) If you see someone who has a tattoo you like, ask who did it and how the experience was.

Then visit, says Van Schaick: "You can get a vibe from a shop whether it's good or not and whether it's clean."

And cleanliness is one of the first things to look for. Always ask whether they have a sanitation room and use an autoclave sterilizing device.

"You have to have an autoclave that kills with steam and pressure," says Van Schaick. "Some of these guys will have what they call dry heat, but those won't kill the spores."

Also ask to see the latest spore test. If the business won't show you, their equipment most likely isn't being properly sterilized.

If you're getting a tattoo, it's important to make sure you're comfortable with the artist and his abilities. Make an appointment to discuss any custom drawings.

"Put the artist to the test and say, 'Draw this for me right now,' instead of waiting a week or two [for a drawing]," says Van Schaick. "Then you can get an idea for how creative they are."

Once you feel good about the shop, and the image, all that's left is to sit through the pain, right? Actually, even once the bodywork is done, you're not done: Make sure you're given a sheet of paper that describes how to clean your new piercing or tattoo.

"The first couple of days are crucial," says Van Schaick. "It's good to get the information on how to take care of it right away."

Selecting a shop may seem like a lot of work but, as Van Schaick points out, health regulations for tattoo parlors aren't strictly enforced in the Springs. It's up to you to make sure a shop is up to par.



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