Hepatitis Protection – Are You Doing all You Can Do?

Regardless of the techniques we use to implant color into the skin, we all share a common risk of contracting Hepatitis.   As we enter the 21st century, consider the following information and take the necessary steps to protect yourself…and your loved ones.

The news has discussed the most newly defined forms of Hepatitis–“C” and “D”. They can be silent, deadly killers, attacking from the inside, caused by the prick of a needle.  Most people who have Hepatitis C display no symptoms, are not diagnosed, and a third of them are not aware they might have ever been exposed.   Prior to 1992 it was simply called Hepatitis non-A, non-B.  Like Hepatitis B, it is spread via blood contact.   Unlike the B strain, there is no vaccine to prevent contraction. In recent years some therapies have been developed but they are not 100% successful.

Hepatitis D virus, (also called delta virus) is replication defective and therefore cannot propagate in the absence of another virus.   The danger occurs when hepatitis D virus occurs in the presence of hepatitis B infections. The two largest risk groups are intravenous drug users and gay people.

During a recent news program on this topic, it mentioned C can be spread by use of unsterile needles or razors whether they be for drug use, acupuncture or tattooing. Electrolysis probes, instruments used for acne extraction, manicure implements or even the hairdresser’s scissors could put both the technician and the patron at risk.  This isn’t something we can wait for licensing or inspection to control. It is the responsibility of every technician out there to make sure they are operating in a safe manner.  The life you protect may well be your own.

What can you do? Make sure you follow OSHA guidelines for contact with blood borne contaminants.   Avoid any skin to skin contact in the presence of blood—yours or theirs.  Many of us practice other related industry jobs so here are some guidelines that are industry specific:

Hairdressers:  If you cut yourself—stop working immediately. Cleanse the cut, bandage it and protect you and your client by putting on a glove before returning to work.   If you cut your client, do not make direct skin contact. Glove up first then treat the wound and protect it before resuming work. The tattoo industry has abandoned the use of the straight edge razor because of the risks involved in its use. I can’t help but wonder how many barbers and hair stylists out there are aware of this and have considered the safety of their own cutting techniques.

Manicurists:  Before there is blood there is lymph. Any fluid brought to the surface of the skin during a manicure or pedicure runs the risk of being contaminated.  All it takes is a microscopic opening on your own hand making direct contact with that fluid for you to risk exposure. It is wise to wear protective gloves any time you are using nippers or other tools that might abrade or cut the surface of the client’s skin. If you have any nicks or abrasions on your hands, wear protective gloves when working on clients.   Many states have guidelines requiring disposable utensils or sterile implements between clients.

Esthetician/Facial Technicians:  Follow the same above guidelines as for manicurists. Avoid cutting your cuticles as this leaves minute breaks in the tissue that can easily become contaminated during the course of a treatment.  Think about a hang nail that has become sore or irritated.  Now think about putting this open wound, near an acne lesion or on freshly waxed skin fluids.   All implements you use should be fully sterilized between clients.   Use disposable lancets or needle tips for extraction and place them in a bio-hazard container after use.

Electrologists:   Some states have stringent guidelines while other states are not regulated.  Protect yourselves as you deal regularly with contaminated probes.  Follow OSHA guidelines carefully.  Autoclave appropriate components and dispose of used tips in a bio-hazard container.   Many use needles pre-sterilized to medical specifications.

Tattooists and Permanent Cosmetic Technicians:  We follow guidelines identical to those for electrologists.  Use pre-sterilized components. All parts of the machine/device must be either disposed of after use or sterilized in an autoclave or dry heat sterilizer.  Chemical sterilization is not adequate as spores can survive through this process.   A single component manual device is designed to be single use and then disposed of.   Many handles also must either be disposed of or sterilized between uses.  Bio-hazard containers need to have an opening adequate to handle the size of your devices.

Rotary or pen devices generally come with pre-sterile individually wrapped needles, tips and couplers.  The outside casing however may require sterilization between clients.   Some manufacturer now offer disposable casings that come pre-sterilized and individually wrapped and the packaging will show that.

Once used, the casing is contaminated not only on the outside from hand contact or splattering but it is also contaminated on the inside.  Wiping the casing down or soaking it in a high level disinfectant is not adequate.   If you use this type of machine either get disposable casings or get the equipment necessary to sterilize your casings.   Purchase extra casings so you can rotate usage and always have sterile ones ready for use.  Protect the motor portion of rotary machines from contamination via use of barrier film or a finger-cot to completely cover it.

For coil machines, whether the technician started with them or is moving up to their use – get specific training.  All components except the coil itself must be autoclaved or dry heat sterilized.  During procedures the coil unit must be protected from cross-contamination. Use only individually packaged, pre-sterilized, single-use needles.  Even if they develop a vaccine for Hepatitis C, it still behooves us to all follow standards of safe practice.  There is no substitute for prevention, for yourselves, your clients, and your loved ones.

by Judy Culp