Laws regarding different types of illegal tattoos vary from place to place. The decision to get a tattoo can also have social consequences in some countries, even if the practice is legal. Public health concerns are usually the reason why regulations are put in place to prevent illegal tattooing. Tattoos may be illegal if they are administered by someone who is not licensed, given to someone who is a minor, administered in places where tattooing is not allowed, or violate laws about which parts of the body can be tattooed.
Tattoo shops are legal in many countries, but the acceptance and regulation of these business establishments can vary from place to place, even within a country or within a small geographical area. A tattoo shop owner in one city might face difficulty relocating the shop to another location nearby because of local zoning laws that do now allow this type of business. Many places also prohibit people who are under 18 years old from getting tattoos. The laws in other places might require parental consent before tattoos can be administered to a minor.
In many places, tattoo artists are required to get a license from local officials and have their shops inspected at regular intervals. Tattoos that are administered by anyone other than a licensed tattoo artist are illegal in some places. In other locations, tattoo shops are legal, but the practice of tattooing might not be considered socially acceptable by many people. Tattoos were illegal in Japan until 1946, and they have had negative associations in the country because they are often considered to symbolize the yakuza, an organized crime group. Some Japanese businesses, including public bath houses, commonly ban customers who have tattoos.
Some types of tattoos are not illegal but have been prohibited by certain organizations. For example, in 2007, the United States Marine Corps implemented a policy that restricts Marines from getting sleeve tattoos, which cover a large portion of the arm or leg. Different types of these tattoos include full, half-length, and quarter-length designs, depending on how far down the arm or leg they go. Members of this branch of the U.S. military have also been prohibited from displaying tattoos on their head or neck.
Facial tattoos are also regulated in some places, and tattooing close to the eye is sometimes illegal. In the U.S. state of Georgia, tattooing within 1 inch (2.54 cm) of the eye is prohibited.
Cosmetic tattoos that are performed in a beauty salon are not legal in some places. These tattoos are also known as permanent makeup for the lips and eyebrows. A cosmetic tattoo might also involve more advanced procedures on other parts of the body, such as adding pigmentation to areas surrounding the nipple.
Tattooing in prison is not legal in many places, but it remains common to symbolize such things as gang membership, racist beliefs, or violent experiences. The illegal tattoos that inmates get and give to their peers are often administered using makeshift tattooing supplies. For example, prisoners might get ink from a pen and use parts of radios or video gaming consoles as their tattoo gun. Needles in prison are made from sharp objects such as staples, paper clips, or metal guitar strings. The homemade tattooing equipment that inmates use might not be sterilized properly, which increases the risk for skin infections and the spread of hepatitis C or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).