The number of illegal tattooists operating from back street parlours with dangerous and unhygienic equipment is feared to be on the rise in South Wales.
The amateur tattooists – known as “scratchers” – are thought to be inking adults after a cheap tattoo and under-age children.
Health experts warned of the dangers of contracting blood-borne viruses – such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV – and told how blood-poisoning caused by dirty needles can kill.
Following the reported rise, Cardiff council has launched an education campaign aimed at schoolchildren and youngsters to highlight the importance of using a trained tattoo artist.
It comes after local authorities in Wales began to use new powers which enable them to shutdown illegal operations and seize and destroy the equipment they find.
In March this year, Andrew “Scratcher” Ryan was caught working illegally from an unhygienic room at his home in Llanrumney.
And in January last year, 29-year-old Ian Andrew Davies, of Rhymney, was fined £200 after he admitted two offences of undertaking the practice of tattooing while not being registered.
Public Health Wales said using an illegal tattooist greatly increases the risk of developing health problems.
“The biggest risk from having an illegal tattoo is bacterial skin infections, which can cause blood poisoning and can even be fatal in severe cases,” a spokeswoman said.
“Illegal tattoos can also carry a risk of contracting a blood-borne virus such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV. These infections will not show symptoms straight away.
“Anyone who has received an illegal tattoo should seek advice from their GP.”
Lee Clements, a registered tattooist from Chameleon tattoo parlour on Broad Street, Barry, said there had been a “massive increase” in scratchers in recent years following a rise in the number of television programmes about tattooing.
“Anyone can get hold of equipment from eBay and that’s the problem,” he said.
“They can get an entire set-up for £75 which is all probably substandard – one of my machines costs £450 alone and my kit is probably worth several thousands of pounds.
“My personal view is that, while it is a difficult thing for the government to do, we need to licence the sale of equipment to registered tattooists.”
Mr Clements added: “The main problem with scratchers is that while we use disposable equipment there is no guarantee they do and so people are running the risk of cross-contamination. If you are having a tattoo in someone’s front room you also surrounded by absorbent materials which can soak up ink and blood whereas we have only hard surfaces which can be cleaned properly.”
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) in Wales is set to launch a scores on the doors-style system for tattoo parlours next year.
Julie Barratt, CIEH director for Wales, said: “The proposed rating scheme, which we hope will be operational by the start of 2014 will assist people considering having a tattoo to make the safest choice.
“We will also be working with our partners to inform people about the risk of back street tattooing because it is not just that a tattoo is for life, it may have serious health consequences if done badly.”
Cardiff council’s education campaign will see a DVD about the tattoo industry shown in secondary schools, colleges and universities.
A tattoo forum has also been held by the authority to work with registered tattooists in Cardiff and present information on best practice.
Dave Holland, chief officer of regulatory services at the council, said: “This education campaign is very important as it will enable young people to make an informed decision about having a safe and good quality tattoo.
“The council will continue to work with the industry to ensure we support registered tattoo studios and ensure they continue to operate in a clean and safe environment.
“Feedback from the industry indicates that ‘illegal scratchers’ are an increasing trade and council officers continue to investigate complaints from members of the public regarding illegal scratchers and will take enforcement action to stop them operating illegally.
“The message is clear, if you want a tattoo, think about it carefully and use a registered tattooist.”