Regulations may help ensure better hygiene and weed out dubious operators, they say
There is no question about it. Tattoo artists welcome the possibility of the Health Ministry (MOH) regulating the industry via the licensing of practitioners and setting a minimum age for customers.
This will help weed out fly-bynight operators, improve hygiene standards and protect minors who may not be ready for a tattoo yet, they noted.
In Parliament last week, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a written reply to MP Halimah Yacob that MOH is looking at the experience of regulations overseas.
Madam Halimah wanted MOH to regulate tattooing so only those who are registered can do the job. She also said there should be a minimum age for clients.
A ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times that it is studying the regulatory experience of countries such as Britain, Australia and the United States. In the US, tattooing on minors is prohibited in most states.
Currently, tattoo artists here are not required to get a licence before setting up a practice. There is no regulatory authority for tattoo studios, but tattoo parlours that run as business entities must register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
It is estimated that more than 200 tattoo parlours operate here.
Tattoo artists said the industry has seen many new players, but not all follow strict hygiene standards. Some also buy their tools online and practise from home.
Among the professionals, it is standard practice to sterilise equipment in an autoclave machine and use new needles for each tattoo session. Some now use disposable tubes instead of stainless steel ones to hold their needles.
Tattoo artist Alecs Khoo, 36, from Alive Tattoo Studio, said: “Licensing will be useful because it will weed out those shops that don’t meet the hygiene standards. It will give people confidence and protect the profession.”
Another tattoo artist, Mr Jerry Tan, 32, said: “It’s fair for all parties. When it comes to any procedure that involves penetrating the skin, the Government should step in.”
Apart from two hepatitis B cases in the 1970s, there has been no reported case of a notifiable infectious disease linked to tattooing or body piercing. However, as tattoos breach the skin there is still a possibility of skin infections and other complications, although this is not common here, tattoo artists said.
A small, simple tattoo can cost upwards of $50. Some artists charge hourly rates, from $150.
Tattoo artists also support a minimum age for clients. Indeed, most tattoo parlours here do not entertain customers below 18. Customers are asked to show proof of age and students in school uniforms are immediately turned away.
Mr Tan said: “At that age, they are not ready to commit to something permanent.”
Mr Khoo agreed: “They are more likely to be impulsive and many times, they get tattoos that they later regret.”
He said he has met 13-year-olds who want to ink their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name. “That is definitely not wise,” he said.
At Shark Tattoo Studio, the minimum age is 18, said owner Scott De Silva, 31. But he may accept those aged 16 and 17 if they are accompanied by their parents.
Asked what rules could be set, Mr William Yeo, 52, owner of William Tattoo Studio, called for agreement forms to be made mandatory – as practised now in countries like the US. They would help prevent disputes between customers and the shops, and clue clients in on what they are in for, he said.
But tattoo artists are less keen on regulations with regard to their skill. Mr De Silva said: “I don’t know how it could be done. Who would do the grading? The focus should be on hygiene standards.”
REGULATIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES
· Businesses that carry out tattooing must be registered.
· The authorities can inspect any premises to make sure they are observing laws that relate to hygiene, staff and equipment.
· It is illegal to tattoo minors under 18.
· Before tattooing, the studio must ask the client questions related to, say, allergies or health problems. After the procedure, they must give appropriate aftercare advice.
· It is an offence for anyone to tattoo someone below 18.
· Operators must follow hygiene and sterilisation guidelines.
· All clients undergoing a tattooing procedure must be provided with both verbal and written information regarding appropriate care, possible symptoms of infection and suggested healing times.
The United States
· Tattooing on minors is prohibited in most states in the US.
· Some states require consent forms to be signed before a tattoo is done. Tattoo artists must be trained and have knowledge of sanitation.