The rise in popularity of tattoos in recent years has led to more people of all ages getting inked. A recent survey revealed that nearly half of US citizens under 40 are sporting at least one tattoo.
While getting tattooed has certainly become the norm amongst the adult population, there is still a bit of a stigma surrounding tattoos for minors.
With that said, despite a growing number of Americans under 18 being keen on ticking off this life experience from their lists, many are still hesitant to do so for fear of breaking the law.
So, is it legal to get a tattoo under 18? Let’s take a look at the laws surrounding tattoos for minors in the United States.
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 Get a Tattoo Under 18?
As things stand, there’s no federal law in the United States that regulates the body art (and tattoo) industry. The decision on who and when someone can get a tattoo is largely left up to the individual states.
This means that each state has its own set of rules and regulations governing tattoos for minors. And as you might expect, these laws can vary quite significantly from one place to another.
So, can you get a tattoo if you’re under 18?
Looking at the general picture, most US states make it LEGAL for people under 18 to get tattooed – as long as they can provide a legally-binding parental consent form. In some states, the parent or legal guardian will also have to accompany the minor during the tattooing session.
States Allowing Tattoos Under 18
If you still haven’t hit that magic number “18” and are determined to get your first tattoo, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are a number of states across the US that permit tattoos for minors.
In these states, as long as you have parental consent (or in some cases, the presence of a parent or guardian during the tattooing process), you’re good to go! Here’s a list of states where people under 18 can get tattooed with parental permission (clicking on the state will reveal its complete tattoo laws):
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
States Prohibiting Tattoos Under 18
There are, however, a handful of US states where it is still ILLEGAL for minors to get tattoos – even with parental consent.
If you’re a resident of the following states:
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
…you will have to bide your time until you turn 18 before going under the needle, regardless of whether or not you have your parents’ permission.
What Is the Legal Age to Get a Tattoo with a Parental Consent?
Ok, let’s assume that you’re one of the lucky ones and live in a state where tattoos for minors are legal with parental consent.
The next question is, what exactly is the legal age to get a tattoo with parental permission?
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. The answer to this question largely depends on which state you’re in.
However, again looking at the majority of states that allow for tattooing of minors in the first place, the minimum age requirement will be 14. This means that you’re good to go as long as you’re at least 14 years old and have parental consent (or the presence of the parent during the session).
- Related: What States Allow Tattooing at 14?
There are, however, a few states that have set the minimum age requirement for tattoos with parental consent slightly higher than this. In these cases, you’ll need to be between 16-17 years old before you’re legally allowed to get inked.
Who Is In Trouble in Case Law is Breached?
Of course, even in states where tattoos for minors are legal with parental consent, there will always be those who choose to ignore the law and get tattooed without permission (and artists who allow this).
So, what happens if someone under 18 gets a tattoo without the required parental consent?
In all states, the entire blame will lie with the artist for not checking their ID and/or verifying parental consent before going ahead with the tattoo. This means that they will be in hot water with the law, not the minor.
Most states classify tattooing a minor without consent as a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine and/or a jail sentence. The fines range from $100 to $2,500 while the jail term from a month to 1 year (depending on the state and the repetitiveness of the offense).
The Final Say Lies With the Artist
No matter if you’re in a state that prohibits tattoos for minors or one of the many states that permit it – the final decision on whether or not to tattoo you will always lie with the artist.
In other words, even if you’re of legal age to get a tattoo in your state, the artist may still refuse to do it. In most cases, this decision will be based on the artist’s personal policy.
Some artists just don’t feel comfortable working on anyone who is not an adult, regardless of the state laws. Others may have no problem with it – as long as you have parental consent forms.
So, if you’re hell-bent on getting a tattoo before you turn 18, your best bet is to call around and ask various shops and artists in your area what their own policies are.
Of course, the only way to guarantee that you’ll be able to get a tattoo before you turn 18 is if you live in a state that permits it. In this case, you’ll need to make sure that you have all the necessary documentation (ie. parental consent forms) before setting up an appointment.
Should You Really Get a Tattoo Under 18?
The legitimacy of getting tattooed under 18 is one thing – but whether or not you SHOULD get a tattoo before you turn 18 is a whole other story.
There are a lot of things to consider before making the decision to get inked – and age is just one of them. Tattoos are permanent, after all, so it’s important to think long and hard about whether or not you’re ready for one.
Here are a few things that you should keep in mind before getting a tattoo at any age:
- Tattoos are not like hair color – you can’t just change your mind and have them removed (at least, not easily and not pain-free). So, be absolutely sure that you want the tattoo before you get it.
- Your skin will change as you age – another thing to keep in mind is that your skin will change as you age. This means that the tattoo that looked great when you were 18 might not look so great when you’re 40.
- Tattoos can affect your job prospects – unfortunately, there is still some discrimination against people with tattoos in the workforce. This means that getting a tattoo – especially visible ones – can negatively affect your job prospects.
- Think about the pain – last but not least, it’s important to think about the pain associated with getting a tattoo. It’s not exactly a walk in the park, so be sure that you’re mentally and emotionally prepared for it.
All in all, getting a tattoo before you turn 18 is not technically illegal. At least not in the majority of the states in the US.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good idea. There are a lot of things to consider before making the decision to get inked – so be sure to weigh all your options carefully before taking the plunge.
If you have first-hand experience with getting tattooed as a minor in the United States (or any other country for that matter), we’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. Share your story with us!