They are called ‘scratchers’ and they are a growing concern for area
county health officials. The term refers to tattoo artists practicing
without a license, which is illegal in most states including Michigan,
and they are usually doing it right out of their own homes.
While the offers they advertise seem like good deals with prices
usually much cheaper than professional tattoo shops, Kent County health
officials warn they could be putting people’s health at serious risk.
At the Magnum Tattoo Shop on
Division Ave. in Grand Rapids, Eric Torres says he’s seen plenty of
cases of people with poorly done and oftentimes infected tattoos coming
into the shop to get them fixed.
He says the mantra he and the other professional artists in his field
live by is simple: cheap tattoos aren’t good and good tattoos aren’t
“People want to go get a good deal and they’re not going to get a
good deal, they’re going to get sick or they’ll get a crappy tattoo and
it’s ultimately going to cost them more in the long run,” Torres said.
“There’s a lot of things that go into tattooing that the Average Joe
doesn’t know about… and a bad tattooer or a home tattooer really invests
in the fact that most people on average don’t know what the process is
The Kent County Health Department recently
issued a warning against these so-called ‘scratchers’ who continue to
be a growing problem posing serious health risks in the community,
according to Shane Green, supervising sanitarian with the health
“What they’re doing is they’re opening people up to solid types of
blood borne infectious issues, staph infections, even HIV, the hepatitis
virus, from going to these people who aren’t licensed or regulated,”
“A lot of theses ‘scratchers’ don’t have the proper equipment to
sterilize their equipment, they haven’t had proper training on blood
borne pathogens and they’re just doing it in an environment that isn’t
safe or sterile.”
With the number of complaints slightly up this year, Green says the
county health department has investigated more than 10 different
instances of people illegally tattooing just in the past few months.
Green said the problem became magnified after the law passed in 2010
requiring tattoo artists to meet strict guidelines to maintain their
licenses. Those who didn’t follow went “underground” where they are able
to get equipment on the cheap from websites like eBay or Craigslist.
“Anyone can order it, they think they’re an artist and start
practicing on themselves or their friends and say ‘hey I can start
making money this way’ and they start advertising on Facebook and it
just starts growing,” Green said.
A quick check online revealed a starter tattoo kit goes for just about $60 on eBay.
The health department relies on tips from the public to catch the
‘scratchers’ and Green says with an address or a phone number, they can
set up a sting or issue a cease and desist to the individual. If the
problem persists after the cease and desist Green said individuals can
be issued an appearance ticket requiring them to go in front of a job
where they could face up to 90 days in jail or up to a $2,500 fine.
The county hasn’t had a situation escalate to someone receiving an appearance ticket yet this year.
“A lot of these illegals see it as an easy way to make money, they
work from home, the equipment is cheap but unfortunately they are
endangering the public’s health,” Green said.
At the shop where Torres works, he says they are held to a “laundry
list” of requirements by the state health department which now helps
regulate tattoo facilities following strict regulations passed in 2010.
“Every one of our artists are blood borne pathogen certified, we know
how to break down our equipment and set it up, we’re not cross
contaminating and bringing bad stuff back into our work area,” he said.
Magnum also has a $5,000 sterilization system for cleaning equipment
and maintains a detailed log of how equipment is sterilized, and when
and who it’s used on in order to keep track in case a
“We know exactly everything that comes out, should someone get sick,”
Torres said. “We can look at their batch number, what was sterilized,
look at clients before and after them, sort everything out and have sort
of infection control plan.”
To find out if tattoo shop or body art facility in Michigan is properly licensed, a list can be found on the Michigan Department of Community Health website.