SHERIDAN — Before Paige Pozos puts a needle to clients’ skin at her cosmetic tattooing shop, she follows meticulous steps.
The owner of Forever Flawless Permanent Cosmetics wraps her power supplies, clip cords and tattoo machines to avoid contamination. Pozos uses 100 percent disposable tubes and needles, all of which she sets up in front of her client before they come in for a procedure.
She does this so her clients know that they won’t get sick or injured as a result of the tattoo.
But legally, Pozos isn’t required to do any of that.
Regulations for body artists in Wyoming and Sheridan County remain almost non-existent — and that has many in the industry worried.
It won’t take long to breeze through Wyoming’s regulations on body art.
The state’s regulation in Title 14, Chapter 3 Article One of the Wyoming State Statues states those dealing with body art cannot tattoo or pierce someone younger than 18 years old, without parental consent.
This means anyone, without any training or use of safe sanitary practices, can legally tattoo another person.
Unsafe sanitary practices when tattooing can lead to serious health issues including HIV, Hepatitis C and staph infections.
Body art has not been discussed in the Wyoming State Legislature since 2011 and just two bills have been discussed at the Legislature in the past 10 years. Both died in committee.
Regulation of body art, then, falls to individual counties. Albany, Laramie, Natrona, Teton and Sweetwater counties have tattoo regulations and oversite, but Johnson, Big Horn and Sheridan counties do not.
All surrounding states have mandatory sanitation procedures and Montana is regarded as one of the strictest and safest in the region by many tattoo artists.
“Wyoming is the only state I know of that is like this (with little regulations),” said John Markwardt, owner of the Flesh Factory Tattoo shop.
Despite this, local body artists refuse to settle for the minimum requirements.
Without any state guidelines for safety or sanitation, almost all Sheridan artists turn to other states for guidance.
Pozos follows California state regulations for permanent cosmetics. The Flesh Factory requires all staff to undergo yearly training and certifications in Yellowstone County, Montana.
Your Mom’s Favorite Tattoo Parlor follows South Carolina’s statutes, which tattoo parlor owner “Freehand” Robert Benson said is more strict than other states.
“We treat our parlor like an operating room,” Benson said. “We use extensive washing procedures, everything is wrapped, we never use the same thing twice.”
While they all follow their own standards, for many tattoo artists, it’s not the established tattoo shops that have them concerned. It’s the amateur artists who are not properly trained that can hurt not only their clients but the industry in general.
“Not only do a lot of these people don’t know how to tattoo, but there are huge risks to cross-contamination when they just do it at home or out of their garage,” Flesh Factory tattoo artist Scott Fort said.
Roadblocks to changes
In 2013, Benson joined together with other local tattoo artists to address the issue. They came up with an 18-page document containing rules and regulations for all body art establishments in Sheridan County.
The document contains extensive sanitation measures, requires shops to become registered and allows the Sheridan County Health Department to enforce the regulations.
While Benson said the proposal received support from both the city and the county, including Sheridan County Public Health, he said momentum for the proposed regulation stopped abruptly after it moved to the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office.
More than two years later, Benson has yet to hear anything concerning regulation changes. He speculates that personnel change at the Sheridan County Public Health Office might have had something to do with it.
“As far as I was understanding, everybody was behind us on this … then everything started to fade away,” Benson said.
Phone calls to officials at Sheridan County Public Health were not immediately returned.
That same year, Pozos also sent various emails to state legislators and government entities about establishing regulations on the state level. She provided The Sheridan Press with email correspondence between her and Kathy Coleman, a former state representative from Sheridan who was serving on the Health, Labor and Social Services committee at the time, as well as correspondence with Betty Abernathy, executive director of the Wyoming Board of Cosmetology.
Pozos initially contacted Abernathy about state requirements on tattooing, and Abernathy informed her that there were none, but suggested she get in touch with her local representative.
In the email between Coleman and Pozos, Coleman said it was likely that either her committee or the Corporations Committee could potentially suggest legislation implementing regulations, but was unsure exactly which committee it would fall under.
Coleman also said in her response that because there hadn’t been any legislation coming through at the time and 2014 was a budget year, the soonest any legislation would likely come through the Legislature concerning tattoo regulations would likely be the 2015 legislative session.
No legislation concerning body art was introduced in the 2015 session.
Pozos, fed up with bureaucracy at the time, stopped her efforts — even though she still believes there needs to be changes to the industry.
“Everything is still very wide open right now,” Pozos said.