(last updated July 2019)
Changes in demand
Recent years have seen a huge increase in the number of people of all ages and from all walks of life getting tattoos. There are several reasons for this big increase in demand. Awareness of health issues and tighter regulation have raised hygiene standards, and resulted in many studios improving their image and becoming more welcoming to potential customers. Tattoo conventions, books and articles in magazines have increased awareness of tattoos in general, and made known the wide range of designs available. Improved techniques have given rise to more intricate designs and a wider choice. However, the main reason for the increase in popularity of tattooing has been the number of celebrities such as film stars, musicians and sports men and women who have had tattoos. This has influenced many people to get a tattoo themselves, and has lead to the current fashionable image of tattoos.
Body piercing has also become fashionable and many tattoo studios now offer this service too.
Increasing numbers of tattoo artists
Growing demand for tattoos over the past few years has encouraged more artists to enter the business. Some have done things properly, getting plenty of training and experience and making sure that they follow all the proper rules and procedures. Unfortunately though, others have jumped on the bandwagon, operating underground without the necessary registrations and often with inadequate knowledge and skills. They are also likely to use cheap and unsafe inks.
Focus on health and safety
As demand for tattoos has grown there have also been several calls for the industry to be regulated, to improve standards and reduce health risks. In May 2013 a group of leading tattoo artists led by celebrity artist Kevin Paul warned of the risks of infections and diseases like hepatitis. Later in the year Public Health England launched a Tattooing and body piercing guidance toolkit in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and several other organisations to help tattoo artists follow safe, hygienic working practices. You can find out more on the Gov.uk website.
During 2016 the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) began to look into whether certain substances in tattoo inks and permanent make-up should be restricted. Many of the pigments used in tattoo inks have not been produced specifically for tattooing and there are fears that they may be harmful. The ECHA will probably report their findings in mid 2017.
Although pretty much every skilled and registered tattoo artist would probably agree that proper training and experience are essential and that 'cowboy scratchers' need to be driven out of business, the industry has resisted moves to formalise training and standards. During the 2000s the training organisation HABIA tried to introduce National Occupation Standards for the tattoo and piercing industry, but tattooists joined forces to stop this from happening and co-operated to set up the Tattooing and Piercing Industry Union (TPIU). The TPIU's aims include educating tattoo artists about industry-specific issues and raising standards in the industry through information, discussion and persuasion.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association or industry body is an excellent way of staying up to date with the latest developments. As well as the TPIU, tattoo artists in the UK are represented by the British Tattoo Artists Federation. You can find out more about both organisations on their websites.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of keeping up with developments. Skin Deep is a magazine aimed at both tattoo enthusiasts and the tattoo industry.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade fair or convention. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and other tattoo enthusiasts and check out the latest designs such as Tattoo Jam, the Manchester International Tattoo Show or the Great British Tattoo Show. You can buy tickets to all of these on the Tattoo Jam website. The Exhibitions website has more information on forthcoming exhibitions.