Is It Illegal to Tattoo Yourself Without a License? (as of 2023)

The body art and tattoo industry might not be regulated by the federal government, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t laws governing tattoos. Individual states have the power to regulate tattooing, and most do.

While the states might differ on the subject of age requirements and tattooing of minors, all agree on one thing: they require a person to have a tattoo license in order to perform the procedures.

But are there some exceptions to the rule? Is it legal to tattoo yourself without a license?

Let’s dive in.

This article is for informational purposes only and focuses on the current laws in the US. It’s always advised to consult with local authorities for maximum clarity.

Is It Illegal to Tattoo Yourself Without a License?

Tattooing is considered to be a form of body modification, and as such, it is regulated by the state. This means that there are certain rules and regulations that must be followed in order to ensure the safety of those who undergo the procedure.

As things stand, it’s considered a misdemeanor to tattoo someone without a license in most states. While many would think that “my body, my choice” should apply in this instance and tattooing yourself is fine and legal, the fact that it’s a form of permanent body modification, carries risks. Therefore, it’s just as illegal to tattoo yourself as it is to tattoo someone else without a license.

For example, if someone were to tattoo themselves without proper knowledge of how to sterilize their equipment, they could potentially contract a bloodborne disease such as hepatitis C.

There have been instances of people being charged with a misdemeanor for tattooing themselves, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and get a professional to do it if you’re set on getting inked.

While it might be tempting to go ahead and give yourself a tattoo, remember that it’s not worth the risk of breaking the law and potentially putting your health in danger. Play it safe and get a professional to do it instead.

Penalties for Tattooing Yourself Without a License

The penalties for tattooing yourself without a license vary from state to state, but they typically involve a fine. However, most states consider this a misdemeanor offense, which means that you could also face a term in jail as well (from 30 days in some states to even a year in others).

Additionally, if you were to tattoo someone else without a license, you could be sued for any complications that occur as a result of the procedure. This includes things like infections or scarring.

So, while it’s technically possible to tattoo yourself without a license, it’s not advisable. Not only is it illegal, but it’s also risky. There’s no need to put your health and well-being at risk when there are professionals who can do it safely and legally.

Risks of Getting Penalized

While in no shape or form we’re encouraging anyone to tattoo themselves without a license, it should be noted that the risks of getting caught and subsequently penalized are relatively low, not to say that they’re inexistent.

The reason for this is simple.

Since running a tattoo shop requires a license, most unlicensed tattoo artists who tattoo themselves do so in the privacy of their own homes. This means that there’s little to no chance of them getting caught by authorities (unless you have noisy neighbors who like to snitch, of course).

Why Unlicensed Artists Tattoo Themselves

In most cases, the main reason for unlicensed artists (or artists-to-be) tattooing themselves is to practice their craft.

Tattooing is an art form, and like any other art form, it takes practice to perfect. Many unlicensed artists use themselves as guinea pigs in order to hone their skills and get better at tattooing.

While this might seem like a good idea at first, many regret the decision later in life and decide to remove the tattoo. Unfortunately, this is often a difficult and painful process that doesn’t always yield the desired results. Another popular solution is to cover up the tattoo with another one, but this isn’t always possible (or desirable) either.

So, if you’re thinking about giving yourself a tattoo, remember to weigh the pros and cons carefully before making a decision. It’s not worth risking your health or breaking the law for something that you might later come to regret.

Getting Licensed Isn’t That Hard

If, after reading all of this, you’re still set on becoming a tattoo artist, then we have some good news for you – getting licensed isn’t that hard and with the right approach, you can be up and running in no time.

To become a fully-certified tattoo artist in the United States, you will need to tick off the following items on your to-do list:

  • CPR Certification – a hospital, healthcare facility, or training facility all offer a recognized first aid course leading to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Both academic and practical CPR topics are covered throughout the training.
  • First-Aid Certification – unlike the CPR certification, this one isn’t required country-wide but in selected states instead.
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Certification – all tattoo artists, body artists, permanent cosmetic artists, body, piercers, and other professionals who often come into contact with blood and other potentially infectious materials must complete bloodborne pathogens training. Of all certifications, this one is the most crucial.
  • Practical or Written Exam – covers the information necessary for professional tattoo artists as well as the rules governing their line of work. Candidates must repeat the full written exam if they receive a score of less than 75% on the rules and regulations part or the professional knowledge questions for tattoo artists.
  • Apprenticeship Proof – the completion of an apprenticeship is one of the first steps toward obtaining a tattoo license. You must look for a qualified tattoo artist who thinks that you have enough promise to warrant the time and effort needed to train you.