Legalizing Tattoos for Minors is the Lesser of Two Evils

Allowing minors to be professionally tattooed, which is illegal in California, will prevent them from going to unsafe sources for tattoos.

Minors’ right to get tattoos is a heavily debated issue, which is evident in the great variance of regulations from state to state. The vast majority of states allow minors to legally get tattoos if certain requirements are met, such as a parent’s signature, parental presence, or safety certifications. Despite this general consensus that with proper measures in place, minors should be able to get tattoos, California remains one of just a handful of states where tattooing a minor is illegal in all cases. Although it may seem irresponsible to allow minors to receive permanent tattoos, making it illegal won’t stop teens from getting them. Instead, it will encourage them to get far more dangerous tattoos that could easily be avoided if California were to allow teenagers aged 14 and older to receive tattoos from licensed tattoo artists.

A major concern with allowing minors to get tattoos is the fear that they will choose tattoos affiliated with gangs or racist groups – a visual tie to a violent group would not just prevent future employment, but would also remain as a mark of shame for the rest of the person’s life. However, someone who would get such a tattoo at 16 or 17 would very likely get the same mark of affiliation at 18. Additionally, thanks to advancements in laser technology, virtually all tattoos can be entirely removed. Without the permanence tattoos once had, it’s hard to argue that letting minors get tattoos really has such catastrophic consequences.

Regardless of whether letting teens get tattoos is a bad idea, the truth of the matter is that legality has not stopped and will not stop minors from getting them. In lieu of safe and licensed tattoo shops, minors looking for tattoos will turn to far riskier sources that don’t follow the safety standards required of licensed tattoo artists. Without proper training, clean needles, and a sanitary environment, tattooing becomes a hazardous process that can lead to anything from skin irritations to bloodborne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B.

Many detractors of tattooing minors point to products like Inkbox, a service that provides needle-free realistic looking temporary tattoos, an alternative to permanent tattoos. However, these new-age temporary tattoos have two main issues. Firstly, they are almost exclusively sold online, meaning most minors would still have to gain their parent’s permission to purchase them. Teens’ ability to use this alternative is entirely dependent on parental approval, which perpetuates the issue of seeking out dangerous back-alley tattoos. Secondly, these tattoos only last two weeks, making them a recurring cost to anyone who wishes to maintain their tattoos. This expense quickly exceeds the average teen’s budget, as well as the cost of a “permanent” tattoo.

Expanding the legal tattoo market to a new set of clientele would also allow the industry to recover from the economic struggles it has faced as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, while allowing teens to support local artists and businesses. 

Tattoos remain a popular, and now reversible, form of self-expression among teens,  and they should be legalized for teens’ safety.

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