New legislation restricts minors from certain body piercings and tattoos

By Jenny Jiao, ’16

Teenagers can’t drive until they are 16, vote until they are 18, or drink alcohol until they are 21. Now, new age restrictions will prohibit teens from getting permanent body art as well.

A new Ohio Department of Health state rule limits teenagers’ ability to get piercings and tattoos. Effective Sept. 1, minors are now prohibited from getting piercings or tattoos on their breasts or genital areas. Additionally, stores are no longer able to pierce ear or nose cartilage with a piercing gun.

These new restrictions are a shift from the former rule that teenagers are allowed to get such piercings and tattoos with parental consent.

President of the Association of Body Art Professionals Patrick McCarthy is the owner of Piercology, a piercing salon in the Short North. Along with colleague piercer Dave Kelso, McCarthy worked in conjunction with the ODH to construct the new rule.

InfographicKelso describes the change as a fine-tuning of the old and more vague rules rather than a complete set of new ones.

“A lot of the old rules were… outdated,” he said. “The industry has progressed and the regulations needed to catch up to the industry”.


The new restriction on tattoos and piercings in private areas only affects young adults under 18.

LeeAnn Wilson, a program specialist at the ODH, said that the rule is designed to keep teenagers from making rash decisions they might regret later, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Teenagers are growing and constantly changing their minds; they might not realize the implications of permanent body art especially in the breast and genital areas, she said.

On the other hand, the ban of piercing guns for cartilage piercings impacts all customers, young and old.

The rule is intended to standardize the level of safety and health afforded to all who want cartilage piercings. McCarthy and Kelso said the former rules do not maintain strict criteria for safe piercings.

“Piercings are an invasive procedure,” Kelso said. “You need someone who has the training and ability to do an aseptic technique and keep everything sterile from the beginning of the process until the end.”

Piercing cartilage using a gun can have adverse effects on the customer’s ear, such as a cauliflower ear infection or a shattered cartilage.

“The physical act of the earring tearing a hole [which is how piercing guns operate] can cause a lot of excess damage,” Kelso said.

Now, businesses are transitioning from using a piercing gun to using a needle, which is more hygienic.

“The needle is sterile and it’s only used on one person,” Kelso said. “It’s a safer way to get a piercing.”


Despite its intentions, some view the new rule as unnecessary and restricting free expression.

Junior Erica Hartmus has a total of ten piercings on her ears and nose. She said that for her, piercings are a fashion statement and a form of self-expression.

“It’s just another way the laws are trying to make sure kids aren’t involved in bad situations,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any reason that someone with a nipple piercing is over-sexualized. It’s the same as wearing fancy underwear—it doesn’t mean you’re sexually active or anything.”

Hartmus feels the government should not limit what types of body art parents deem acceptable for their children.

“If parents are saying it’s OK, that’s how they are being raised and I don’t think the law should interfere with that,” she said. “Why should kids be able to drink under their parents’ supervision but not get piercings [or tattoos]?”

Even though the rule stirs up questions on the government’s role in child-raising, Kelso expects the change to have little impact on teenagers.

“I don’t personally know of any teenagers who are [getting piercings in explicit places] anyways,” he said. “It hasn’t been a super problematic issue so I don’t think that [will] really change too much.”

Junior Audrey Jones, who has gotten piercings from Piercology, agrees with Kelso.

“To a degree [it might restrict self-expression] but realistically how many people’s parents sign off on [those types of piercings or tattoos]?” she said.

Regardless of their stances about the restriction on where teens can get tattoos and piercings, Hartmus and Jones both support the ban on piercing guns. The student body echoes their attitude towards improving health and safety standards in the body art industry [see A Piercing Effect].

“I know people who have gotten really horrible infections from [piercing] themselves and letting their friends do it,” Hartmus said. “This rule will help minimize [those kinds of side effects].”

Consequently, certain piercing businesses who utilize piercing guns, such as Claire’s, may suffer from a shortage of customers. Unless Claire’s switches to needles, it will only be able to pierce earlobes, not cartilage.

Hartmus, who got her ear cartilage pierced at Claire’s, foresees a temporary obstruction to their customer flow.

“I think Claire’s will lose a lot of business because I know a lot of kids go there for cartilage piercings,” she said. “But they will still get [a lot] of ear lobe piercing business as usual.”

On the other hand, businesses such as Piercology, which are already operating at the required safety level, may benefit from the rule. By imposing stricter standards, businesses adhering to the rules are further legitimized and could receive a boost in customer flow.

Kelso said he foresees minimal change to their business except for an influx of customers wanting cartilage piercings, since mall stores can no longer perform those.

Although opinions vary, the true impacts of this new rule can only be revealed as teenagers, businesses and communities react in the long run.