The most common concern that most customers have is whether you will be using clean needles or not. While this is a very important question, there are numerous other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The first things that you will most likely notice are the look and smell of the shop when you walk in. Yes, these are two important factors, but there are several other things to look at. When you step in, what are you stepping on? Are you standing on carpet, or is it a hard surface? Carpeting may be acceptable in a lobby or waiting area, but NEVER in the work areas. Carpet and fabrics cannot be properly disinfected by wiping them down. Every surface in the tattooing or piercing areas, from floor to ceiling must be non-porous in order to be properly decontaminated after the procedure. If you see fabric or upholstery in the work area it means one of two things. Either those working there have no knowledge of blood borne pathogens and cross contamination, or they simply are not concerned about your well-being, nor their own. What do you smell? It should go without saying, but if you smell smoke, alcohol or any offensive odors you need to turn around and walk out! You are about to have an invasive medical procedure performed. Would you go to a doctor or hospital where they smoke or drink? Not only is this unsafe, but illegal nearly every state in the country.
Everything looks and smells right, so now it's time to sit down and get your new tattoo or piercing. Take notice as to whether reusable or disposable instruments are being used. Needles are NEVER to be reused! Regardless of which is being used, the needles, tubes and piercing tools and body jewelry will be sealed in packages or bags which have indicators that show whether it has been sterilized. The exception to tools, needles, jewelry etc. being sealed in autoclave pouches is when a Statim autoclave is being used. You will typically only see a Statim used by body piercers in upscale studios who choose to go above and beyond accepted sterilization methods. The two types of sterilization that are commonly used are EO gas and steam. When reusable instruments are being used, the shop must utilize an autoclave for sterilization. You would assume that because an autoclave is being used, everything will be sterile. This is not the case. When an autoclave is being used as the sterilization method, spore testing MUST be done periodically to ensure that it is working properly. All shops that use autoclave sterilization should be able to provide spore test results if you ask. If they are not having the equipment tested, there is no way to know if it is working properly. Ask to see the reports. Make sure that anything that should be sterilized is opened in front of you and ask to see the sterilization indicators on the packaging. This, in addition to seeing the spore test results is the best way to protect yourself. If you are called back to the work station and the sterilized items are already opened, insist on new items being used so you can see for yourself that things are as they should be. If you don't see it with your own eyes, you need to assume it doesn't exist. Additionally, packaging should never be opened with bare hands. Make sure gloves are being worn when opening any packaging.
If you are getting a body piercing, you need consider what jewelry is used. Is the piercer using low quality imported steel products with a high nickel content which are not meant for long term wear in even healed piercings, let alone a fresh piercing? All piercers who care about the health and safety of their clients will only order true implant grade body jewelry, and many insist on piercing with American made titanium jewelry only. When in doubt, ask your piercer to provide mill certificates to ensure that only the highest material standards are being conformed to. So if a piercing is $20-30 including jewelry, there is little to no chance that the jewelry being used meets the proper standards. In many cases the cost of high quality, implant grade jewelry alone exceeds the $20-$30 pricetag. This is why most studios who provide the highest quality possible charge a base procedure fee and jewelry cost is additional and determined by your jewelry choice.
Another way to ensure the studio holds your health and safety as a high priority is to observe the cleaning process after a procedure. Obviously, gloves should be worn during the cleanup process, but also observe what is being used to wipe down all surfaces. Antimicrobial wipes such as caviwipes or Optim 33TB must be used. A spray bottle should not be used, keep in mind that when you spray the contaminated area, the spray causes the contaminants to spread to areas that were previously uncontaminated. A good example would be spraying a hose on a muddy sidewalk. It does not remove the mud, it just moves it to another area.
These are just a few examples among countless that should be considered to make a safe, well-informed decision when selecting a studio.