In early May, Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services rolled out new proposed regulations for the tattoo industry, among them was a proposal to prohibit tattooing over all scars. The cabinet is looking to update these regulations for this first time in nearly 15 years. Medical professionals and tattoo artists agree, this proposal is unnecessary and unscientific.
Why would someone want a tattoo over a scar?
Tattooing over scars is a much more common practice that one might realize. In fact, tattooing over scars is usually done with some of the best intentions. Among the stories most commonly associated with tattooing over scars are those of breast cancer survivors and survivors of self harm. Women who have mastectomy scars from breast cancer surgery often get nipple reconstruction tattoos. Many who used self harm want tattoos to cover up the scars of cutting later in life. Even for those with average scars from childhood burns or accidents, it should not be the role of government to tell them they are prohibited from turning a sign of pain into something special. Tattoos are a deeply personal decision, and the government should only get involved when questions of proper sanitation and consumer safety are at play. This doesn’t appear to meet that qualification.
Is there any reason to ban tattooing over scars?
In a recent WFLP article David Levine, a researcher and doctor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, said “he doesn’t know of any medical research that would warrant a ban on tattooing over scars.” When speaking with Buddy Wheeler, owner of Tattoo Charlie’s, he told me that most tattoo artists self regulate, and would never tattoo over what he called “fresh scars.” Buddy concedes that tattooing over scars that may not be fully healed has potential risks, but an outright ban is just too broad. Speaking on the Pegasus Podcast Buddy says, “I'm all for common sense updates [to the regulations]. I just don't know that they had anyone in the industry help with this update.” In fact, the Cabinet itself found the prohibition hard to defend. Since facing criticism, they have yet to give a defense of the ban. However, they now claim that “the concerns are being heard.”
What needs to happen with these regulations?
It is reasonable for government to regulate parts of the tattoo industry. In an occupation where you are dealing with needles, bodily fluids, and sensitive materials, it is important for the consumer to be protected. Proper sanitation, safety and health regulations are essential to the business. The Cabinet has defended updating the regulations because they have not been in nearly 15 years. Most agree that in that time period technology has changed, and rules must be modernized. Regulations should protect the consumer and the artist. Rules must be specific, scientific and necessary. A blanket ban on the practice of tattooing over scars is none of those. Government can play an important role in the tattoo industry, but this prohibition would just be unnecessary government overreach. They should listen to the experts and take their advice when drafting these rules.
What must happen next?
The public comment period for the proposed regulations has now passed, but that does not mean the discussion is over. Regardless of what comes from the cabinet, the Kentucky general assembly will have to approve the new regulations. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services seems set on regulating tattooing over sensitive areas of skin, something that artists and medical professionals agree with. What they can not do is make this regulation too broad. Tattooing over scars is safe, common, and personal, and something the government should keep itself out of.
Want to learn more?
Check out the full conversation about tattoos and scarring with Buddy Wheeler and Senator Julie Raque Adams on the newest Pegasus Podcast HERE
If you enjoyed this topic and conversation find the full list of Pegasus Podcast episodes on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud