A NEW scheme to rate tattoo studios on their hygiene standards is being pioneered in Hartlepool.

The Tattoo Hygiene Rating Scheme run by Hartlepool Council is the first of its kind in England, although it has been running in Wales since September.

The scheme, which is voluntary, informs people about hygiene standards in individual premises, drives up standards and helps combat the risk of incidents of infection and of transmission of infectious disease from tattooing.

Under the scheme, tattoo studios undergo an inspection from council environmental health officers before being rated in one of four categories.

Most tattoo studios in Hartlepool have agreed to sign up to the scheme and the first four to be inspected have all been given the top rating of ‘four - Very Good’. These are Intravenous Ink, Wishful Inkin, Spy Monkey, and Copes Studio.

Councillor Carl Richardson, chair of Hartlepool’s Health & Wellbeing Board, said there were horror stories where people had tattoos done by what are known as “scratchers” and he hoped that the new scheme would deter people from taking such risks.

“Scratchers” tend to be unqualified individuals who will carry out a tattoo anywhere with no regard for hygiene. This often results in a poor quality tattoo, infection and people being scarred for life.

Once inspected, tattoo studios receive a certificate and a window sticker which clearly shows what their grading is. Studios can also appeal if they do not think that their grading is a fair one.

If tattoo or piercing equipment is not sterile there is a risk that infections can pass from one client to another, ranging from skin infections to serious blood-borne viruses including HIV and hepatitis B and C.