Most inspections of Minnesota tattoo parlors find violations but how serious are they?

A majority of inspections conducted at tattoo parlors across Minnesota and in Minneapolis resulted in violations of the law, according to a FOX 9 Investigators analysis.

The FOX 9 Investigators obtained three years’ worth of inspections conducted at tattoo parlors by state and local agencies.

Statewide inspections conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health found violations in 77% of inspections.

Inspections conducted by the City of Minneapolis found violations in 58% of inspections. Minneapolis conducts its own inspections of tattoo establishments every year.

"Some of the most common violations are usually associated with the paperwork," Cindy Weckwerth, Director of Environmental Health for the City of Minneapolis, which oversees the city’s tattoo establishments.

"They want to make sure that they’re doing it safely and that they’re protecting their clients and customers who are coming in," Weckwerth said.

A vast majority of violations reviewed by the FOX 9 Investigators were in fact minor. However, some violations were deemed more serious.

The violations

The FOX 9 Investigators obtained hundreds of inspection records for tattoo establishments across the state.

At Skinlab Piercing and Tattoos in Rochester, an inspection from March 2021 documented a failure to maintain records of spore tests. Those tests are used to ensure re-usable tools including needles have been properly sterilized in autoclave machines. The health department confirms the violation was quickly fixed.

At Zenith City Piercing and Tattoo in Duluth, inspectors flagged a failure to post a technician’s license in February 2021. The issue was also quickly fixed.

Also in February 2021, an inspection of Benchmark Tattoo in Duluth drew a handful of violations. Among the documented violations, inspectors spotted a contaminated needle that was not properly disposed, calling it "grounds for immediate closure."

However, the owner of Benchmark Tattoo, Kyle Grover, told the FOX 9 Investigators the issue was corrected immediately, and his business remained open.

"There was a safety cartridge, which is the type of needles that our artists use – it was in the sharps container but it hadn’t dropped down fully into the container all the way," Grover said.

When asked whether he felt the violation was serious, Grover responded: "I think it’s important that we correct that, but it's also like, I don't feel like it was that serious."

"For the infraction that we had, I think that it was probably the best-case scenario for what it was and it still gave us the opportunity to learn from it and move on from there and be a little better," Grover added.

Growing popularity and regulations

According to market research, the tattoo industry is a billion-dollar industry nationwide as almost one in two American adults have at least one tattoo.

While body art has been around for generations, only in the past few decades has the government stepped in to inspect the ink industry in Minnesota.

At Dragonland Tattoo in Hopkins, Shahn Anderson runs his business on the philosophy of health and safety. Anderson has been in the tattoo business for more than 30 years and has the accolades to prove it.

"Like any other industry that deals with blood and bodily fluid, it's really important to make sure that that is handled properly. It has to be not only taught, but periodic inspections are a good thing to make sure that no mistakes are made," Anderson said.

In the not-too-distant past, Anderson used his expertise to help craft local rules and regulations to keep the industry safe. Current state law requires all tattoo establishments to be routinely inspected.

When asked whether people should be worried about the volume of violations flagged in Minnesota’s tattoo industry, Anderson said customers should consider the details.

"The fact that they’re inspected is a great thing – and it depends on the violation. You know, I’ve had an inspection before with a violation. It was a rip in a chair. Should that scare you away from tattooing? Absolutely not. If somebody isn’t doing proper sterilization, that would be more of a concern, of course," Anderson said.

Safety and health tips

  • If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, industry experts suggest you consider a few key tips:
  • Make sure you’re working with a licensed professional. They should have it posted on the wall and it should be easy to spot.
  • Do your homework and research the history of a particular tattoo studio or artist to see who is reputable and who is not. It is okay to ask a lot of questions.
  • Use common sense. If an establishment doesn’t look clean, then it probably isn’t. Consider other options.

The inspection documents

You can click here to see the full list of violations