The tattoo artist Fingers working on a rose in central Stockholm. Photo: Sven Hultberg Carlsson / Radio Sweden
Stockholm the world's "most tattooed city"

Tattoo trend prompts hygiene concerns

"It's therapeutic – that's why I get tattooed"
4:47 min

Those body decorations are quite the hit here in Sweden – especially in Stockholm, which according to one survey is the most heavily inked city in the world. But authorities are worried about hygiene.

Rouge has come from the UK to tattoo a rose onto his calf here in Stockholm. It's far from his first session. "I've lost count of them at this point," he says. "I've spent about 1,500 pounds. I guess you need to add another zero to make that into Swedish crowns."

We're sitting in a basement on one of the trendier streets on the southern island of Stockholm. On my way to this parlour I passed plenty of others located in the surrounding blocks.

The newspaper Metro has surveyed people from 19 to 49 living in 30 metropolitan cities across all continents. It found that Stockholm has the most tattoos of them all.

And Fingers, the artist who was tattooing Rouge just before we stepped outside the shop, agrees.

"This is one of the only places where you'll find teenagers working at McDonald's with tattoo-covered forearms," he says. "I think that's due to the lax social and corporate rules in Sweden."

While it is the art he is in it for, Fingers says hygiene is the most important aspect of running a tattoo studio.

And authorities would agree, especially when it comes to amateur tattoo artists, who purchase a machine and start performing on their friends. The risk of transferring diseases such as hepatitis C is high if the equipment used is not sterilised.

The National Board of Health and Welfare is cooperating with municipalities too look into hygienic practices at tattoo and piercing studios in Sweden. Fingers thinks they're being fussy.

"A lot of shops have great hygiene standards, and a lot of the agencies don't know what they are talking about," he tells Radio Sweden.

But a trade organisation, Sweden's Registered Tattoo Artists, told me that for every registered tattoo studio, there are about ten amateur artists practising on their friends.

Ingrid Nilsson at the National Board of Health and Welfare says that its recommendations and Sweden's environmental code are strict for a reason.

"We do not want people not to get tattooed. If people choose to get tattooed, we want them to do it in a safe way," Nilsson says.

Back on the street in southern Stockholm, Fingers says studios here tend to have high hygiene standards. In his view, then, getting inked in the most tattooed city in the world is a safe bet.

And down in the basement, Rouge has no regrets. "I guess [this will take about an hour]. I don't really think about it."

By Sven Hultberg Carlsson

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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