Legalese — Tattoos

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Whatever you think of them, tattoos of all kinds are very popular these days. I have a friend whose son is very artistic and also very much into tattoos. She wanted to get him a tattoo gun for Christmas so he could use it to make a little extra money on the side while he was at school. Thankfully, she had the foresight to ask me before she bought it. Off the top of my head I knew nothing of the topic, so I looked it up. I was surprised how many laws exist about tattoos.

According to Georgia law, to tattoo someone means to “mark or color the skin of any person by pricking in, inserting, or implanting pigments, except when performed by a physician….” It is defined in another part of the code as to “mark or color the skin by pricking in, piercing, or implanting indelible pigments or dyes under the skin.” I’m not sure what the difference is between piercing or inserting, but that’s what you get when different people write different laws on different days.

A tattoo studio is “any facility or building on a fixed foundation wherein a tattoo artist performs tattooing.” Presumably this means that a tattoo studio cannot exist in a trailer, nor can there be an on-the-go tattoo van that comes to you. A tattoo artist is anyone who “performs tattooing, except that the term…shall not include…any physician or osteopath…[or] any technician acting under the direct supervision of such licensed physician or osteopath.”

“Any person, firm, or corporation operating a tattoo studio without a valid permit or performing tattooing outside of a licensed tattoo studio shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” O.C.G.A. 31-40-7. This means that whoever you are, the only legal way to give someone a tattoo is to do so in a tattoo studio and to have a permit. My friend’s son, then, unless he gets employed by a studio, can’t legally do anything with a tattoo gun on his own.

Tattoo studio permits are issued by the County Board of Health or, where none exists, The Department of Public Health. The Department of Public Health is authorized to make rules about tattoo studios to ensure health and safety. The legislature has taken a specific stand on the advisability of tattoos. O.C.G.A. 31-40-8 specifically directs the Department of Public Health to “develop and institute a program of public education for the purpose of alerting the public to the possible side effects and exposure risks of tattooing. You can find information about The Department of Public Health’s warnings by clicking here.

There are some very specific tattoo laws. For example, it is a misdemeanor to tattoo any person within an inch of the nearest part of the eye socket of a person. This I found odd, since I know many people get tattooed eyeliner. Most laws are local, as counties and municipalities are specifically given authority to make their own rules about tattooing. Some of them are incredibly detailed. For example, the City of Social Circle has fourteen pages of codified regulations regarding tattoo studios.

Whatever your sensibilities, and whether you consider tattoos an art form or vandalism, if you or someone you love is going to get one, make sure it is legal.

This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here

About Lori Duff 74 Articles
Lori is the author of the bestselling collection of humor essays, "Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza" currently available exclusively on Amazon. In order to finance her writing habit, she is a practicing lawyer with Jones & Duff, LLC. She is married to Mike Duff, who is a retired DeKalb County Public Safety Officer, and has two amazing children who make cameo embarrassing appearances in her blog posts and who attend Walton County Public Schools. Her legal column, "Legalese", is meant to de-mystify and humanize the Court system. When asked about her writing, Lori says, "Life is too short not to laugh at every available opportunity. My goal is to make myself laugh -- and hopefully you will laugh along with me."
  • Lynne Tucker Van Buul

    This is all true! I had to go through so much to be able to do permanent makeup, which I’ve been doing now for 13 years. Each county I’ve worked in ha

    • Lynne Tucker Van Buul

      Has it’s own set of rules and regulations in addition to the Georgia law. You must be a physician or advance practice nurse at a certain level to do eyeliner. Even eyebrows can be

      • Lynne Tucker Van Buul

        Questionable. I have a physician on staff and have had one since 2001. I have seen many people doing tattoos on the side or permanent makeup on the side in salons or at homes and that is not a sterile environment to offer something that puts your health at risk. Anything involving blood should be limited to an OSHA compliant studio or clinic.

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