Minnesota: Regulate the Tattoo Industry? Some Artists Agree on the Point

A bill that seeks to mandate health-related practices and require training and inspections for tattoo artists in Minnesota has drawn both support and ire from the largely unregulated industry.

The estimated 250 body art establishments and 750 practitioners in Minnesota are not regulated by the state, though a number of cities and counties -- Minneapolis, St. Paul and Hennepin County, among others -- have ordinances. Under the measure, if local regulations meet or exceed the proposed requirements, providers would be exempt from the license requirement but still subject to inspection. Tattoo artists are already covered by federal occupational health and safety regulations.

Dr. Bruce Bart, a dermatologist at Hennepin County Medical Center, said infection control is paramount. "These people are actually penetrating the skin," he said of tattoo artists. Thus, blood-borne diseases like hepatitis can be transmitted if contaminated instruments are used. "They certainly should be knowledgeable about potential risks and techniques which they're using." While infections from tattoos are rare, they do happen, he added.

However, some believe the proposed changes are unnecessary and burdensome. Others say the bill is too broad. For example, the provision that each workstation have 45 square feet of floor space could make it harder for artists to enter the profession, potentially pushing them underground, said Tanika Nolan, co-owner of St. Paul-based ACME Tattoo Co. Nolan said she has advocated for regulation for years but believes the industry should have more input on legislation.

As a precaution, blood banks currently defer donors who have received a tattoo in the past year. If shops were state-regulated, a donor would only have to wait long enough to ensure there are no infections before giving blood. That could help with the constant need for blood, said Geoff Kaufmann, CEO for the North Central Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross.