Last September Malia Badiang wanted to add artwork to her tattoo, so she went to Pa'u Tattoo in Haleiwa. She said it didn't take long for her body to rebel. The tattooed area on her right forearm started to itch and burn.
"It felt like the bumps were coming out of my skin. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, stretching my skin out like something was growing underneath of it," she said.
Badiang said the pimple-sized dots turned into lumps and then into sores. The condition spread to her scalp.
"It spread onto my face, onto my chest, onto the other side of my arm, my shoulder," she said.
Her doctor put her on antibiotics. and other medications, suspecting the infection was caused by the tattoo ink. It has been five months and the lumps have gotten smaller but haven't gone away.
"I have to put ointment every day just to keep it from coming up," she said. "I'm still on antibiotics to control it."
Besides her complaint, the state Department of Health got four others against the tattoo parlor, alleging infections from tattoos. An inspection found five violations.
"If you get five infections from the same tattoo shop, and these are all unrelated people, then usually that indicates that there's probably some type of problem coming from the shop," said Peter Oshiro, DOH Environmental Program Manager.
The owners of Pa'u Tattoo declined to be interviewed but did say they found a bad batch of ink and replaced it. They said Badiang complained to them two months after she got the tattoo, so they wonder how she cared for it. They said their artists did about 1,700 tattoos last year without incident, and they stand by their reputation.
"They have cleared all their violations as of the last inspection. so as of now they are, as far as we know, they're practicing very good aseptic technique and doing everything properly," Oshiro said.
Badiang said direct sunlight sets off the skin irritation that's still visible on her face, neck and arms. She has had five biopsies and many doctors visits. The single mom said besides her health insurance she has paid out over $1,000 trying to get well.
"I think they should help me with at least some of my medical bills," she said.
The tattoo is the sixth one Badiang has gotten. She said she has never had this type of reaction.