Tattoo and piercing artist goes to extreme lengths to push for statewide regulations

Most people don’t like getting a flu shot, let alone hanging from fish hooks stuck in their backs, but that’s exactly what Shane Szebin did when he took part in a suspension. “If you don’t push your limits how do you know you’re alive” said Szebin. He got his first piercing at 15. He’s been a tattoo artist for the last 2 years at Royal Pain Tattoos in Lancaster City and he just started taking part in suspensions.

“The piercing  hurts, but the actual suspension is more just a tugging, it doesn’t actually hurt at all” said Szebin. This is the second time he’s had two metal hooks placed into his back and hung from the ceiling. “I wanted to do it just to see if I could do it the first time, this time I’m doing it for the health board so we can get regulations” said Szebin. He’s referring to Lancaster’s Board of Health. The city has decided to put their mark on the current tattoo regulations and they also want to oversee suspensions and piercings. Lancaster is an exception in Pennsylvania where there are no statewide regulations for tattoo and piercing parlors.

“I was amazed. I was absolutely amazed that we do not regulate something that uses a needle and actually breaks the skin” said State Representative Rosemary Brown. She’s proposed a house bill that would put the Pennsylvania Department of Health in charge of regulating all tattoo and piercing parlors. “Usually whenever you want to regulate any sort of business, usually that business owner or that speciality of business doesn’t want the regulation. In this case they do” said Brown.

“I think it should be everywhere. I don’t think it should be unregulated at all” said Royal Pain Tattoo owner Glenn Hackman. Hackman has been tattooing for 20 years. He says a lot of his business comes from correcting work for what people think are ugly tattoos done in homes or at a concert. Hackman points out at these locales there’s no way of ensuring that it’s sanitary. Plus Hackman said there is a byproduct. “It’s blood and medical waste” said Hackman.

He also said that legitimate companies don’t often sell tattoo or piercing equipment to people working from home, so they tend to buy their supplies on Ebay. “If they throw their needles in the trash and they put it out front what if a kid gets in there and gets stuck. You never know” said Hackman. For the person that gets the ink there’s a lot more at stake than a bad tattoo.“Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, you have syphilis, you have HIV, you have all kinds of bacterial infections that can develop over the years” said Representative Brown. She said it’s hard to track where many of these diseases are contracted because they can take years to develop.

The consequences can also be cosmetic. “It can be a rash, it can be very itchy, it can be bumps” said dermatologist Doctor Natalie Bene. “Tattoos with multiple colors are very difficult to remove, you have to use multiple lasers, not just one laser. It takes multiple treatments, I would say more than 12. It’s painful, really painful” said Bene. However the appeal of a tattoo is still strong. Szebin said it’s up to you whether you want a tattoo or piercing and acknowledges hanging from hooks isn’t everyone’s cup to tea. In fact he was glad it was over.  “Right now I’m fueled with adrenalin but I’m incredibly calm, that’s probably the best part about doing it is the after part” said Szebin. He isn’t asking for approval or even support for suspensions, piercings or tattoos. Just that they can all be done in a safe environment overseen by the state.