Skin piercing

Current controls on skin piercing

Under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, 1 as amended, local authorities in England and Wales are responsible for regulating and monitoring businesses offering the following services:

  • Acupuncture
  • Ear-piercing
  • Electrolysis
  • Tattooing
  • Cosmetic piercing
  • Semi-permanent skin colouring

All of these procedures involve some degree of skin piercing and therefore carry potential health risks to those undergoing them. These can include

  • Skin infections
  • Allergic or toxic reactions to the substances used
  • The transmission of blood borne viruses such as hepatitis or HIV

Businesses wanting to offer these services must register with their local authority. Both the person undertaking the activity and the premises must be registered. It is a criminal offence to trade without registration or to be in breach of the relevant byelaws. Model byelaws which local authorities can adopt have been developed by the Department of Health.

In dealing with businesses offering the above procedures, local authorities can also use enforcement powers under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Additional legislation, the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969, makes it an offence to permanently tattoo persons under the age of 18. No such statutory restrictions apply to cosmetic piercing or skin colouring.

The CIEH believes that there should be minimum ages of consent for all forms of skin piercing.


At present there are no nationally approved training courses available for UK body piercers, although a number of commercially run courses are available. The CIEH would like to see approved training courses become developed for all skin piercing practitioners and for such courses to be made compulsory for all new practitioners. Practitioners should also be required to demonstrate continuing competence in their work activities. The HSE recommends that basic first aid training and infection control guidance be provided as part of any cosmetic piercing training course.

Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions  

Guidance and advice

The best place to start if you are looking for information and guidance on skin piercing is your local council website. Many councils offer advice and information to both businesses and to members of the public.

Following concerns raised by tattoo and body piercing practitioners, as well as health protection and environmental health specialists, about the lack of robust and consistent guidance on standards of hygiene and safety in the industry, the CIEH convened a multi-agency steering group working group to develop guidance. Comprising representatives from the CIEH, the Health and Safety Laboratory, Public Health England (formerly Health Protection Agency), the Tattoo and Piercing Industry Union and also individuals with practical experience of working in this area, the Group produced the following guidance in July 2013.

Adobe PDF icon Tattooing and body piercing guidance: Toolkit  

Tattoo Hygiene Rating Scheme (THRS) 


The Tattoo Hygiene Rating Scheme which has recently been piloted in Wales and is now being taken up by local authorities around the country is designed to drive up standards in tattoo studios by advising members of the public through a rating scheme rising from 1 to 4 the standard of hygiene and safety practices in the studio. It follows research showing that 93% of customers considering having a tattoo would be influenced by a rating scheme and 80% of tattoo studio operators interviewed considered it would be good for businesses. You can follow the progress of the scheme on its twitter account - @TattooHygiene. 


'Before you Ink Think’ 

To assist those thinking of having a tattoo, Cardiff Council’s Communicable Disease team has produced a DVD called 'Before you Ink Think.' The DVD, which is sponsored by CIEH Wales, lasts about 15 minutes and highlights all those things that potential purchasers of tattoos should consider before they take the plunge. The DVD, which costs £8.00, can be obtained from CIEH Wales. 

1 Local authorities in London have additional powers to control skin piercing activities under the London Local Authorities Act 1991 and the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1981. 

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