Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 11 April 2013

Tattoo you

It's another of those questions of 'how far do you go to protect people from themselves?'
untrained tattooists are buying equipment on eBay - with terrifying consequences (Daily Mail)
As the Mail helpfully points out, with illustrations, if you fancy setting up in business, you can buy a basic tattooing kit for £20-£30 on e-bay - no need to resort to redneck DIY.

If you want that added touch of respectability, you can even get a licence from the council. Never mind that you have no experience and you're a bit rubbish at drawing; as long as you have a wipeable surface, hot water and an autoclave for sterilising your kit, you could start tomorrow.

You might think that you'd have a problem finding someone foolhardy enough to allow you to have a go, but it seems there are plenty of willing victims out there; the Mail thoughtfully provides an assortment of stomach-churning photographs to prove the point.

This lack of regulation has worried one Kevin Paul, tattoo artist to the stars (well, someone called Harry Styles, apparently), who is lobbying Parliament for legislation to regulate the tattooing industry. From a public health perspective, he's certainly got a point:
‘People who are untrained in tattooing are unaware of the infections and diseases that can be caused by using cheap and unsterile equipment. 
‘Permanent scarring to the skin can be caused if the tattoo is not done correctly and bloodborne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread.’
And it seem only sensible to ensure that councils don't hand out licences without some industry-backed proof of training in safety and hygiene, as well as using existing legislation to prosecute anyone who tattoos a child.

But how much difference will it actually make? These dodgy tats are not, by and large, done in established studios; according to Mr Paul, the majority of culprits are working independently from home - or have even set up as mobile tattooists.

And anyone who chooses to get a cut-price tattoo in someone's kitchen or from a man in a van - "Burger and chips twice, mate, and can you do me a picture of Amy Winehouse just here" -  is hardly likely to be swayed by the absence of a piece of paper from the council, which leaves us with the question of enforcement; how far should the state be involved?

Penalise the tattooee and you are likely to get people refusing to seek medical help until major complications have set in; prosecute the tattooer and it becomes an expensive game of testimony and proof played out through an already overburdened legal system.

It's one of those situations where the only practical thing to do is to ensure the public are fully informed - in this case, by a rigorous licensing system - and as well educated as possible in the dangers of using unlicensed practitioners.

And those who still patronise the charlatans should have only themselves to blame.


  1. It seems the sticking point in the problem is public awareness. Another is that with age you can have warts and blotches, are these more likely on the affected parts?

  2. What? Expensive tattooist-type person wants restrictions on who can set up to compete with him?

    Well I never saw that coming!

    Just say no.

    There are far too many licences, regulations, nannying, restrictions, prohibitions, bansturbations and all the rest of it.

    And far far too many drones paid for out of our taxes and getting rich on it all.

    Caveat emptor. End of.

  3. You could just do away with the rigerous legislation altogether and stick with the education bit. That should be quite enough.

  4. Good point about abolishing licences completely, though it would be useful for customers to have some independent way of checking up on the person about to stick them full of needles and ink.

    What I have in mind is more of a certification process; it needn't even involve the council if the industry has a sound professional body to carry out assessment, but the fact that this tattooist appears to be acting independently implies otherwise.

    Demetrius, there must be medical documentation somewhere; it's certain that tattoos don't improve with age.

    The Mail's claim of modern celebrity influence notwithstanding, one of the indications of summer in the coastal town where I lived 25 years ago was the mothers at the school gate comparing their truly grotesque tattoos, most originally come by (like some of the children they were collecting) 'dahn the docks'.

    I sometimes wonder what those women look like now - then wish I hadn't.

    WY, there's certainly a vested interest here, but I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt; the bad tattooists are doing nothing to help the overall image of his business (though, actually, the picture of his client doesn't help much either).

    Bucko, good to hear from you; I hope normal service will soon be resumed at the blog.

  5. Too nauseating to even comment on.

  6. I agree with Weekend Yachtsman. It's all about erecting barriers to entry.

  7. AKH, I'd be more inclined to agree with you were it not for the potential damage that fly-by-nights could cause.

    If I set up cutting hair, for example, the worst damage I could inflict would grow out eventually and leave no trace; tattooing, on the other hand, is surely serious enough to warrant some kind of entry barrier.

    I admit I may be biased but, should either of my children be so unwise as to want a tattoo, I'd like to know that they have access to reliable information about the person carrying it out.

  8. And the 'Daily Mail' has a cracking story about this very thing this morning! Have blogged it, and linked back to your piece... :)

  9. XX ‘Permanent scarring to the skin can be caused if the tattoo is not done correctly XX

    Ähhh.... That is what a tatoo IS, in fact it is more or less the DEFINITION of a tattoo.


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