German soccer stars Mesut Özil and Jérôme Boateng are known for their skills on the pitch, but anyone who watched this year’s European Football Championship would also have noticed something else: their tattoos.
Much like their sports heroes, a growing number of Germans are opting for ink – particularly young people. Among the under-30 crowd, one in four has a tattoo. But the growing interest in permanent body art hasn’t resulted in tougher hygiene rules for the industry.
Many of the general guidelines that apply to tattoo studios in Germany are voluntary or apply on a state-by-state basis. This is especially true for the machines that artists use on their clients – and how hygienic those devices are.
“It can’t be that someone buys a starter set on Ebay and immediately gets going,” said Andreas Schmidt of BVT, Germany’s tattooing association.
The risks associated with getting a tattoo from an amateur artist aren’t just aesthetic. In some cases, the consequences can be severe: Besides allergic reactions, unsanitary practices can result in infections or spread serious viruses – including Hepatitis B.
BVT has long been pushing for more regulation of the industry, including a system of qualifying certificates for tattoo artists, as well as uniform rules on hygiene and working methods. But those calls have failed to bring about stricter safety standards.
“There are all sorts of legal loopholes,” Mr. Schmidt of BVT told Handelsblatt. His organization is now partnering with the German Institute for Standardization, or DIN, to establish best practices for the tattoo industry – not just in Germany, but also across Europe.
“Anyone who does such sensitive work – and has an impact on the health of consumers as a result – has to have proven mastery of their trade.”
That effort has won political backing from the government agency in charge of protecting consumer health. “Anyone who does such sensitive work – and has an impact on the health of consumers as a result – has to have proven mastery of their trade,” said Christian Schmidt, the federal minister of food and agriculture.
His office has launched a new public information campaign under the name “Safer Tattoo,” which includes a website that informs consumers about the risks associated with getting inked.
Tattoo artists have been eager to take part in the process – offering themselves up as advisors to regulators, in part to ensure that any guidelines they establish are realistic. “We are the experts,” said Mr. Schmidt of BVT. “There’s no sense in making political decisions without expert knowledge.”
Under the DIN umbrella, tattoo industry representatives are banding together with academics, health authorities, hygiene experts and consumer groups to hammer out a set of standards – based on common practices – for artists and studios to abide by.
DIN’s project leader Inga Bergmann expects this process to take three years or less. Though the resulting rules would not be binding for the tattoo industry, they would enable consumer protection organizations, such as TÜV, to certify studios, which would afford customers more security. Moreover, if problems in the industry put pressure on lawmakers to pursue mandatory rules, the DIN guidelines would give them a set of standards to start with.
These rules wouldn’t cover every aspect of the tattoo business, however – including the quality and safety of the ink that artists use. While there is a list of about 100 substances that studios should not use, Mr. Schmidt of BVT sees room for improvement.
“We would much prefer a positive list that tells us what we can use,” he said. “But the research that entails is very expensive – and as tattoo artists, we can’t come up with the money for that.”
He has also pointed to the need for broader European standards, which are being developed alongside the German-led initiative. “Many of us work elsewhere in Europe and have to contend with other guidelines there,” he told Handelsblatt.
Even in Germany, not everyone in the inking business chooses to work in an established studio. Mr. Schmidt estimates that there are some 6,000 registered studios with about 10,000 employees in Germany. But he says just as many artists – or even more – might be working under the radar.
The underground tattoo scene is also a concern for the federal minister, Mr. Schmidt: “Registered studios are subject to inspection – but not those that work in basements or kitchens.”
Martin Wocher is a Handelsblatt editor, writing about industry. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org