In any field, there are many factors that separate the greats from the not-so-greats. Sometimes, the difference is so obvious anyone can spot a master from a novice. Other times, it takes a trained eye to be able to pick out the subtle nuances that make something superior to another. 

Tattooing is no different. Just as with any art, there are those practitioners who are skilled and those who are not. But the nature of the tattoo medium means that there's also an additional consideration added to the mix – health and safety. While you'd probably be fine purchasing a painting from an unskilled artist, you certainly wouldn't want to sign up for surgery from an unskilled doctor – and tattooing is a unique mashup of both. 

It may seem subtle, but here are a few key points on health, cleanliness and sanitation to keep in mind when you're considering your next tattoo. 

There are rules
Despite the fact that tattoo parlors are considered independent businesses and the FDA doesn't currently have regulations governing tattoo needles, ink or other equipment, there are still very clear rules that must be followed in order for a shop to remain licensed. One example of state-imposed tattoo regulations includes a list of considerations shops had to account for. Everything from the cleanliness of the walls to how many sinks there are and what they can be used for are covered by these regulations.

One surefire way to identify a subpar tattoo artist is to take a quick look around the shop to see how clean it is. While you may not be privy to the specifics of the state-specific health code, chances are if their walls are dirty and the floor is unmopped, the behind-the-scenes stuff will be in a similar state. This also goes for so-called "traveling" tattoo artists – those who go to their clients' houses and perform the work there. Not only is it impossible for these on-demand tattoos to take place under the proper legislative conditions, but tattoos can also only be performed in licensed tattoo studios. These at-home jobs should be avoided if you want to keep bad tattoos away.

Professional standards matter
Tattooing occupies a unique space in between public health and private business concerns. The government acknowledges the importance of upholding standards, yet there is still a lot of gray area and room for interpretation when it comes to how these standards are actually enforced.

An example can be found in the headlines of a Dallas/Fort Worth NBC News affiliate. According to the source, while the state of Texas mandates health department inspections of tattoo shops, there's actually no legislation governing how often they must occur. This means that more often than not, studios are typically only inspected after the health department has received a specific complaint. While this loose attitude toward enforcement may seem ideal for a fringe industry like tattooing, it actually frustrates a lot of professional artists. 

"I wish that they were regulated as much as nail salons or barber shops. It'd be nice. We could get rid of a lot of the riffraff," Dallas-based artist Josh Hall told the source. 

In fact, many artists wish that there would be stricter regulations governing cleanliness and sanitation standards. As tattooing still struggles to find a seat among other mainstream industries in the U.S., such measures could serve as a barrier to those who don't adhere to the same standards as the pros. After all, to the untrained eye, it may not be easy to immediately spot a bad artist or an unsafe shop. 

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