Tattooing, Body Piercing, and Permanent Cosmetics: A Historical and Current View of State Regulations, with Continuing Concerns

Article excerpt


Tattooing and body piercing are flourishing, and the new innovations of branding and scarification continue to develop. Even more evident is the advent of cosmetic tattooing, advertised boldly in the newspapers and phone books as permanent makeup for a beautiful personal investment. While no national databases are available to provide an accurate picture of body art recipients, findings from several small, recent studies are consistent. They include published rates of 19 to 23 percent for tattooing among young adults 18 to 25 years of age and rates of 33 percent for body piercing (Armstrong, Roberts, Owen, & Koch, 2004; Drews, Allison & Probst, 2000; Forbes, 2001; Mayers, Judelson, Moriarty, & Rundell, 2002). A recent Ohio University poll found that about one of every seven adults was tattooed, with young adults (18 to 34 years of age) 10 times more likely to have the decorative designs (Hargrove & Stempel, 2003).

Another way to look at the presence of body art is to examine the number of studios in a state; the figures then become phenomenal. In Texas, with a population of 21 million people, almost 900 tattooing studios were registered in the state as of January 2004, with over half that number listed as beauty salons or spas performing cosmetic tattooing. Of the 599 body-piercing studios registered in Texas, approximately 300 combine both tattooing and body piercing. If one estimated that body-piercing studios average five piercings weekly, then over 155,000 yearly would be produced in just one state; the number of tattoos would be over 234,000.

Body art is an invasive procedure: For body piercing, jewelry is inserted into a tract; for tattooing, non-FDA-approved pigment is introduced into the skin by multiple punctures to produce indelible designs; and for permanent cosmetics, pigment is inserted into the eyelids, eyebrows, and lips (Tope, 1995a). Branding is a specific method of scarification resulting in a deliberate keloid formation. In each procedure, there is a release of serosanguinous fluid "accompanying the repetitive puncturing of tattooing, the puncture wounds of body piercing, and the application of heated steel," predisposing the patron to local infections and systemic illness such as bloodborne diseases (Armstrong & Kelly, 2001, p. 16).

The public may assume that state regulations exist for body art, with regular inspections protecting the client, and that if there are problems with a studio, the state will automatically close it. Often it is not until a body art complication occurs and is reported to state health officials that the public begins to realize just how strong or weak these statutes can be for client safety. In reality, it may take over two years for the due-process procedures to work before a studio is shut down, if it even happens.

The purposes of this article are a) to provide a brief historical perspective of body art regulations, b) present the current status of state statutes as of September 20, 2003, and c) identify continuing concerns for further legislative regulations. While some believe people who get body art get what they deserve (Ferguson, 1999) and would therefore just leave them alone and let the customers have their own problems, effective body art regulations do provide several important guidelines. They

* provide guidance to the artists in safe practices,

* give advice for protection to the public, and

* provide some recourse, if there are complications.

Most reputable body art artists support these enforceable regulations and even work to help create them, as the regulations lend legitimacy to their practice (Armstrong & Fell, 2000; Armstrong & Kelly, 2001; Tope, 1995b).

A Brief Historical Perspective on Body Art Regulations

Tattooing and piercing have been around for thousands of years. While the popularity and acceptance of body art has waxed and waned, many injunctions, laws, and regulations have been implemented. …