Tattoo and piercing laws and need-to-knows

Tattoo of knuckles with the words 'love' and 'hate' tattoed onto them

Do you love or hate tattoos?

It can transform your body into a work of art, but rush in without thinking and you may regret it. The Mix looks at tattoo and piercing laws in the UK, including what age you can get a tattoo, and shares some thoughts on what to consider if you’re thinking of getting inked or pierced.

What age can you get a tattoo in the UK?

The legal age for a tattoo in the UK is 18 years old. Even if you have your parents permission, it’s still illegal to get a tattoo in the UK if you’re under 18. This applies to England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

What you need to know about tattoos

  • A tattoo is a permanent design using coloured ink pigment punctured deep into the skin.
  • Some find the pain hard to handle. Others believe it’s an important part of the process, and go with it.
  • Tattoos must be performed by professional tattooists under totally hygienic conditions.
  • To avoid the risk of infections like tetanus or even HIV, be sure the tattooist uses a new needle and tube from a sealed packet, and that the ink is in disposable pots.
  • Know exactly what design you want and where.
  • Talk to the tattooist, then go away and think about it.
  • Before you get tattooed, be aware that removal nowadays involves ultrasound treatment, which can be expensive.
  • Always follow the tattooist’s advice about after care.

What age can you get body piercings in the UK

Unlike tattoos, there aren’t age restrictions on body piercings in the UK. There are a couple of exceptions; you’ll need to be over 16 if you’re getting your genitals pierced. If you’re recognised as female, that includes your nipples, if you’re recognised as male it does not (sexist, we know). In Scotland, if you’re under 16 you’ll need a parent or guardian’s consent to get a piercing and they’ll have to come with you when you get it done. Also, just because it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get it done, many places have their own rules.

What you need to know about body piercing

  • Before committing yourself, talk to the piercer about their techniques.
  • Although there is no legislation controlling body piercing, some piercers are regulated by their local authority. This means they must adhere to certain standards in order to receive an official certificate. If in doubt, ask!
  • The use of injectable anaesthetics in the practice of body piercing is also currently illegal. Sprays and gels are often used, but an element of pain is inevitable.
  • Always follow the piercer’s advice about after care.

To learn more about legal ages in the UK, check out this article.

Should I get a tattoo or body piercing?

If you’re up for turning your body into a canvas, why not give it a trial run first. Temporary tattoos (either henna or transfers) and body jewellery are difficult to miss on the high street. That way, you can walk away intact if you feel it’s not for you. Even if you’re totally sold on the idea, it’s a good idea to wait another month or so before committing yourself. Just to be 100% sure you’re making the right move.

Gary, 25, said: “I’ve got three tattoos, all done when I was under 18: a frog on my forearm; a bird on my shoulder; and a snake somewhere the sun doesn’t shine. At the time it was a buzz, as it helped me stand out from the crowd. But after I left college my attitude changed. I didn’t want to stand out. I wanted a job!”

Tattoo removal

If you change your mind you can get a tattoo removed. But it’s expensive and painful. Gary, who decided to have his removed, said: “The doctor looked at the work I wanted to have done, talked me through the process, then gave me a price. Just over £1000 for six sessions. I’d already been told it would be costly, so I was prepared for the shock and happy for him to start straight away.

“First off, we both donned our protective glasses, then the doctor started tracing a laser gun over each design. Basically, the intense light it shoots out heats up the tattoo ink and breaks it down so it can be absorbed into the skin.

“It is painful, but no more so than having the tattoo done in the first place. But getting tattooed is all about a needle whizzing in and out of the surface of your skin, while this was more like being hit by a very fine blow torch. It’s noisy too, and leaves you smelling like pork chops.”

Do tattoo removals work?

“You don’t see instant results, but in the few weeks between each session I could see the tattoos were fading.” Said Gary.

“About a fortnight after my last session, they’d vanished completely. There’s a very slight difference in skin tone now, as if I’ve been on holiday and worn two types of sunscreen, but I can live with that.”

Have you got any tattoo and piercing stories you’d like to share? One you love, or perhaps one you regretted? We would love to hear your story. Let us know on our discussion boards. Take a look at the rest of our articles on appearance here.

Photo of tattooed knuckles by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 02-Nov-2022