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What are the Different Types of Illegal Tattoos?

By N. Ayers
Updated May 16, 2024
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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).

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By istria — On May 14, 2011

@Fiorite- It seems like the Marine Corps may be behind the times because about 30% of recruitment age people have tattoos. A few years ago, the U.S. Army realized this and changed their tattoo policy so that they did not have to turn away otherwise qualified recruits.

The Army has decided to allow recruits with tattoos on their arms, and the back of their neck to enlist as long as their tattoos are not sexual, discriminatory, or racists in nature. If your brother has simple things like dragon or skull tattoos, he would be able to enlist easily.

By submariner — On May 13, 2011

I read this article and decided to search for illegal tattoos to see what types of craziness people are putting on their body. I entered top 10 illegal tattoos into my search bar and it came back with some cool tattoos (although I would never dare get one of these).

One guy had a full color tattoo covering his entire tongue. Another guy had a tattoo on the roof of his mouth. There was even someone with a black light ink sleeve. It was the outline of his bones, so under a black light, his arm looked like a glowing skeleton.

By Fiorite — On May 12, 2011

This was an interesting article. I thought it was going to be about illegal tattoo designs, not illegal types or places to get tattoos.

I did not know that some branches of the military did not allow certain types of tattoos. This will be a big disappointment to my little brother. My brother has a full sleeve tattoo and wants to join the marines. I wonder why the Marine Corps put restrictions on the types of tattoos their soldiers can have. I think that tattoos can easily make someone look more menacing, having a psychological effect on the enemy.

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