Tattoo parlours should be rated according to their hygiene standards in the same way as restaurants and takeaways, health experts have said.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said such a scheme would drive up standards across the industry. It developed the idea after its research discovered that people were unaware of the extent of the serious health problems and skin conditions associated with poor hygiene at tattoo parlours.
The Institute warned that tattooing carries the risk of infection from HIV and hepatitis, as well as skin complications such as scarring and granulomas – knots or lumps that form around the tattoo.
Julie Barratt, the Institute's director, said: "As the popularity of tattoos continues to grow, so does concern for the potential spread of infection. Many of the respondents [to a survey by the Institute] indicated that a hygiene rating scheme would help them when they were making a decision about where to have a tattoo."
At present, tattooists must be licensed with their local authority and are inspected under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which covers issues such as cross-contamination and the disposal of needles. They are reinspected every two to three years depending on their risk rating but customers currently have no available information specifically on the hygiene standards in a tattoo parlour.
The ratings scheme awards restaurants and takeaways a score of zero (urgent improvement necessary) to five (very good).
In the Institute's poll, eight out of 10 respondents said the present licensing scheme was not "adequate" and that it was too easy to set up a tattoo parlour from home or a studio.