Illegal tattoo artists cause worries about bad ink jobs

After another arrest for illegal tattooing on the Grand Strand, there's a growing concern among local health officials about the risks of back alley tattoos.

Last week, Christopher David Giggey, 34, was charged with tattooing a friend in a Myrtle Beach hotel room without a license. It was at least the third arrest of its kind in the area this year.

Botched ink jobs also create problems for licensed tattoo shops. Dana Pierce said almost every day someone comes into his Hole in the Wall shop in Conway, asking him to fix a bad tattoo done by an underground artist.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times we have to tell them maybe when that infection goes away we'll take a look at it," Pierce said.

Pierce said anyone who wants to work in tattooing legally in the state must undergo training in blood-borne pathogens, CPR, first aid and more. But some people take short cuts.

"No one's tattooing out of their house legally or in a motel room or anywhere else," Pierce said. "It just doesn't happen."

According to Pierce, part of the problem is that it's too easy for underground artists to get started.

"It's very accessible to get the equipment on the Internet, and there's even some stores right here in town where you can actually buy the equipment and you don't need any license, there's no age restrictions."

The Hole in the Wall shop uses disposable needles and tubes, and employees clean all booths between clients.

Health officials say sterile conditions are important for preventing serious illnesses like the liver infection Hepatitis C.

"And also HIV and Hepatitis B. Any other blood-borne pathogens could be transmitted by tattoo," said Winona McLamb, Health and Education director at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center.

McLamb said those seeking to get a tattoo should go to a reputable artist and know what to look for.

"Certainly, you want to be sure that they're using sterilized equipment and sterilized doesn't mean using alcohol," McLamb said. "They need proper chemicals, they need an autoclave.

Pierce said he's glad to see health departments cracking down on illegal tattooing.

"It's rampant here, more than I've ever seen in any other area of the country."

Pierce asks, if an artist breaks one rule - operating without a license - what other rules is he willing to break?