Tattooing, Piercing and Body Art
Jump to: Tattooing | Piercing | Body Art.
The following is a summary of information from the Environmental
Health Department's comprehensive document on body decoration. Use
the links below to read the full document.
Tattooing, Piercing and Body Art, Word
document 51kb | Tattooing, Piercing and Body Art, PDF
Tattooing is an ancient art form of permanent colour marking
below the skin surface. It requires very strict hygiene to prevent
the spread of infection. The principle of tattooing is to penetrate
the outer skin layers and to introduce colour, so that when the
skin heals the colouration remains visible. There are a
number of standard precautions that must be observed to reduce the
risk of transmission of blood-borne microorganisms including Human
Immune deficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
Other Forms of Tattoo
- Temporary Tattoos: The only genuine temporary
tattoos are transfer, airbrush and henna tattoos.
- Transfer Tattoos: Transfer tattoos are highly
coloured and adhere to the skin. They can be washed off or will
fade away after one or two days.
- Airbrush Tattoos: Airbrush tattoos do not
involve any penetration of the skin. A stencil is applied to the
area and pigments suspended in an alcohol product are sprayed onto
the skin through the stencil using an airbrush. The effect will be
a coloured tattoo and the colouring dries as alcohol evaporates.
The 'tattoo' effect lasts for three to five days
- Henna Tattoos: Henna tattooing is a process
that involves staining the surface of the skin, an effect lasting
approximately up to two weeks. It does not involve penetration of
the skin using needles. The skin must be cleaned with an alcoholic
wipe prior to carrying out the procedure in order to remove
- Micro pigmentation: This is sometimes
described as cosmetic enhancement or semi permanent makeup, and the
process involves tattooing but is used to produce natural
pigmentation on body areas e.g., replace eyebrows and eye lines
etc. All hygienic standards for tattooing are required.
- Nail Tattoos: This is an outdated fashion and
involves using tattoo guns to put designs on fingernails. The same
hygienic standards as tattooing are required which is why
manicurists now place transfers under plastic lacquers with no risk
of cross contamination.
- Temptoo / temptu: A tattoo where the needles
pierce the skin, but supposedly do not breach the epidermis.
Temptoo dyes are said to rise to the surface of the skin and vanish
over three to five years. It is very difficult to control or
guarantee the depth to which the tattoo needles penetrate.
There is little evidence to show that tattoos are temporary if
produced by dye or pigment injection into the skin. The infection
hazards of skin piercing are present regardless of the stated
lifespan of the finished tattoo.
Temptoo should be distinguished from temporary transfer skin
decorations, which are regulated as cosmetics.
Skin piercing is an ancient cultural phenomenon
which has only emerged into Western mainstream society over the
last three decades.
- Ear piercing: Ear piercing is the most popular
form of skin piercing and in Western society around 80% of females
have their ears pierced.
The lobe and upper cartilaginous parts (the helix) of the ear are
the most popular sites for ear piercing. The lobe takes between six
and eight weeks to heal and the helix three to six months.
- Nose Piercing: Piercings' can be made in the
nostril or the septum the part dividing the nostrils. The healing
time can be as long as six months. Such piercings may be
problematic because of the difficulty in disinfecting and keeping
clean the wet mucous surfaces on the interior of the nose.
- Mouth piercing: Lips, cheeks and the tongue
are usual sites and jewellery should be carefully selected to avoid
chafing or irritation of the teeth and / or gums. Piercing through
the coloured part of the lip is not advised.
Tongue piercing must be carried out with particular care, owing to
the risk of severing large blood vessels, or causing trauma to
nerve tissue. The tongue will commonly be swollen for one or two
weeks after the piercing procedure.
All mouth jewellery is subject to plaque build up, meaning thorough
aftercare using denture cleaner is necessary. The British Dental
Association suggests that people seek advice from their dentist for
detailed aftercare instructions concerning all oral piercing.
Likewise, maintenance of the jewellery itself is crucial for
avoiding accidental damage or inhalation should it break up or
- Eyebrow piercing: Care must be taken not to
interfere with nerves immediately beneath the eyebrow. The
permissible depth of piercing will depend on the individual, but it
is unlikely to be more than about 10mm. The healing period is
around two to four months, although eyebrow piercing is frequently
rejected by the body.
- Surface piercings: These usually involve the
neck, the chin, the forearms and wrist. However, they are likely to
be rejected as the skin tension places pressure on the jewellery,
and forces it to the surface.
A good knowledge of human anatomy is important before undertaking
surface piercings, owing to the risk of damage to nerves, blood
vessels and musculature.
- Navel piercing: A common site for piercing,
the navel has considerable variations of shape between individuals.
Not all are suitable for piercing and placement and choice of
jewellery is critical for success. Healing times vary and may take
up to one year.
Naval piercings are potentially hazardous because of the navels
direct link to internal organs and abdomen generally. Infection of
the navel can result in severe infections of, for example, the
liver with potentially serious medical consequences. In particular,
umbilicus piercing is not recommended, owing to the risk of
- Nipple piercing: Another common site for
piercing, again with position and choice of jewellery critical for
success. Female piercing must not be made through the areole,
although it is permissible for male nipples. The healing period is
likely to be in the region of four to eight months.
- Genital piercing: Clearly, for both sexes,
intimate contact is involved. There are also age of consent
implications. It is not possible for a female of less than 16 years
of age to give consent to these proceedings. For females below this
age, genital piercing constitutes indecent assault. It is good
practice for piercers not to complete genital piercings on girls
less than 18 years of age, even with parental consent.
Both sexes are affected by the 'Sexual Offences Act 1956' to the
extent that neither girls nor boys under the age of 16 years may
give consent to intimate sexual contact if it is for sexual
Healing times vary considerably from a few months to over a
- Scarification: This is an extreme form of
permanent body art and includes both branding and cutting in order
to produce scar tissue on the skin surface.
Cutting is carried out using a surgical scalpel, taking care not to
slice too deep due to the risk of injury to skin, nerve or
capillary tissues. The depth of the cut is dependent on the skin of
the individual being cut and is usually carried out on the chest or
back. Cuts may be enhanced using ash or tattoo ink.
Any parts of the body likely to stretch under pressure or movement
are unlikely to be satisfactory sited for scarification.
- Branding: This is a form of scarification,
usually achieved by burning the skin with heated metal to form a
simple but permanent design.
It takes a long time for a brand to heal, up to a year, and its
size will tend to expand during the healing process, possibly
spoiling the ultimate design.
- Braiding: This is the most extreme for of
scarification and involves cutting adjacent strips of skin keeping
one end of the skin attached to the body and braiding them
together. The loose ends are then re attached to the skin.
The risk of infection and permanent injury is very high. The
process is extremely painful and very few body art professionals
undertake such a practice.
There is more information on the health and legal issues
involved in Tattooing, Piercing and Body Art, for the public and
providers of these services, in the full document referred to at
the start of this page.