I couldn’t wait to get my first tattoo! I’d wanted them since I was about 10 years old, and as my mom wouldn’t give me parental permission, I had to bide my time until it was no longer up to her.
Here in the US, that meant waiting until I was 18 years old, for although there are no Federal laws pertaining to the age of consent for tattoos, statutory laws dictate that, without parental consent, you must wait until you’re permitted to enter into legal contracts.
For youths who do have parental permission to get a tattoo, you can do so at a much younger age, but some states have legislation in place to stop particularly young children getting tattoos, even if they have the express consent of their guardian.
What Is The Earliest Age You Can Get Tattooed?
In a state that places restrictions on the legal tattoo age regardless of parental consent, you typically have to be at least 15 or 16 to book your first tattoo, although this does vary in certain locations.
Without parental consent, no matter the state, you have to be 18 to get a tattoo.
Should You Get A Tattoo As Soon As You Can?
Speaking as someone with a LOT of tattoos, I can tell you firsthand that it’s a terrible idea to get tattoos as soon as you’re legally allowed to.
I regret getting quite a few of my tattoos, and guess what? They’re all my earliest ones.
Even at 18 years of age, you’re not really ready to make a decision you’re going to wear on your skin for your entire life.
You may feel grown up at this age (I certainly did), but you’ve still got a lot of growing left to do, and your tastes are going to shift drastically over the next 7 to 12 years.
In fact, your entire cellular structure renews roughly every 7 years, so you’ll quite literally be a completely different person both in and out when you reach your mid-20s, but if you get that early tattoo, no amount of cellular regeneration will purge the ink from your skin.
Trust me, that design you thought was cool during your teens doesn’t seem so hot when you reach your late 20s.
Now, that’s not to say that you absolutely shouldn’t get a tattoo before you reach your 30s, but be sure to think long and hard about what you get tattooed, where it’s going to go, who’s going to do it, and how you might feel about it later in your life.
Legal Tattoo Age By State
Let’s kick this list off with the states that allow minors to get tattoos provided they have parental consent.
States That Permit Tattooing A Minor With Informed Written Consent
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
States That Permit Tattooing A Minor With Written Consent Provided Additional Stipulations Are Acknowledged
- Alabama — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- Connecticut — A registered nurse or licensed physician must attend during the tattooing process.
- Idaho — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- Kentucky — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- Michigan — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- Missouri — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- Montana — The guardian must sign in front of the tattoo artist.
- New Jersey — The minor must be at least 16.
States In Which Parents Must Be Present When A Minor Is Getting Tattooed
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
States That Set Age Limit With Consent And Stipulate The Guardian Must Be Present During The Tattooing Of A Minor
- Kansas — The minor must be at least 16.
- Louisiana — The minor must be at least 16.
- Nevada — The minor must be at least 14.
States Where Tattoos Are Illegal For Minors Regardless Of Consent
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
States Where Tattoos Are illegal For Minors Bar Exceptions
- Tennessee — Minors of 16 or above can get a tattoo to cover up an older tattoo.
- Texas — Minors of any age can get a tattoo to cover up an older tattoo.
Does Parental Consent Give Minors Exemption From Tattoo Laws?
As you can see from the lists above, in many states, minors are permitted by law to get a tattoo if their guardian provides consent; however, there are often other stipulations to adhere to.
Some states require the guardian to sign consent forms with the tattoo artist in the room, so the artist is sure that they cannot be penalized for tattooing the minor in question.
Others ask that parents sign in the presence of an artist and then stay for the entire duration of the tattoo.
Both the minor and the guardian will have to produce identification to prove they are who they say they are.
How Does A Parent Or Guardian Give Consent For A Minor To Get A Tattoo?
The best way to make sure the giving of consent to get a tattoo goes smoothly is to consult the tattoo artist or at the front desk of their establishment.
Ask them exactly what documents need to be produced and how the consent process works.
When giving consent, you’ll need to be very specific in regard to what you’re permitting in the document.
That doesn’t just mean you’ll specify that you’re giving your consent for a minor in your care to get a tattoo, but which tattoo and where on their body. Include as many details as possible to ensure everything goes according to plan.
Any and all consent documents must be notarized so they can stand as evidence that the parent/guardian did genuinely give permission for a minor to get a tattoo.
What Are The Laws Surrounding Tattoo Age Limits Like In Other Countries?
- Canada — 18 without consent. 16–17 with consent
- UK — 18 without consent. Medical exceptions
- Australia — 18 without consent. 16–17 with consent in certain states
- Belgium — 18 without consent. 16 with consent (parent/guardian must be present to give consent)
- Croatia — 18 without consent. 16 with consent (parent/guardian must be present to give consent)
- Finland — 18 without permit. Under-18s will need a permit.
- France — 18 without consent. No set limit on age with consent
- Germany — No legislation, but there will be conventions to follow
- Republic of Ireland — 16 with present parent/guardian (no legislation in place)
- Italy — 18 without consent
- Lithuania — 16 without consent. No set limit on age with consent
- Netherlands — 16 without consent. No limit set on age with consent
- Portugal — 16 without consent
- Romania — 18 without consent
- Spain — 14–17 without consent depending on region
In Which Countries Are Tattoos Illegal Or Frowned Upon?
- Sri Lanka
- South Korea
- North Korea
- Denmark (Tattoos are illegal only on certain parts of the body)
Where Can A 14-Year-Old Get Tattooed Legally In The US?
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
However, and I can’t make this clear enough… it’s not a good idea to get a tattoo at such a young age, and not just because you’ll almost certainly live to regret it, but because you’re still growing — Any ink you get is going to morph awkwardly as it stretches out.
By the time you’re in your early 20s, that tattoo you got at 14 is going to look like an absolute mess, and bear in mind that tattoo removal is an exceedingly expensive and painful process.
Do yourself a favor and wait a while. Your future self will thank you.
Where Can A 16-Year-Old Get A Tattoo Legally In The US?
Without parental consent, there’s no way within the law for a minor to get a tattoo, with Iowa being the exception to the rule if you’re legally married.
It’s a strange loophole, and not one I advise using just to get a little bit of ink — You can’t divorce a tattoo!
With consent, a 16-year-old can get a tattoo legally in the following states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Are There Any Alternatives To Getting A Tattoo?
Henna tattoos are a popular alternative to real tattoos. Henna is essentially an impermanent dye that fades away with time; however, you cannot shade using henna, so some designs may not be possible.
If you’re serious about tattoos, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to mess around with the stick-on tattoos you used when you were even younger, but they can still be used to plan placement and develop a taste in designs.
Temporary tattoos are growing in popularity amongst minors, and I think it’s great.
These tattoos darken as they mingle with the collagen proteins for the first 36 hours or so. They’re waterproof and look realistic, but fade over time.
Many establishments that offer temporary tattoos also provide a custom design service so you can get exactly what you have in your mind and see what it would look like on your skin before dedicating yourself to the real deal.
Is It Illegal For A Minor To Get A Neck Or Hand Tattoo?
In certain locations, neck and hand tattoos are illegal regardless of age, like in Denmark, for instance.
In locations that haven’t outlawed neck and hand tattoos, you’d be hard pressed to find a respectable artist willing to tattoo a minor in these areas.
Even when you’re 18, a hand, neck, face, or hand tattoo isn’t something to rush into.
I only just got my hand inked last month at the age of 32, and that’s only because my career path permits me to do so.
Can You Book An Appointment At A Tattoo Parlor Before Your 18th Birthday?
Most tattoo establishments will take a booking from a 17-year-old so long as the date the tattoo is actually taking place occurs on or after their 18th birthday.
Before the big day arrives, I’d recommend booking multiple consultations with your chosen artist so you can get your vision across and they can work on the art ahead of time.
In some countries around the world, it’s either illegal to get certain tattoos, or, if you already have them, it’s best to hide them beneath your clothing.
Religious iconography is not permitted in Thailand, and any tattoos linked to the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, or Allah will not be permitted in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Yemen.
Those with offensive or political tattoos may also run into a spot of trouble in China, France, Germany, or Cuba, and here in the US, tattoos near the eye socket are illegal in Georgia.
Which Jobs Do Visible Tattoos Rule Out?
While the professional world is slowly softening on tattoos, there are still certain roles in which you’ll be asked to cover all tattoos.
- Police officers
- Military personnel
- Certain office workers
- Bank workers
- Healthcare professionals
- Airline pilots/hosts
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Tattoos Hurt?
Yes, tattoos hurt, but the severity of the pain differs depending on the location. For instance, it’s not so bad on the bicep, but around the knuckles and ribs, it can be excruciating.
Does Numbing Cream Really Work?
Numbing cream can indeed help people endure the pain of a tattoo, but be sure to use a high quality product and apply it about half an hour before you hit the chair.
When Can I Shower After Getting A Tattoo?
It’s generally recommended that you keep your tattoo dry for about a week, and even then, it’s best not to soak it.
However, if your ink has been wrapped in a waterproof bandage, you can shower right away.
Do Tattoos With Color Hurt More?
Whether you’re getting a black or color tattoo doesn’t impact the pain. What determines the feel of a tattoo are the skill of the artist, the location of the tattoo, and the techniques used.
Furthermore, the longer you’re in the chair, the more pain can wear you down, so towards the end, you might feel like it hurts more.
What Happens To A Tattoo As You Grow?
Unfortunately, ink doesn’t grow along with the inkee, so if you get a tattoo when you’re very young, any tattoos you have are going to lose definition as you get taller.
Tats4Tots: Final Thoughts
If you take anything away from this article, it’s that the best, most beloved tattoos are the products of great patience.
Never, ever rush into getting a tattoo. Even at my ripe old age, I ruminate on the prospect of a new tattoo for years before booking anything.
When you’re eventually ready to get your first tattoo, don’t head out to any old establishment.
Do plenty of research and find an artist with a body of work and aesthetic that really resonates with you, and be sure to follow their aftercare instructions to the word.
Tattoos are delicate for a while, so if you want yours to look amazing, take good care of it.
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