Here in the UK, the licensing and procedures carried out in tattoo and piercing studios is subject to heavy regulation. Local councils often conduct regular inspections of premises to ensure that they are compliant with health and safety laws.

These types of legislation and checks are put in place to protect both the staff, artists and customers from infection, and more dangerous blood-borne diseases such as HIV, Aids and hepatitis.

Tattooing in Europe

The UK is one of the only E.U. countries not to allow parental consent for tattooing teenagers

In fact, within the UK, you are required to have a license for a broad range of permanent surgical procedures including:

  • Tattooing
  • Semi-permanent skin colouring
  • Cosmetic piercing
  • Electrolysis
  • Acupuncture

A personal license and a registered premises license for your studio ensure that you are entirely legal to practice tattooing. A health official will also need to carry out a full inspection of the studio before granting the license.

Even after adhering to these rules, you are only allowed to work in the area you are licensed for, including that particular studio. You must also follow local bylaws as set out by the council regarding staff hygiene as well as the safety and cleanliness of premises, furniture and equipment.

Tattooing as a subculture in Germany

Another part of tattoo culture that varies around the world is the fact that many tattoo studios outside of the UK are multi-use spaces. In addition to being tattoo studios, utilising them as art galleries and cultural hubs helps to showcase tattooing as an art form within modern culture.

AKA, a famous studio based in Berlin, is a prime example of this type of studio. It is a tattoo studio, café and a performance space. Describing it as a “collective, a constantly evolving collaborative art project”.

“The tattoo artists are selected for their specific and strong visual ideas. Most of them do not come from a traditional tattooing background. They are visual artists, silk screen printers, illustrators, painters and street artists.”

An unusual concept and the studio has become well known as a hub of artistic inspiration, as well as being an excellent platform for artists to showcase their talents.

The legal age of tattooing around European countries:

Country Legal Age Stipulation
Austria 18 16 with parental consent
Bulgaria No min.
Croatia 18 16 with parental consent
Cyprus 18
Czech Republic No min.
Denmark 18 Will not tattoo head, neck or hands
Finland 18
France 16
Germany 18 16 with parental consent
Greece 18 16 with parental consent
Hungary No min.
Ireland No min.
Italy No min.
Lithuania No min.
Luxembourg No min.
Malta 18
Spain 14
Sweden 18
UK 18

Tattooing in North America

The United States - Oklahoma was the last state to legalise tattooing in 2006!

The regulations regarding tattooing and piercing procedures vary according to individual state laws. Tattooing laws can even differ between cities and counties within the same state.

Various city laws determine whether you can get inked in a particular area. There are also big differences on the stringency of the licensing requirements for artists and studios.

For example, some have to be both licensed and inspected; many states just require you to register as a tattoo artist and several states have no regulations or licensing laws in place.

Unregulated districts include Washington DC, New Mexico and North Dakota despite the last state requiring tattoo equipment to be regulated but not who is operating it.

Many states had banned the art of tattooing. In fact, Oklahoma was the last state to legalise tattooing as recently as 1st November 2006 after turning over the ban instated in 1963.

Some area specific laws in America include:

  • You can’t get a tattoo if you’re under 18
  • You can’t get a tattoo on certain body parts such as the face.
  • You can’t get a tattoo if you’re drunk or under the influence of drugs
  • You can’t get a tattoo of offensive or hateful words and images
  • You can’t get a tattoo from a tattoo artist at home or a party. Even if they are licensed artist, they will be in breach of their premises certificate

Laws in America can be easily altered without much warning, sometimes becoming more lenient but often increasingly stringent on tattoo practices and procedures.

Ensure you are aware of the regulations in your area as it will help to keep you safe as well as the legality of your actions and tattoo requests.

Tattooing in Africa

South Africa, specifically the Cape Town area, the tattoo community has rallied together to campaign for the creation of hygiene bylaws. After being concerned that the lack of regulation left both their customers and staff at risk of infection and diseases such as HIV/Aids as well as hepatitis. Their combined efforts have led to the introduction of regulations as well as a Council for Piercing and Tattoo Professionals, also known as the CPTP.

Tattooing in Asia

Tattoo culture in Korea is certainly not embraced, with many people frowning upon those individuals that do have visible tattoos.

Many aspects of the tattoo community are underground, including tattoo studios. Public advertisement for tattoo studios is illegal, and many operate privately through word of mouth.

Tattooing in Korea ©Ed Jones

Legally, only doctors are allowed to carry out the tattoo procedure; however, this may change to include those with dermatology qualifications too. Some tattoo studios have been known to be raided by police, including having severe fines enforced.

One Koreans account of their experiences included being subject to assault for their tattoos by friends, family and even strangers. Anti-tattoo culture in Korea showcases the variation in attitudes towards tattooing as an art form around the world.