Magazine

Would you tattoo yourself using a DIY kit?

  • 23 July 2010
  • From the section Magazine

Tattoos are thought to be more popular than ever, but some people are taking things into their own hands and tattooing themselves. The dangerous trend is said to be growing. Why?

Celebrities have them, even the prime minister's wife has one and, according to one survey, so do a third of British adults. It's safe to say the tattoo is now mainstream.

But the popularity of this body adornment is also being blamed for another trend - DIY tattooing. While no official figures exist, trained tattoo artists say they are increasingly being asked to cover botched, amateur inkings.

Many have been done with kits bought over the internet for as little £60, they say. Environmental health professionals fear that amateur tattoos have a high risk of infection, and are calling for them to be banned.

"If it is cheap and cheerful, it is going to be nasty," says Andrew Griffiths from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

"I don't think they should be available at all because I think they present a great risk. If it is possible to ban them then I think that is what we would like to see."

With a DIY kit simply the click of a mouse away, and costing a lot less than a professional tattoo, it's easy to see what part of the attraction is. But there are other reasons why people are prepared to risk a messy tattoo and an infection.

For Hazel, 21, from Glasgow, it was all about retaining artistic control.

She wasn't happy with her first tattoo done at a parlour, claiming the professional artist did things she didn't ask for. She says she feels more in control doing it herself and it hurts less.

"You know where and when to expect the pain," she says.

Her love of tattoos resulted in her starting to ink herself and her friends. She got her first tattoo of a star with a pink leopard-print design in a licensed studio at 18.

What's the law?

Keen to become a professional tattooist, she looked for an apprenticeship with a studio, but when she didn't succeed a friend suggested she give it a go herself.

She bought a kit for just $45 (£32) from China on eBay. It came with no instructions and, despite having no guidance from a tattoo artist, she says she managed quite well. She has now tattooed herself twice, on her foot and on her wrist, and also done designs for her friends.

One of her DIY tattoos became infected but that has not put her off. She blames herself, not the kit, and took antibiotics to clear it up.

She is not breaking the law by tattooing herself, even without training. But it's a different matter when it comes to her friends.

The law says you can tattoo yourself, but tattooing others must be supervised by a licensed premises. Both tattooist and client must also be over the age of 18. The regulations aim to ensure health and safety procedures are followed, with the correct kit and equipment used.

Philippa, 18, is an apprentice tattoo artist and as such comes under the supervision of the licensed parlour training her. She already has 13 tattoos and plans more at the rate of one every couple of months.

She has allowed untrained people to tattoo her in her bedroom. A previous boyfriend tattooed her with her sister's name and a friend recently tattooed her with a black cross on her hand. She says the lines are wonky, but has no regrets.

'Dabbling'

"They're all part of my life story," she says.

But serious injury or infection could also end up being part of your life story. If equipment is not sterilised properly, people run the risk of being infected with diseases that spread through the blood, such as HIV or hepatitis C.

There is also the possibility of an allergic reaction to the ink, as well as having something ugly and messy permanently marked on your body.

Of course, these are all risks that also come with having a tattoo done professionally, but registered parlours have to follow strict health and safety procedures.

The higher risks associated with self-tattooing are a cause for concern among industry experts. Gary Valentine is a tattoo artist and parlour owner in Elgin, Scotland.

"Any teenager that knows how to use a computer can, in a couple of clicks, order equipment," he says. "It takes years to learn to tattoo. They're dabbling, messing around in their bedrooms and they are running a serious risk of serious injury or infection."

People contacting BBC Two's Revealed programme about DIY tattoos have had mixed experiences. Some have had them done on a kitchen table by a friend, and been perfectly happy with the result, but others have ended up in hospital and say it is worth paying money to get them done professionally.

Health workers agree.

"Anything that is cheap is by definition not going to be any good," says Mr Griffiths.