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Tyne Castino, a licensed tattoo artist and owner of TAT Clinic LLC, works on the shoulder of client Jason Isch in Mason City on Friday. 

MASON CITY | Tyne Castino has been an artist his whole life.

And for the past nine years, people have been his canvas and tattooing has been his art form.

“It’s gratifying to me to create something for someone that they can love for the rest of their lives,” he said. “It’s what I like to do.”

Castino, a licensed tattooist, opened TAT Clinic LLC, 519 Ninth St. N.W., in Mason City in April 2017 after working a few years at another shop that closed.

Under Iowa code, tattooists must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, complete blood-borne pathogen training and standard first-aid training and submit a tattoo permit application annually.

“I’m a firm believer when in the tattoo business and dealing with blood that it’s absolutely important that you have the right training to do your job because there’s such a huge risk of infection ... for myself and the customer,” Castino said.

Castino is one of 15 licensed artists and TAT Clinic is one of eight licensed tattoo establishments in Mason City, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, which issues licenses for artists and tattoo establishments.

Licensed tattoo establishments, including their sanitation and infection control, procedures and record keeping, are inspected annually by the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. The process helps protect people from diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C that can be transmitted through unsanitary or unsafe tattooing practices.

Castino, who has a knack for tattoo portraits and cover-ups, said he covers up “a lot of homemade tattoos” and those from other shops.

“The interesting thing about that is they’re not all homemade tattoos,” he said. “There are people out there who tattoo with actual equipment because it’s so easy to get.”

In fact, the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health was recently notified of an area individual possessing tattoo equipment in their home.

And although owning tattoo equipment isn’t illegal, tattooing yourself or others without a license is — and it’s dangerous, said Brian Hanft, Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health environmental health service manager.

“We’re not saying illegal tattooing was done,” he said. “It just leaves us to question because people tattooed by this person who has this equipment may be at risk of disease since we can’t confirm their processes and procedures.”

Castino said the company he orders his equipment through requires proof of license before it ships, but he knows of other companies that don’t require such safeguards.

“It’s not in their best interest to risk it,” he said about tattoo customers. “If one were to contract a potentially infectious disease, you can’t get rid of some of that stuff.”

Hanft said the licensed facilities in Mason City “are legitimate places to get a tattoo,” noting the individual the department is concerned about “was not operating out of one of those locations.”

He said the department is not naming the individual because it doesn’t know if he or she has used the equipment, but it does want to make sure any individual who may have gotten a tattoo at an unlicensed establishment knows to get tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C.

“I’m not saying every artist out there who does tattoos at home is horrible, but at least if you’re licensed you’re required to follow certain procedures,” Castino said.

Castino said he believes “proper after-care is very important” when it comes to tattooing, and education is a crucial part of his work.

“Research your artist no matter the shop,” he said. “Know who you’re going to and make sure they have the capabilities and abilities to apply a tattoo the right way so you don’t get something you don’t like because it’s going to cost a lot more to (cover it up) then to do it right the first time.”

Tattoo establishments are required to have their licenses clearly displayed in their place, and if they aren’t, customers are encouraged to ask to see them.

“If they’ve gotten a tattoo recently and it’s not at one of the licensed facilities, then they need to contact us,” Hanft said.

HIV or hepatitis testing is available through local health care providers or Sam Smith, a registered nurse and Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health disease prevention specialist. Smith can be reached at 641-421-9309.

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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