Sitting behind a counter on a stool tilted back, leaning against the wall behind him, Paul Shinichi waits. The day is unpredictably rainy, off and on, on and off, just like his customers. He grows anxious—he wants to stick a needle through someone.
“There are too many shops, period!” Shinichi says, serious in tone with his eyes piercing. “There is no realization of the veterans that have been here… that’s the American way, trying to undercut each other.”
As senior piercer at Braindrops Tattoo & Piercing at 1324 Haight St., Shinichi argues that it is time for a change in the industry and raising the standards is the way to go.
“If they want to break skin with their art, then this is how it’s going to be.”
In a time of economic struggle coinciding with the popularization of the body art industry in the media, Shinichi is one of many who seeks respect for his profession by supporting The Safe Body Art Act to create a “fair playing field,” he says. The act which went into preliminary stages on Jan. 1, enforces stringent regulations on the body art industry to ensure that all practitioners follow the same precautionary procedures.
Justin Malan, executive director of the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, helped propel the act and is taking measures to institute proper training throughout the industry.
“The purpose of the bill is to establish a standard of procedures that are consistent and protect the public and the industry,” Malan says. He explains, that it “will significantly reduce blood-borne pathogens,” and “it legitimizes the practice.”
In addition to a two-hour training on blood-borne pathogens, body art practitioners are required to follow a repeatable routine in their decontamination methods and provide “a written log of each sterilization cycle,” complying strictly to the procedures outlined in section 119315 of the Health and Safety Code; logs must be kept in the facility “for two years after the date of the results.”
Furthermore, according to the guidelines of the code, there are restrictions mandating when it is necessary to change gloves and how to properly dispose of biohazards and sharp-single-use objects. The rules in place affect the facilities financially due to costs of equipment, according to the practitioners.
Paul Stoll, owner of Body Manipulations, helped write the Safe Body Art Act over the past four years. Stoll says that the act creates a “level playing field,” because every practitioner has to make the same expense in complying to the regulations, so price competition amongst shops will decrease.
“Everybody has to follow the procedures, not only in their facility, but in their methods,” Stoll says. “The reason you charge $30 [for a piercing] is because you have expenses.”
Many tattoo artists and piercers are on board for the change, but some are a bit skeptical.
“It is mainly to give the industry integrity,” says piercer Kevin Green who works at Mom’s Body Shop Tattoo and Piercing. “But the health department needs to be on the same page; they have to have integrity as well.”
In response, Cathy Montie, blood-borne pathogens trainer for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, acknowledges the skepticism and realizes it is due to the “expenses and fees,” artists pay.
“They are really good at taking our money but don’t provide the service,” she says laughing, referring to restrictions in place by county ordinances. However, Montie believes in the purpose and supports the act by serving as a trainer to the practitioners.
“It will get rid of all the ‘scratchers’ out there and make the reputable shops more reputable,” Montie says.
Like Green, tattooer Bobby Paulmenn, also from Mom’s Body Shop, is a little doubtful about the law coming into play.
“I don’t mind laws as long as there is reason for them,” Paulmenn argues. “They are not going to tell anyone in this shop something that they don’t already know.” Paulmenn argues that “the industry has already kinda regulated itself.”
Stoll agrees that the industry has been “self regulated,” but this law is “for the protection of the practitioner.”
“It’s the beginning of being a real profession!” exclaims Stoll. “It’s a huge step forward if the state recognizes us as actual practitioners!”
Other shops in the Upper Haight are also on board. Becky Dill of Cold Steel America Piercing and Tattoo is proud to be a part of The Association of Professional Piercers and a founder of The Bay Area Piercing Group.
Marie McCarthy, owner and manager of Soul Patch Tattoo and Piercing says it will “help bring back the health department with the tattoo industry,” and they can work together to create an “opportunity” for “shops to do things correctly.”
Since the opening of the first tattoo shop in the Upper Haight, Haight Ashbury Tattoo & Piercing, back in 1993, the Haight has been a popular place to go for this “alternative look.”
“There are five shops in four blocks,” says shop manager Justin Lawrence. “It’s a destination that people come to, to get tattooed.”
“I come often for the street wear and clothing, or to get pierced or tattooed,” says Adriana Crespin, a San Francisco resident.
“If I do come down here it would be for a specific reason,” says Autumn Valjien, “like to get tattooed.”
Paul Shinichi remains hopeful for the law, which will go into full affect July 1.
“It’s going to be a slow change over,” he says. “I’ve been here [at Braindrops] for 12 years, since the beginning… and I’m stoked. I’m not going anywhere.”