Indiana: "Home" Tattoos Illegal, Unhealthy, Experts Warn

Vigo County Health Department officials want to raise public awareness over the risks of unlicensed or "home" tattooing. Marci DeBoy, an environmental health specialist with the county, cautions that people receiving home tattoos can be at higher risk of diseases like hepatitis, HIV and MRSA, since it is unlikely that unlicensed tattooers properly sterilize their equipment.

Tattoo artists and shops must receive a license from the health department. "It's illegal to have a tattoo parlor in your home and do it yourself without a license," said department spokesperson Sydney Elliott. The county hears complaints about illegal tattooing primarily from those operating licensed establishments.

"They have people come in with a tattoo that someone has given them from a home or garage or whatever," and need the licensed artist to "fix" the bad tattoo, said DeBoy.

Others getting home tattoos seek treatment for skin infections. "They'll come in and they don't want to rat the person out," said DeBoy. "It's hard to get information out of people."

Health officials say those considering a tattoo should:

  • Ensure that both the artist and tattoo shop are licensed.
  • Observe how artists prepare to administer a tattoo. Needles should be single-use and packaged, and reusable equipment "will be in sterilized bags like you would see in any dental office or hospital," said DeBoy.
  • Ask to see the artist's work portfolio.

"Ask questions," DeBoy said. "If in doubt, don't get the tattoo."