How Old Do You Have To Be To Get A Tattoo?
Last Updated on May 7, 2021
written by tattoo artist Steven Martin
So, what’s the age before you can get inked?
Many of us love the idea of getting a tattoo, especially at an early age. But is it actually legal to get one if you’re under 18?
Well, fortunately in the United States, there is no federal law regulating the practice of tattooing. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have statutory laws requiring a person receiving a tattoo to be at least 18 years old to get a tattoo to body piercing.
This is partially based on the legal principle that a minor cannot enter into a legal contract or otherwise render informed consent for a procedure themselves, instead, requiring any consent to be given by their parent or guardian.
Which, speaking of. Most states permit a person under the age of 18 to receive a tattoo with the permission of a parent or guardian, but some others prohibit tattooing under a certain age regardless of permission, with the exception of medical necessity.
This means on the whole you’re probably not going to be able to get a tattoo or give one to a minor unless parents are feeling especially generous.
Age Limits for Body Piercing and Tattooing by State
In Alabama, there is no minimum age specified for how young you can receive a tattoo but they do require informed written consent by a parent or legal guardian, signed in the presence of the artist/service provider or their agent if you’re a minor. Ear piercing, however, is exempt from Alabama body art laws & rules.
Under Alaska Stat. § 08.13.217 a minor can get both a body piercing and a tattoo so long as both parents or a legal guardian give written consent and be present during the procedure.
Parental consent must be given for tattoos and there is no specific age as to how young the procedure can be carried out. Minors can also have their ears pierced with the written or verbal consent of a parent or guardian. They can also have procedures prescribed by a health care provider.
Arkansas is much stricter with its tattooing and body piercing laws. An age requirement of 18 is needed so only adults are able to undertake the procedure. When it comes to minors, on the other hand, not even parental consent will suffice. Tattoos and piercings are prohibited regardless of a parent or guardian being present or giving written consent.
In California, a parent or guardian must be present during the procedure. Minors may have their ears pierced with parental consent. They may also have a body piercing with parental consent, with the exception of their genitals or nipples. Although, permanent cosmetics are permitted on nipples when done by a cosmetic technician and with parental consent.
To get a tattoo in Colorado a parent or legal guardian must be present during the procedure. But it slightly differs to other States as persons who are “noticeably impaired” cannot have body art procedures.
Minors will require consent for a tattoo however, they may have their ears pierced without parental consent. But wait, the tattooing may only be performed by physicians, or registered nurses & technicians working under the supervision of a physician.
District of Columbia
Only ear piercings are permitted in the District of Columbia for non-adults. To get an ear piercing written consent is required so a parent or legal guardian does not have to be present.
Delaware is a little vaguer with its laws not having any specific info other than requiring notarized written consent to the specific procedure. Whether this includes getting a body piercing or ear piercing is unclear however, we assume that these are permitted since it does not expressly say anything against them.
In Florida, you’ll be able to get a tattoo if you’re accompanied by a parent or guardian who can show proof of guardianship. Both the parent and minor must present a photo ID, as well as sign a consent form. This is not required though if it’s for medical or dental purposes by a licensed physician or dentist.
Georgia is one of the more lenient states when it comes to tattoos. Prior written consent from a parent or guardian is required but minors may have their ears pierced without the need for parental consent which is a great law in our opinion as ear piercings are a common, harmless procedure and not one where consent should be necessary for most circumstances.
Minors may be body pierced with written parental consent. Physicians, Osteopaths, or technicians working under their direct supervision can give minors tattoos or produce scars for “medical or cosmetic purposes.” but no one regardless of age can be tattooed within an inch of their eye socket.
Hawaii follows in the footsteps of Delaware by not being very detailed with its laws. However, under current Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 321-13 and Rev. Stat. § 321-379 so long as there is written consent by a parent or legal guardian getting that body piercing or tattoo you’ve been thinking about shouldn’t be a problem.
Similarly to Georgia, minors can have their ears pierced without parental consent at the minimum age of 14. Written informed consent of the parent or legal guardian, executed in the presence of the person performing the procedure, or their agent/employee is required for minors. Piercings for medical procedures are exempt.
If you’re in Illinois then you’ll need written consent from a parent or guardian for body piercings. Minors can’t be present in places where tattooing or body piercing is done unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. However, minors can have their ears pierced without parental consent so while you won’t need mom or dad’s permission they will need to be present during the procedure.
Following suit with Georgia, Illinois, and Idaho you won’t need parental consent to get an ear piercing but when it comes to tattoos and other piercings written consent is needed and must be notarized. On top of this, a parent or legal guardian must be present.
Under state law, body piercing is not regulated in Iowa but county or city laws may regulate it. On the other hand, unfortunately, under no circumstances are tattoos allowed for anyone under the age of 18.
Kansas has a minimum age of 16 for tattoos and piercings and the Parent or guardian must give written consent, this written consent must be notarized, and the parent/guardian must be present during the procedure.
The parent/guardian must give written, notarized consent under Kentucky law this also applies to ear piercings.
Louisiana has a minimum age of 16, the parent or legal guardian must consent, and they must be present during the procedure. This extends to tattoos but not body piercing.
Now, of course, like all the others parental consent is needed for tattoos and prior legal consent is required for a body piercing. However, Maine law dictates that there is no need for consent when it comes to ear piercings.
Written consent is needed and must be retained for 3 years. Unfortunately unlike many other states, piercing of the ear lobe by tattoo shops is exempt for anyone under the age of 18.
For piercing of areas other than the genitalia, a parent may provide identification and sign the consent document so the procedure can take place but physicians performing for treatment reasons and ear piercing are exempt from health regulations.
In Michigan written, informed consent of a parent/guardian. Must be signed in the presence of the person performing the procedure, or their employee.
When it comes to piercings the presence of a parent/guardian and a consent form are both required to perform the procedure. Minors cannot be tattooed at all but they can be body pierced not including nipples or genitals. Minnesota has gone deeper than most states and overtly mentioned the prohibition of branding, scarification, suspension, subdermal implantation, microdermal, and tongue bifurcation.
Minors cannot be tattooed in Mississippi until they become adults. Body piercing is also prohibited except for the outer perimeter or the ear lobe.
For both piercings and tattoos, the parent or legal guardian must sign written consent in the presence of the person performing the procedure, or their employee.
In Montana, a parent or legal guardian must give “explicit, in-person” consent. Montana administrative rules also require that the parent/guardian be present at the tattoo parlor throughout the procedure.
Down south in Nebraska the minor’s parent/guardian must give written consent and need to be present during the procedure. Under the Nebraska revised statute, a piercing does not include the external parts of the ear.
Nevada state law does not regulate tattoos, piercings, or other body art. Regional health districts are likely to regulate the practice though. The Southern Nevada Health District, for example, does not allow minors below the age of 14 to be tattooed and requires a parent or guardian to provide written consent and be present during the procedure for 14- 18-year-olds.
For piercings, the parent/guardian must provide written consent and be present during the procedure. Minors cannot be tattooed or branded under any circumstances but they may be pierced with a parent or legal guardian consent. Parental consent is not needed for ear piercings.
Written permission of parent/guardian is required for tattooing and must be present during the procedure. Written consent is necessary for ear piercings as well as for a body piercing.
The written consent and a parent or legal guardian’s presence are required during the procedure. Medical procedures by physicians and ear piercing are exempt from this.
Minors cannot be tattooed with parent/guardian consent. For piercings, a parent or legal guardian must give written consent, signed in the presence of the body artist or body art establishment owner. This is not required for ear piercings.
Minors cannot be tattooed with a parent or legal guardian’s consent. “Prior consent” of parent/guardian is required for body piercings. Minors may have their ears pierced without parental consent.
A parent or legal guardian must be present during the procedure and give written consent to the tattoo shop owner or the tattooists performing the procedure.
A parent/guardian must both sign a consent form and “appear in person at the business at the time the procedure is performed.” parental consent and presence are also required for ear piercings.
Minors cannot be tattooed, even with parental consent and as for piercings, the parent/guardian must give written consent and be present during the procedure. Although, on the bright side ear piercing is not governed or restricted by Oklahoma law meaning there are no age requirements. There are exceptions to the type of tattoos for all ages too. Scleral tattooing is banned no matter the tattoo artist or age of the customer.
For piercings, a parent or guardian must give written consent and present proof of identity. Minors can only be tattooed with the authorization of a physician. Scarification and dermal implants are prohibited and persons with sunburns or skin diseases or disorders cannot be tattooed or pierced. Piercing on the testes, deep shaft, uvula, eyelids, and sub-clavicle are all also prohibited for all ages.
A parent or legal guardian must give consent and be present during the procedure.
Minors cannot be tattooed at all regardless of parental consent. As for piercings, the parent or legal guardian must give consent as well as be present for the procedure.
Minors cannot be tattooed at all until they become adults at the age of 18. If you want an ear or body piercing then a parent or guardian must either give written, notarized consent or be present during the procedure.
Tattooing and body piercing a minor in South Dakota will require parental consent.
Tennessee is slightly different in that tattoos that cover an existing tattoo are legal once you turn 16 but a parent/guardian must be present during the procedure. With piercings, a parent or guardian must give written consent and be present during the procedure.
Similarly, to Tennessee minors may, with a parent or guardian consent, be tattooed to cover up an existing tattoo that has offensive, gang-related, or drug-related content, or “other words, symbols, or markings that the person’s parent or guardian considers would be in the best interest of the child to cover”.
A parent/guardian needs to be present during the procedure, give written permission, and provide proof of identity. Parental consent is not required for ear piercing
There are little to no rules and regulations expressly relating to the tattooing of minors but it is illegal if you under 18 years of age.
A parent/guardian needs to be present during the procedure. Virginia laws do not limit minors’ ability to have their ears pierced.
Washington doesn’t have any express statutes detailing specifics relating to tattooing minors but it is still illegal for anyone under 18 years of age.
Parental consent is required in West Virginia for a tattoo, ear, or body piercing.
Tattooing is not permitted under the age of 18 but Physicians in the course of professional practice are exempt.
Verbal consent and presence during the procedure are a necessity. Procedures performed under the supervision of a licensed physician, and piercing of the ear, do not count as body art in Wyoming so are exempt.
In all jurisdictions, individual tattooists may choose to place additional restrictions based on their own moral feelings, such as refusing any clients under a specific age even with parental consent despite it being perfectly legal in most states.
They are also able to limit the type and/or location of where they are willing to tattoo, such as refusing any work involving inappropriate parts of the body. They may additionally refuse to perform specific artwork, including if they merely find it inappropriate or offensive. On top of this, they can refuse to work on a client that they suspect may be intoxicated and in some states, it is illegal to perform the procedure altogether.
Tattoo artists sometimes claim their personal business restrictions are a matter of law even when it is not true, so as to avoid arguments with clients.
Types Of Body Modification
There are different types of tattoos and piercings some of which are banned completely in some states regardless of age. For example, permanent makeup is one form of tattooing. This is when permanent ink is used to mimic the look of eyeliner, lip liner, eyebrow pencil, or other kinds of makeup.
Body parts that can be pierced include the:
- Ears – such as the earlobes, tragus, or conch
- Noses – such as the nostrils or septum
- Nipples (illegal for minors in most states)
- Genitals – such as the clitoris or penis (illegal for minors in most states)
More dramatic body modification procedures include:
- using jewelry to stretch the earlobes
- implanting beads into the skin
- scarification, or deliberately scarring the skin
- using dermal punch procedures to create a hole in the cartilage
Tattoo Health Risks
When you receive a tattoo, a tattoo artist uses a handheld machine with an attached needle to puncture the skin. Every time this device makes a hole, it injects ink into the dermis (the second layer of skin below the epidermis.)
Tattoos are a common form of self-expression and have become increasingly popular since the 90s although they have origins that date back hundreds of years. However, they also damage the skin and can cause complications:
- Allergic reaction to tattoo dyes (symptoms of an allergic reaction include a rash at the tattoo site)
- A skin infection, such as a staph infection or cutaneous tuberculosis
- Burning or swelling at the tattoo site
- Granulomas, or nodules of inflamed tissue around the tattoo site
- Keloids, or overgrowths of scar tissue
- Bloodborne diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and tetanus (these can be contacted via contaminated, unsanitary needles)
Tattoo ink has even been known to interfere with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. The long-term effects of tattoo ink and colorings remain unknown. Until recently, no government regulatory agency has closely examined the safety of tattoo ink.
More than 50 colorings used in tattoos have been approved for use in cosmetics, but the risk of injecting them beneath the skin is unclear.
Body Piercing Risks
Just like tattoos, there are a number of risks involved with getting a body piercing. For example, bacterial infections are fairly common if the procedure isn’t carried out by experienced, licensed tattoo artists. Some other risks include:
- Abscesses are pus-filled mass that can develop around the piercing and is considered a serious side effect. If left untreated, there’s the risk for sepsis or blood poisoning which can be fatal.
- Swelling around the piercing site
- The formation of a keloid around the site
- Bleeding caused by a damaged blood vessel
A tongue piercing does have the potential to damage your teeth or in some cases cause difficulty with speaking. In serious cases, this swelling can result in a blockage of your airways which obviously isn’t going to be a fun experience.
The side effects of genital piercings can include pain or soreness during urination or sex. In most states, the piercing of genitals and nipples on a minor is illegal and in some states, it’s prohibited completely no matter your age. If caught doing it the sentence can be anything from a $500 fine to imprisonment.
Complications are also more likely if you suffer from diabetes, allergies, skin disorders like eczema, or a weak immune system.
So, How Do I Get A Safe Tattoo?
- First of all, you’ll want to go to a trusted, reputable tattoo studio that meets the rules and regulations for tattooing in that state. This can be checked online with your local department of Health.
- Hygiene is everything when it comes to tattoos. You’ll need to ensure that surfaces and especially needles are sterile otherwise you’ll end up with one of the nasty side effects detailed above.
- Hygiene also goes for the artist that’s going to perform the procedure for you. It’s standard that they wash their hands and wear gloves. On top of this, they should use a swab on the place where they intend to put the needle and the needle should be newly removed from a fresh package. Resuing a needle is a one-way ticket to the hospital. If you don’t see the employee do these things then run for the hills. This is a big red flag and you’re better off paying that bit extra for a tattoo that doesn’t come with the added risk of sepsis.
How Do I Get A Safe Piercing?
- A piercing gun should only be used on an earlobe whereas a hollow needle will be used on other body parts to avoid crushing delicate tissues.
- Everything should be sterilized, from the piercer’s hands to the jewelry being placed through your skin.
Tattoos and piercings can take up to several weeks to heal. Cleaning the area that you have received a piercing or tattoo in is strongly recommended and when it comes to tattoos, keeping the affected area out of the sunlight is a necessity.
However, overcleaning is a risk that should be taken into account. Washing the tattoo or piercing around twice a day should suffice and anything more than this runs the risk of irritating the skin and slowing the healing process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I be 14 and get a tattoo?
States such as Nevada do allow for minors at the age of 14 to get a tattoo or piercing provided that they have parental consent and the parent or guardian is present during the procedure.
Can Parents Sign Consent For Minors To Get A Tattoo?
Yes, many states allow parental consent to be given in exchange for a procedure that applies a tattoo or piercing to a minor. There are fo course exceptions and not all states allow piercings/tattoos no matter what consent is given. Medical procedures by a trained Physician are often exempt from consent laws.
What Could Happen If You Misrepresent Your Age To Get A Tattoo?
There are a variety of repercussions if you falsify your age to get a tattoo. these can range from fines to community service if you’re a minor. things could get more serious if you falsify your age to get a genital or nipple piercing and you could also potentially get the business in trouble with the potential for the tattoo artist facing legal repercussions. Get consent from a parent and if not then it’s best to just wait until you’re of age.
To recap, the age of consent for getting a tattoo is 18 in all states with some exceptions relating to ear piercings. Parental consent can be sought in many states but this isn’t always the case and the degrees of consent required vary from simple written consent to the presence and identification of a parent or guardian.
As much as we’d all like to start getting tattoos and piercings as early as possible it’s not at all worth falsifying your age to get one. Waiting is most likely the best option especially as many of you have parents that would object to such a procedure.
Check your state’s laws and make sure a parent is present should you still go through with it. Paying a little extra for a trusted and licensed artist is also worth that extra investment as the side effects of a dodgy tattoo can prove fatal.
So be careful out there and good luck with the tats!