“Can I Get a Tattoo?”

What parents need to know

"Can I Get a Tattoo?"


It’s the kind of comment that stops most parents in their tracks: “Mom (or Dad), I want to get a tattoo.” How do you respond to your child’s request?

There’s no denying the popularity of tattoos. However, tattoos must be treated with caution since they can seriously affect a person’s health.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care sets out Infection Prevention and Control Best Practices for “any facility, service or person offering services where there is a risk of exposure to blood.” This includes tattoo parlours, which are regularly inspected by your local health unit or health department.

The best practices state that a person must be at least 18 years of age, or have parental consent, to use services like a tattoo parlour. While many reputable tattoo parlours follow this practice, others may be less reputable, and provide tattoos to kids under 18.

Talking to your teen

Generally, there is no need to talk to teenagers about tattoos until they start to ask questions. However, this conversation should occur sooner if your teenager takes an interest in tattoos or spends time with others who already have one.

It’s important to tell your teenager that a tattoo is generally forever, as it can be difficult and costly to remove. If your teenager is still growing, there is a risk the tattoo may become distorted. The potential health risks of getting a tattoo should also be discussed.

The tattooing procedure involves breaking the skin (the body’s first line of defence against illness and infection). Because the skin is broken, care and treatment of the tattoo is essential to help reduce the risk of allergic reactions, pain and skin infections.

There is also the risk of serious illnesses like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, HIV and skin infections such as those caused by Staphylococcus aureus if:

  • the equipment for tattooing is not sterile
  • there is a problem with the tattooing ink,
  • the work area is not disinfected, or
  • the person doing the tattoo does not follow proper hygiene practices.

It’s best to discourage teenagers from getting a tattoo until they are old enough to understand the risks.

Do your homework

If you decide to allow your teenager to get a tattoo, do your homework (see sidebar). To find a reputable tattoo parlour, ask questions, verify that best practices are being followed and be present for the actual tattoo procedure. Be aware that home-based tattooing businesses may not be registered with the health unit or health department, and therefore may not receive inspections. Check beforehand.

Don’t be pressured into letting your teenager get a tattoo without taking proper precautions. While tattoos may be unique fashion statements, they can also leave unhealthy lasting impressions!


Make Sure it’s Safe

  • Shop around. Take the time to find a professional and ask how long he or she has trained.
  • Ask for a copy of the tattoo parlour’s latest inspection report. The Peterborough County-City Health Unit regularly inspects tattoo shops and can also provide details on these reports. Call 705-743-1000, x. 249 or 285.
  • Check that tattoo parlour’s follow proper disinfection and hygiene standards. If possible, watch the operator perform a tattoo on someone.
  • Be sure to ask questions:
    Does the operator use a disposable, single-use needle out of an unopened package with the seal still attached?
    Is the tattoo shop clean? Is there a sink for the operator to wash hands?
    How does the operator clean the workstation?
    How does the operator clean and sterilize instruments? Are these cleaning procedures done properly?
    Does the operator disinfect the skin before procedures?
    Does the operator use new, disposable gloves for each tattooing?
    Does the operator provide instructions on caring for the new tattoo and a number to call if there is a problem?

Author: Patricia Quinn

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