Considering getting a tattoo is a big decision. Opening your own shop can be an even bigger one. However, understanding the laws that regulate your state can make your head spin, since state tattooing laws differ throughout the U.S. Some states even leave regulation up to cities and counties, which can make this even more confusing.
Why Regulate Tattoos?
There are two main reasons for tattoo laws. The first is the legislators who don't like tattoos and who think they're immoral or wrong. These legislators may use their influence to make tattoos illegal or put restrictions on them. The second, and more common, reason is health concerns.
If the shop isn't clean and the equipment isn't sterilized, getting a tattoo can be risky. Blood-borne infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS can be transmitted by a tattoo needle that's been used on another person. Inks can harbor viruses or bacteria if they're used on multiple people. Dirty surfaces in the shop and unwashed hands are also sources of potential infection.
Other concerns include:
- Bad tattoos. Homemade equipment can place the ink too deep or be hard to control, leaving you with scarring and/or an unattractive tattoo.
- Unsafe inks. Just about any colored liquid or powder can be injected under the skin to make a tattoo, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. At best, a makeshift ink may look bad, fade quickly, and/or give you a scar. At worst, it could poison you.
Legal in All 50 States
Oklahoma was the last holdout with tattooing still outlawed there, but as of November 1, 2006, it is legal to get a tattoo in all 50 states. However, it may be city laws, not state tattooing laws, that determine whether you can get inked in your hometown. Just because tattoos are legal in a particular state or city doesn't mean just anyone can set up shop. In many places, a tattoo artist must be licensed and the shop must pass inspection, either by state or local officials. Some places merely require the artist to register with the state. Only in a few places are tattoos not regulated at all.
Many states stop at requiring that artists be licensed and that shops have good safety practices. Some locales have more stringent regulations about who can get a tattoo and of what type. Some regulations include:
- You can't get a tattoo if you're under 18.
- You can't get tattoos on certain body parts, such as the face.
- You can't get offensive or hateful words or images tattooed.
- You can't get tattooed at home or at a party, even if the artist is licensed, because the license applies only to the shop's location.
|Alabama||Minors need consent from a parent for tattoos.|
|Alaska||Tattoos are prohibited on minors.|
|Arizona||A parent must be present for tattooing minors.|
|Arkansas||A parent signature is required for tattooing minors; artists must be certified; shop must pay an annual fee|
|California||Safety standards of The California Conference of Local Health Officers must be met; tattooing minors is a misdemeanor.|
|Colorado||Minors may receive a tattoo with parental consent.|
|Connecticut||Tattooing must be completed under the supervision of a physician or registered nurse; minors require parent or guardian consent.|
|D.C.||Body artists must be licensed.|
|Delaware||Must meet specific safety standards; tattooing a minor without consent of a parent is illegal|
|Florida||Only those licensed to practice medicine or dentistry or under supervision of these individuals can tattoo; tattooing minors requires consent from a parent.|
|Georgia||Tattooing an inch near the eyeball is outlawed; minors can only be tattooed by a licensed physician or osteopath or someone under their supervision.|
|Hawaii||Tattooing minors requires consent; consent forms must be maintained for two years in a confidential manner.|
|Idaho||Tattooing minors 14 and under is prohibited; minors from 14-18 require consent in the presence of the tattoo artist.|
|Illinois||Must meet safety requirements of Tattoo and Body Piercing Establishment Registration Act; minors can only be tattooed by a physician; consent of a parent is required for minor to be at a tattoo parlor|
|Indiana||Must meet safety and sanitary operations requirements; tattoos require guardian present and written consent|
|Iowa||Must obtain permits to operate tattoo parlor; minors are prohibited from being tattooed unless they are married|
|Kansas||Tattoo artists require a license; minors require written consent to get a tattoo and the consent must be kept for five years.|
|Kentucky||Tattoo artists must be registered through the health department; consent is required for tattooing a minor.|
|Louisiana||Registration is required for tattoo artists; minors require consent for tattoos.|
|Maine||Tattooing a minor is illegal; tattoo artists must meet public health licensing requirements|
|Maryland||Tattooing is prohibited in salons.|
|Massachusetts||Boards of health create regulations; tattooing must be performed by a physician and a model code must be met|
Must meet licensure, insurance and application requirements; tattooing minors requires consent
Parental consent is required for tattoos.
Tattoo artists require a Certificate of Registration; tattoos are prohibited on minors.
|Missouri||Licensure is required; tattoos on minors require parental consent and presence|
|Montana||Tattoo artists must meet state regulations; consent of a guardian or parent is required for tattooing minors.|
|Nebraska||Laws for tattooing minors are found under body art legislation.|
|Nevada||Tattooing isn't regulated by the state.|
|New Hampshire||Must be licensed; minors need a parent present and written consent that must be on file for seven years|
|New Jersey||Must meet state standards|
|New Mexico||Licensing requirements must be met.|
|New York||Tattooing minors is unlawful.|
|North Carolina||Tattoo artists need a permit, unless a physician or working under a physician; tattooing minors is prohibited.|
|North Dakota|| |
Consent and presence of a parent is required to tattoo a minor.
Tattoos on minors require written consent.
|Oklahoma||Licensure is required by the State Department of Public Health for tattoo artists.|
|Oregon||Licensing is required.|
|Pennsylvania||Minors require parental or guardian consent to get a tattoo.|
|Rhode Island||Sterilization and sanitation requirements must be met|
|South Carolina|| |
Tattoos are prohibited for those under 21 unless they have parental consent if over 18.
|South Dakota|| |
Regulations are set by Department of Health; signed consent is required for tattooing minors.
|Tennessee||Minors 16 and up can be tattooed with consent.|
|Texas||Licensing is required; those under 18 and under aren't permitted to get tattoos unless it is to cover and existing obscene or offensive tattoo - parental consent is required in that circumstance.|
|Utah||Tattoos on minors require written consent.|
|Vermont||Minors may be tattooed with the consent of a parent.|
|Virginia||Tattoo parlors must follow local ordinances; tattooing someone under 18 requires consent unless done by a physician.|
|Washington||Must meet state guidelines for sanitation; tattooing those under 18 is illegal|
|West Virginia||Minors require written consent.|
|Wisconsin||Licensing and regulations set by the health department; only physicians may tattoo minors|
|Wyoming||There are age requirements for tattoo artists; minors require parental consent and verification of age.|
Your Local State Tattooing Laws
To find local tattooing laws, start with the state's website. Every state has a health department, and many have a section on tattoos. A few states regulate tattoos under unexpected departments, such as the one that's also responsible for restaurants.
City and County Laws
For city and county laws, again try the web. Look to see if there is a local health department, or search "tattoo" on the local government's website. You may need to get on the phone and call the local offices to get the information you need.
Other State-Related Concerns
There are many things to consider when getting a tattoo, and since the laws vary by state, things can get muddled fast. For example, if you are in another state, you can get a tattoo. However, if you are under the age of 18, this can get a bit tricky. Since tattoos are regulated heavily for minors and the ages of consent are different for different states, according to the NCSL, you might not be able to get a tattoo outside of your state. Some artists will ignore the state tattooing laws if you're a friend, however, remember the artist is risking his or her license and could even be prosecuted for breaking the law.
Since the laws vary by state, tattooing in multiple states can be tricky as well. For example, if you work in a state without regulations like Minnesota, but want to tattoo in North Carolina, then you would be required to follow NC state laws. This means that you might be required to get a temporary license or regulation to tattoo in a different state. However, if you are tattooing in two states with minimal regulations then tattooing between the two might not require any special considerations.
Check the Laws Each Time
Laws can change over time as many states become more lax about allowing tattooing in general, but some can become more stringent as well. Check the laws in your state each time before you get a tattoo to keep yourself safe and get your ink done right.