Tattoo parlours investigated over suspected spread of disease

Just four inspections of such facilities in last 10 years despite surge in unregulated shops

It is estimated there could be up to 1,000  tattoo and piercing studios in Ireland, up from about 20 two decades ago

It is estimated there could be up to 1,000 tattoo and piercing studios in Ireland, up from about 20 two decades ago


Just four tattoo and body-piercing parlours in Ireland have been inspected by health authorities over the past 10 years, despite a massive surge in the number of unregulated shops operating throughout the country.

The most recent inspections, this year and last year, are linked to two suspected cases of infectious diseases being spread from unsanitary studios.

While no one collects official numbers on tattoo and piercing studios, the Association of Body Modification Artists in Ireland (ABMAI) – set up six years ago to represent the industry – estimates there are as many as 1,000 island-wide.

Only two decades ago, there were about 20.

Plummeting shop rents after the economic crash and the growing popularity of body art among celebrities coincided to produce a proliferation of parlours opening in villages and towns as well as cities.

However, there are no statutory regulations to govern the running of such shops.

This means there are no registration requirements, operating standards or basic training requirements, even though the Health Service Executive (HSE) recognises serious health risks, including that of hepatitis B and C and HIV.


Nor are there any regulations on the age of consent or the assessment of a client’s medical history.

Other dangers include contracting blood-borne viruses caused by poor hygiene, allergic reactions to ink or pigments as well as scarring and rejection of jewellery by the body.

The Department of Health said, “Tattooing and body piercing can potentially be an extremely hazardous practice.”

Dolores Murray, who set up ABMAI and who has helped formulate imminent EU guidelines on the industry, said the Government needs to bring in regulation on a statutory basis.

“If I decided to start making apple tarts at home to sell to my local shop, I’d have to have my kitchen inspected and all sorts of regulatory oversight,” she said.

“But anyone can set up a tattoo shop – they could do it from their bedroom and there is no one to stop them.”

Three years ago, then minister for health Leo Varadkar vowed to introduce official guidelines for tattoo and body-piercing parlours, saying “high standards” are “vital” in order to protect the health of both clients and practitioners.

His successor Simon Harris has said his department and the HSE are still working on “finalising” the guidelines.

Latest figures show five complaints were made to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) – the State agency responsible for workplace safety – about tattoo and body-piercing studios over the past decade.

The two most recent complaints, this year and last year, were about the use of “dirty tattoo needles”.

The last inspection of a tattoo parlour by the HSA was in 2016, and that was related solely to construction works at the shop.


Separately, the HSE said it has been notified of two cases of infectious diseases where tattooing and body-piercing businesses were “possible sources”, one last year and one this year.

“This may not reflect the full burden of complaints made by the public who may instead approach premises directly, or clinicians who provide their direct clinical care,” a spokesman added.

Because there are no regulations, HSE environmental health officers do not make routine inspections.

A spokesman for the department said there are “currently no plans to introduce regulation or legislation in the area of tattooing and body piercing”.

“In the absence of a statutory framework being in place, this department and the Health Service Executive took the initiative to develop guidelines in relation to tattooing and the body-piercing industry – these guidelines are currently in the process of being finalised,” he added.

“Given the absence of a clear statutory framework and the need to obtain expert views in relation to the area, some delays arose in relation to finalising the final text of the guidelines – however, it is expected that they will be published by the end of this year.

“Once published, this guidance document will set out a standard of practice in relation to infection prevention and control which all operators should adhere to.”