Given that adolescents don’t have a fully developed brain, and they are prone to poor decisions which could aversely impact their future, there are all sorts of laws regarding body modifications. In the United States, there are no federal regulations on body modifications, such as piercings and tattoos; therefore, each state has come up with their own laws and legislation, except for Nevada. Apparently Nevada is the sole representative of the wild west, allowing for a body modification free-for-all within the state’s borders. However, even in Nevada, a couple of counties have enacted laws of their own regarding the age at which a person can receive a tattoo or piercing.
In most states, it is unlawful to tattoo or pierce anyone who is considered a minor. Typically, a minor is defined as anyone under the age of 18, but there are some states which have amended the definition of a minor to the age of 19, and in Mississippi, a minor is defined as anyone under the age of 21. Another state with a strange law is Georgia. In the land of good peaches, it is illegal to tattoo within an inch of the eye socket. For the full list of each state’s tattooing and piercing laws, you can visit the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The good news is that a minor can still get a tattoo or piercing in many states if you are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. In addition, some states allow for written informed consent, and your legal guardian doesn’t actually have to be there when you get your piercing or tattoo. And for those of you with kinkier tastes, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to receive a genital piercing in the US, because this falls into a different legislative category.
One thing to keep in mind is that artists and body modification practitioners will sometimes claim they can’t perform a specific procedure because the law prohibits it, even when no such law exists. This is a common strategy that is used for the sole purpose of avoiding an argument. There are a few reasons why you may be denied. One is that tattoo artists and piercers have the right to refuse service to anybody for any reason, so if you are drunk or just a jerk in general and they don’t want to work with you, they may pull the cord on your plans. Most commonly, people are rejected due to an artist's or piercer's moral qualms with what is being asked for. For example, an 18 year old girl asking for a an upside down cross to be branded into her forehead could be denied service. Or, even with parental consent, they may not agree to do specific designs on younger clients, also for reasons of morality. So the lesson here is to find a great artist to work with, and be nice to them so they don’t refuse you if they are on the fence about an unusual or offensive piece of work.
Overall, the law is fairly generous in the US compared to other countries. In Denmark for example, it is illegal to tattoo someone’s hands, head, or neck. In Dubai it is illegal to display tattoos in public, and in Iran, even though tattooing is legal, it is against Islamic law, and you may be punished for being tattooed. So if you’re a US citizen, be proud that you live in a country with common sense body modification laws. And if you are looking for inspiration for your next tattoo or piercing, check out some of Painful Pleasures' Featured and Sponsored Artists.