Action 4 Investigates: Illegal tattoo shops

A state investigation is underway into illegal tattoo shops operating in Harlingen.

The two shops in question look legit with business names, tattoo designs and plenty of ink.

But they reportedly don't have the proper documentation from the State of Texas leaving questions of public safety.

Dan Ibarra with the El Loco Tattoo shop in Harlingen said not knowing if the tattoo shop is licensed by the state is what could lead to a permanent medical mistake. "There's a chance of catching blood-born pathogens, diseases, hepatitis C, AIDS," he said.

Ibarra said his shop is licensed and regulated. He said the law requires tattoo shops to display a state license should be in plain sight.

It signals the tattoo parlor is complying with strict regulations on cleanliness, record-keeping, and sterilization practices.

Ibarr said his West Harrison Avenue shop prides itself on keeping customer's safe.

"It's posted right there on the wall as soon as you come in," he said of his license.

But the same cannot be said for other tattoo shops across Harlingen.

Working off an anonymous tip, Action 4 News checked into questionable licenses at both Ink Addiction on the 1200 block of West Tyler Avenue and Fine Line Tattoo on 200 block of West Tyler Avenue.

Action 4 News went in with cameras rolling into Ink Addiction.

Ryan Wolf: "Do you guys have a license to do tattooing?

Employee: "Ya...."

Ryan WOlf: Where's your license? Can i see a copy?

Employee: "Uhhhhh...."

Action 4 News got a similar response at Fine Line Tattoo.

Neither shop has a license posted.

An open records request with the Texas Department of State Health Services shows there's no "record" of a license for neither "Ink Addiction" nor "Fine Line Tattoo" in Harlingen.

Both are apparently operating unchecked and unregulated.

But Ink Addiction tattoo artist Josh Renteria told Action 4 News that he's safe.

"We got soap to sterilize the tubes and everything," he said. "We got everything sterilized." But the state is now investigating both shops.

They could be shutdown if they are found to be operating illegally.

Dan ibarra hopes our investigation sends a message and "leaves a mark."

"Without licensing, any tattoo shop could just open and start tattooing," he said.

Action 4 News learned that local government has no regulatory authority over tattoo and body piercing shops.

Formal complaints must be forwarded to the Texas Department of State Health Services before any action can be taken.

To file a complaint or to check a license, call (888) 963-7111.

State health inspector Alberto Garcia said a tattoo shop operating without a license typically has little experience in the business.

"Most of the time, people that do this don't have any experience or knowledge of the law to start with," he said.