The controls on tattooing young people have been in place for 50 years. However, there is no specific provisions about piercing, just an industry code of practice.

In summary:

  • It is illegal to tattoo a person under the age of 18 years.
  • It is a defence to show that the tattooist reasonably believed the person to be over 18.
  • A tattoo performed by a medical practitioner for a medical purpose is exempt. It is common for young people that have had an Appendix removed for the surgeon to mark that it has been removed by a tattoo.
  • The penalty for a first breach is a fine of £50 and for the second or subsequent breach a fine of £100.
  • The tattoo must be inserted into the skin and be a permanent mark. 'Henna' Tattoos are, therefore, not covered by the legislation.

Body piercing is covered by an industry code of practice, which stipulates that piercings should not be undertaken on anyone under the age of 14 years. However, often this is ignored for ear piercing. The code of practice also states that any person aged 14 years to 16 years should bring a parent or guardian with them. It suggests that 'below the neck' piercings are at the discretion of the piercer aged 14 years to 16 years. Any person over 16 years of age is considered to be an adult for the purposes of this code. The Code of Practice is managed by the British Body Piercing Association and is available at

However, very specific particular care needs to be taken with piercing breasts, vagina or anal areas of girls, or penis or anal areas of boys. It would be likely to be considered to be sexual assault on anyone under the age of 16 years. This can result in a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment and inclusion on the sex offenders' register.

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