Personal Services Settings

Personal Services Settings Inspection Reports

Tattooing and body piercing

You may be thinking of getting a tattoo or a piercing. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself. Amateur tattooing/piercing may cause serious infections like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. The safest way to get a good tattoo or piercing is to go to a professional.

Professional Piercers...

  • don't use "stud guns";
  • use the right kind of jewelry (i.e., surgical steel, niobium).

Professional Tattooists...

  • pour ink into new, disposable containers just for your art.

Both Professional Piercers and Tattooists...

  • use single-use, sterile needles;
  • use latex gloves;
  • sterilize re-usable equipment (autoclave is recommended);
  • give after-care instructions to help prevent infection;
  • are experienced and knowledgeable.

Shop around first; ask friends who have had good experiences to recommend places. Before you make up your mind, check out a few businesses and ask questions; and if you're not satisfied, LEAVE!

Ask to see:

  • special containers for used needles;
  • disposable ink cups for tattoo colours;
  • the autoclave (with a temperature gauge) used to sterilize equipment;
  • black lines on packages indicate equipment has gone through autoclave
  • (it is sterilized if autoclaved at 121 °C/250 °F for 30 min.).

What if you already have an amateur tattoo or piercing?

A professional can help answer questions that you may have. If you think there is a chance that you may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, testing can be done by a doctor, health clinic, or by contacting your local health department. Vaccination against Hepatitis B is also available.

Four things you should know before visiting a personal services setting

Four Steps to Protect Yourself

  1. Check before you go
    • Ottawa Public Health inspects personal service settings located in private homes and commercial settings such as hairdressers, barber shops, tattoo and body piercing studios as well as facilities that provide electrolysis, acupuncture and various other aesthetic services.
    • Call the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) or by email if you have questions about the most recent inspection of a specific personal service setting
  2. Look around and ask questions
    • Take time to observe staff practices to ensure they are using clean tools and have clean hands
    • Ask staff any questions that you may have
  3.  Make an informed decision
    • If you are uncomfortable with what you see or what you hear, don't be afraid to refuse the services
    • You have the right to make sure you receive a safe services that is are given with clean tools and clean hands
  4.  Report concerns or complaints
    • You can help prevent the spread of serious infections
    • If you have a concern regarding infection prevention and control in personal services settings - call the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) or by email
    • Ottawa Public Health's Public Health Inspectors will investigate all complaints
    • All concerns and complaints are kept confidential

*Adapted from York Region - Community and Health Services, Public Health's Be Spa Safe: Your guide to protecting yourself at the spa. (

What is a personal services setting?

(Beauty parlours, barbers, tattooing, body piercing)


Personal service establishments can offer a wide range of services, such as:

  • Body piercing
  • Body modification
  • Branding
  • Scarification
  • Implants
  • Medical spa services (by non-medical person)
  • Tattooing
  • Acupuncture
  • Micropigmentation (permanent make-up)
  • Electrolysis
  • Laser hair removal
  • Ear lobe piercing
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Cosmetics (make-up)
  • Aesthetics (waxing, facials, etc)
  • Hair salons & barbers
  • Tanning
  • Massage

Public health inspectors at Ottawa Public Health routinely inspect these establishments to ensure the risk of transmitting blood-borne pathogens or causing infections to both clients and staff is prevented. Attention is focussed on the cleaning, disinfection and sterilization of the instruments and the environment, preventing the reuse of disposable items, and preventing contamination of surfaces, tools and storage areas. Attention is also focussed on the manner in which the service is provided and how the products are used, as well as the personal hygiene practices of the staff.

Residents are urged to consider their own personal safety before obtaining personal services.  Learn more about what to look for in a specific service before and during your appointment by reviewing the following factsheets

Residents are also encouraged to visit to review the most recent inspection history of all PSS in Ottawa. For questions or more information please contact Ottawa Public Health by email at or by calling 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) to speak with a Public Health Inspector. 

Investigation of Complaints

If you have any questions or concerns about a personal service establishment, you can contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744. All complaints are dealt with in confidence and the inspector will inform you of the findings and outcome of the investigation.

Infection control

Ottawa Public Health is actively involved at a provincial level in the development and enforcement of infection control policies regarding the prevention of communicable diseases in personal service establishments. Policies on the disinfection of equipment, the use of disinfectant solutions, and procedures for specific services, as well as directions for proper "after care" following ear lobe piercing or body piercing, are available. A public health inspector will investigate any report of illness potentially associated with the operation of a personal service establishment.

What is barbicide?

"Barbicide," a clear, blue solution used by most hair salons to disinfect items such as combs, is a Quaternary Ammonium (QA) compound. Health Canada lists QA compounds as low-level surface disinfectants, which are not to be used to disinfect instruments.

For what items is "barbicide" applicable?

  • "Barbicide" can disinfectpre-cleaned non-critical items (items that are not expected to penetrate or cut intact skin or contact blood or body fluids) such as surfaces, combs, brushes, rollers, chairs, and scissors and clippers that have not broken the flesh.
  • If a non-critical item breaks the flesh (scissors, clippers, etc.), it must be cleaned and disinfected as a semi-critical item, before being re-used.
  • A razor for "razoring" or "feathering" hair (not shaving skin) is a non-critical item, and can be cleaned and disinfected with a low-level disinfectant solution. The razor must be equipped with a proper guard in place to prevent contacting skin.

For what items is "barbicide" NOT applicable?

  • "Barbicide," or any other disinfectant solution, cannot be used to disinfect critical items (items intended to penetrate skin, or handle some sterile items, etc.). These items must be cleaned and sterilized, with an autoclave or dry heat sterilizer, between uses; or be supplied in sterile packaging, and be a single-use disposable item.Critical items may include needles, blades, earrings, opening and closing pliers used for body piercing jewellery, etc.
  • "Barbicide" cannot be used to disinfect any part of a shaving razor or blade that contacts the skin (critical items such as blades for shaving are single-use items which must be disposed of in a sharps container immediately after use). The handle and cradle, which hold the blade, must be cleaned and disinfected as a semi-critical item between uses. Old-style straight razors (all one piece, so the blade is re-useable, and not disposable) must be sterilized in an autoclave or dry heat sterilizer between uses.
  • "Barbicide" cannot disinfect semi-critical items. Semi-critical items may come into contact with blood or body fluids, or accidentally penetrate body surfaces, and are found in establishments
  • including the handle and cradle of a razor, which is where the blade is inserted, a "crochet hook" for cap highlights (which can scratch the head), and scissors and clippers that have nipped the flesh.
  • An intermediate to high-level disinfectant is required to disinfect pre-cleaned semi-critical items.Examples of an intermediate level disinfectant would be a solution of 70 to 90 per cent ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, or a solution consisting of 1 part bleach (5.25 per cent sodium hypochlorite) to 99 parts water (1 per cent dilution). A high-level bleach solution would be 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (10 per cent dilution).

Some common misuses of "barbicide" and other disinfectant solutions

  • Most personal service workers (PSW) are using their disinfectant solutions improperly.
  • Often the PSW is not cleaning the item before disinfection. Placing a soiled item in a container filled with "Barbicide" (or any other disinfectant solution) only serves to contaminate the solution and all items placed in it. For this reason, an appropriate disinfection area requires access to a sink with running water.
  • Any disinfectant solution must be made fresh daily, at a minimum.
  • To disinfect an object, it must be fully immersed in the disinfectant solution.
  • Spraying a disinfectant solution onto a contaminated object is not an effective means of disinfecting the item either. Spraying and wiping a contaminated object only serves to smear and spread contamination over the surface of the object.
  • Contact time is also a concern. Manufacturer's instructions for proper contact time must be followed. Intermediate level disinfectant solutions such as 70 to 90 per cent ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, or a 1 per cent bleach dilution (1 part bleach to 99 parts water) would require 10 minutes of contact time in the solution. If contact time is too short, disinfection will not be achieved. If an item is left in the disinfectant too long, it weakens the disinfectant solution, and may damage the item being disinfected.

So how do I use a disinfectant solution properly?

  1. Items to be disinfected must be cleaned with soap, or detergent and a brush under running water prior to disinfection. The action of friction removes any debris (hair, skin, hair and cosmetic products, body fluids, etc.) and allows the disinfectant solution to be effective.
  2. The disinfectant solution must be made fresh daily (or as required by the manufacturer). A disinfectant loses strength the more it is used, and the longer it is kept.
  3. After the item has been cleaned, it must be fully immersed in the disinfectant solution. The entire object must be soaking in the solution.
  4. The object must remain in the solution for the required contact time. Most low to intermediate level disinfectants require a 10-minute contact time. Follow manufacturer's instructions for appropriate contact times.
  5. Rinse the item with potable running water, or let the item air dry, depending on the disinfectant and the manufacturer's instructions. Some disinfectant solutions require rinsing the item with a sterile solution after disinfecting.
  6. Place the clean, disinfected, dry item in a clean, covered container to protect it from contamination from other items or the environment. Never store clean and dirty items together.

For further information, contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744.

Piercing devices

Piercing Aftercare Information

Ear lobe piercing and body piercing, can put you at risk of blood borne infections and contracting diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Ottawa Public Health would like to advise people who choose to receive piercing services, of the following public health guidelines required by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care of Ontario and Health Canada.

Mechanical ear lobe piercing guns, instruments or devices which insert the earring by use of "spring-loaded" piercing devices or models that are squeezed by hand pressure, can only be used to pierce the lobe or fleshy part of the ear. Piercing the upper ear (cartilage area), or any other part of the body other than the lobe of the ear is not permitted with these mechanical devices, as it may lead to infection, disease and other complications such as permanent disfiguration and ear deformities. People who choose to have any other part of their ear or body pierced are advised to seek the services of a professional body piercer.

Mechanical Piercing Device or Needle Piercing?

A mechanical piercing device causes more damage to the ear than the piercing needle procedure used by professional body piercers. No matter how "pointy" the earring, piercing studs are duller than a piercing needle. An earring stud tears through the tissue, whereas a sterile, single use, disposable needle used by a body piercer slices a clean opening for the jewellery to be inserted.

Ear piercing studs are too short to accommodate the swelling that occurs after piercing, and cannot be cleaned during the healing phase. The butterfly clip backing which attaches to the earring stud post "chokes" the piercing site and can become clogged with discharge, or may become embedded in the flesh. Captive bead rings used by body piercers for initial piercings, allow the entire surface of the jewellery to be cleaned inside and out of the piercing site and also accommodate swelling and allow access to air, which are critical features of aftercare and proper healing of your pierced area.

If you require further information, please contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744.

Piercing aftercare information

Most infections relating to body piercing or ear lobe piercing are due to improper aftercare. Information on how to care for your piercing while it is healing may have been provided to you if your ear lobe was pierced using a mechanical piercing device (piercing gun). If you have had body piercing, these instructions are only minimum requirements. Professional body piercers will provide you with more information on how to care for your specific piercing (oral piercings for example), and will be able to advise you of the appropriate type of jewellery and piercing, as well as answer any of your questions regarding body piercing.

To avoid the possibility of contracting an infection, prior to a piercing procedure the skin must be cleansed with an antiseptic such as alcohol or iodine to destroy resident micro-organisms on your skin (normal flora).

Never use a piercing gun for any part of the body other than the lobe of the ear

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly and immediately before touching your jewellery or pierced area. Contaminated hands and dirty fingers are the most common cause of infection. Waterless hand antiseptics may also be used for hand hygiene, but if hands are visibly dirty, they must be washed with soap and water prior to using waterless hand antiseptics.
  • Never touch, turn or move your jewellery when the wound is dry (only when wet - during cleaning).
  • A good quality, mild, fragrance-free liquid antibacterial or anti-microbial soap may be used to wash your hands (especially your hands), the piercing and pierced area during healing but is not recommended for long-term use, as repeated use of harsher soaps can lead to dry, chapped skin (creating open wounds). If hands or skin around the pierced area becomes dry and cracked, discontinue use of antibacterial soap and switch to a milder soap, and/or always use a moisturizer on hands after having cleaned and dried the piercing and pierced area.
  • Any crusted matter (dead white blood cells / dried lymphatic fluid) which collects at the piercing site and creates tightness around the jewellery, is part of normal healing. It may be softened, loosened and removed by soaking the piercing in warm water (cupping with clean hands in the shower or using a clean, disposable plastic cup). A weakly diluted solution of non-iodized sea salt/Epsom salts and warm to hot water or a saline solution may also be used to soak the piercing. A clean swab may be used to gently remove the loose, softened crusted matter after soaking. Do not pick at it when it is dry as this can tear the skin inside your piercing. Once crusted matter is no longer present, switch to a mild liquid soap.
  • After having removed any crusted matter, lather soap in your hands, and then gently lather soap onto jewellery and work through the piercing by rotating or sliding back and forth, so that the soap is worked into the piercing. Ensure that the portion of jewellery contacting the inside and outside of the piercing is thoroughly cleaned. Allow the soap a minute of contact time prior to rinsing with running water while moving jewellery through piercing to ensure any soap residue is rinsed off (showering is preferable to bathing). Pat dry with a disposable paper towel.
  • Do not over clean the piercing as this may cause irritation to the pierced area. Since your body does most of it's healing while you sleep, cleaning the piercing twice a day is sufficient (morning and night). If you are athletic or physically active, a third cleaning may be required if the area has become contaminated with sweat, etc. (sometimes simply rinsing the piercing to remove sweat is sufficient following physical activity).
  • Never use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ointments, creams or moisturizers on your piercing, and avoid using personal care products, hair sprays, heavily perfumed soaps, cosmetic products, make-up, etc. near the area of the piercing.
  • For any ear piercings, ensure telephone receivers, headphones, glasses, etc. are always kept clean, and beware of irritating any piercings with clothing, hairbrushes, hats, etc. A suggestion for head piercings is to dress your pillow in a large t-shirt and turn it nightly (provides four clean surfaces).
  • Ensure clean bedding is used during the healing period (sheets and pillowcases, etc.) and clean, breathable clothing, are always worn during the healing period for piercings on the body. Keep pets out of your bed.
  • Other than normal bathing and showering, or when washing piercing, keep the pierced area dry. Avoid swimming in lakes, rivers, pools, hot tubs, etc., until your piercing is completely healed. Avoid exposing the pierced area to sunlight, sand, suntan lotion, etc. during the initial healing phase.
  • Do not closely cover piercing (with a bandage, for example). Allow access to air to promote healing. Do not use any moisturizers or ointments on the piercing or pierced area, as these products will block oxygen from accessing the piercing site.
  • A piercing may take from one to six months to heal and some may take as long as one year to heal completely (cartilage, for example). Your piercer will have more specific information on healing times. On average it takes four to 12 weeks, but depends on the area pierced, lifestyle factors and the individual's healing ability. A healthier lifestyle will help your piercing heal better. To decrease healing time, get plenty of rest, avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking and aspirin (Ibuprofen is recommended over aspirin, if required). Drink plenty of fluids and have a well balanced diet (some vitamins and supplements may be helpful as well). A piercing may seem healed before healing is complete, so continue to clean the piercing and pierced area for the recommended period of time.
  • Piercings that may be contacted during sexual activity will require the use of barriers such as condoms and dental dams to prevent contact with bodily fluids. For oral piercings, remember that you have an open wound in your mouth that puts you at higher risk of contracting an infection or a STD.
  • People heal differently. You may experience some swelling, itching, burning and tightness during healing. Tightness may remain after healing. Odours from secretions in the area of the new piercing are not uncommon. Bleeding, bruising, tenderness, discoloration and/or swelling are not uncommon at first, but prolonged soreness, excessive swelling or redness, or purulent discharge (pus) may indicate an infection. If these symptoms persist contact your piercer and consult your physician (bring this aftercare information with you when seeing a physician).
  • Never remove the jewellery from an apparently infected piercing. Contact your piercer and consult a physician. Removing your jewellery may lead to your hole(s) closing up, entrapping the infection, possibly resulting in an abscess. Smaller gauge jewellery (longer to accommodate swelling and thinner to leave space) will act as a shunt, allowing the infection to drain. Since certain sized jewellery is appropriate for the healing phase, it can be changed to a preferred piece of jewellery after the healing period is complete.

For further information contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744

Safety before beauty training

What is the Safety Before Beauty training?

This Personal Services Settings (PSS) training offers information on general infection prevention and control (IPAC) best practices and allows course participants to select service-specific modules for the services they offer. The training is filled with informative facts about IPAC concepts as they apply to PSS businesses. Before moving on to the service-specific modules, all course participants are required to complete the first four modules that cover basic IPAC principles.

The training also includes an overview of the role of the Public Health Inspector and what is considered during an inspection. The training takes participants through the various requirements of the Infection Prevention and Control Best Practices at Personal Services Settings and offers quizzes to test knowledge.

Learn more about the Safety Before Beauty training by watching Ottawa Public Health's promotional video.

How do I sign up for the Safety Before Beauty training?

The PSS training is hosted through the City of Ottawa's e-learning website.

To take the PSS training:

  1. Visit the ULearn website.
  2. On the left side of the screen, under Course categories, select Ottawa Public Health.
  3. Select Infection Prevention and Control Best Practices at Personal Services Settings.
  4. If returning to this website, login using your username and password on the left side of the screen. If you are a first time user, you will need to create a new account for yourself. To create an account, follow the steps provided on the right side of the screen.

Who should take the Safety Before Beauty training?

This training is for PSS owners, operators and employees.

While Ottawa Public Health (OPH) recognizes PSS operators' experience in their field, it is important that everyone knows how to protect themselves and their clients from getting infections. Simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk of spreading and/or contracting blood-borne diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or other infectious agents like bacteria, mycobacteria and fungi.

Residents are also urged to consider their own personal safety before obtaining personal services such as  getting a tattoo, your ears pierced or a haircut.You can also learn more about what to look for in a specific service before and during your appointment by reviewing the following factsheets:

Residents are also encouraged to visit to review the most recent inspection history of all PSS in Ottawa. For questions or more information please contact Ottawa Public Health by email at or by calling 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) to speak with a Public Health Inspector. 

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