PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health is trying to craft rules around microblading that both ensures public safety while also not being overly restrictive.
The Health Department took up the issue in January after the city received multiple inquiries about opening a microblading practice. It's a relatively new trend similar to tattooing. It is a beauty service in which less permanent ink is injected into the skin for such things as eyebrows or eyeliner. It has been growing in popularity and when the questions arrived, the city realized there were already practitioners operating without permits.
Health Director Gina Armstrong said such a practice does come with public health risks, with potential to cause some serious injuries, especially when done around the eye. The Board of Health questioned the level of training required for a practitioner and has looked to craft a set of qualifications one needs to have in order to become a practitioner in the city.
"We were also taking into consideration other types of permanent cosmetics," Armstrong said.
What came out was a proposal that a practioner needs to have observed procedures for 30 hours and have done 50 procedures under observation of a professional. The requirements are the same as required in Boston but less than it would take for a tattoo artist, who would need one year of employment and perform 100 tattoos under supervision.
Michelle McGuire, owner of Elle Day Spa, and practitioner Nicole Peetros feel those requirements are too much. Peetros said one completed procedure requires two appointments, five months apart, and some three hours at a time. In her two years on the job, she's only completed about 50 herself -- let along the 30 hours of observation.
"It would literally take us five years to complete that. There is also the apprenticeship but there is no one to do it around here. It is so new to the industry it is almost impossible to shadow someone for that period of time around here," McGuire said.
The market is small and competitive at this point and McGuire said it would very difficult to find a practitioner who would be willing to take an apprentice on for such a period of time.
Armstrong, however, has crafted regulations in consultant with a local practitioner who Armstrong believes would create those opportunities.
"There is a potential for an apprenticeship opportunity here in the city of Pittsfield," Armstrong said.
Tattoo artist Stephan Lanphear disagrees that the requirement is too much. He said the concept is the same as tattooing and there are a lot of factors and lessons that need to be learned in order to do it safely. He said he wouldn't let an apprentice do any work until at least two years worth of observation is done. He feels even the 100 tattoos is too low for one to practice on their own.
"You are cutting, perforating, however you want to say it, but the process is still tattooing," he said.
Lanphear said it isn't just learning how to do it but also learning sterilization techniques, a bedside manner with clients, storage and set up of the equipment, and awareness of how cross-contamination could happen. He said it is not something that can be learned in just a one-week seminar.
Armstrong, however, feels there is a difference. Peetros, for example, did take a one-week course on how to perform microblading but that seminar is in addition to qualifications she already had as an esthetician. Armstrong said these procedures are being added to spas mostly where there are people like Peetros who have knowledge and experience in skin care and anatomy and physiology, the health concerns the city is trying to account.
Lanphear responded by saying that the requirement needs to protect the public health for not just the ones who make that switch but for whoever could come along in the future and they might not have that background.
"You can't lower the bar here. We have to make sure when she moves on, the next person comes along is meeting the standard. I don't think the bar is every too high," Lanphear said.
He added that the argument that there aren't enough apprentices shouldn't have an impact. He noted that barbers have to get their observation time in Worcester. He said he had to get his apprenticeship in different states when he first started.
The Board of Health took in both points but still holds a belief that tattooing and microblading are different and have different health risks.
"The last thing I want to do is impede but we also have to keep in mind public health," said member Steve Smith, also saying it isn't "unrealistic" to expect somebody to learn a job for two years like Lanphear.
Chairman Alan Kulberg does feel there should be some flexibility given the individual practitioners. He agreed with a proposed provision that would give an opportunity for those requirements to be lowered based on prior qualifications. The law would give those who are microblading in a less sensitive area a chance to show their background in a related field to justify a lesser requirement. Exactly what would be criteria for fewer hours hasn't been decided.
He suggested reaching out to a certain number of recent clients done under supervision to see if there were any health complications to add to that decision. Lanphear, however, said that's not very accurate because often those who get infections do so because of improper care after leaving the office.
"We try to ensure the best possible care for all clients so we did set a high bar. But we aren't inflexible either," Kulberg said.
Kulberg continued to kick around ideas but ultimately the board didn't settle on anything specific. But, the board did all seem to agree that there should be something in place to allow a qualified person to get a license to operate without having to go through lengthy apprenticeship while also keeping stands that protect from somebody with no relatable experience.
Ultimately, the board decided to mull over the draft provision a bit more before voting on any particular set of rules.
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