It's the law: no more tattoos for minors

Cassie Ruha, 18, got this angel tattoo at 16 in memory of her grandfather
Cassie Ruha, 18, got this angel tattoo at 16 in memory of her grandfather after he passed on. A new law in Minnesota prohibits minors from getting tattooed. Photo by Olivia Deans
Cassie Ruha, 18
Ruha displays one of her tattoos. She said 15-year-olds are just as mature as 20-year-olds and should be allowed to get a tattoo. Photo by Olivia Deans
McCullough said she once had a mom come into the tattoo shop with her 13-year-old son and allowed him to get his name tattooed on his neck. “What if that boy wants to be a lawyer?” McCullough asked. “He’s probably not going to want that tattoo anymore."

This story is a 2010-2011 MNA Better College Newspaper Contest winner!

First place in Business reporting

Two years ago, Cassie Ruha got a tattoo of an angel on her back after her grandfather’s passing.

She was 16 then, but if she were 16 today and wanted the same tattoo, she wouldn’t even be allowed into a tattoo studio.

A new law, put into effect on July 1, 2010, says minors, even with parental consent, can no longer get a tattoo in the state of Minnesota.

“I don’t think the law should tell us if we are too young for something that doesn’t really hurt us,” said Ruha, 18. “It’s just pictures on your skin.”

Tattoo artists argue that as a minor, teens aren’t mentally ready for a tattoo.

“Anyone under 18 doesn’t understand the commitment,” said Brandon Heffron, 34, who owns Beloved Studios in St. Paul, and has been a tattoo artist for nine years.

Heffron explained that getting a tattoo requires a big commitment — depending on the size and quality some tattoos can take up to a year and cost hundreds of dollars to finish. Also the content of the tattoo is a commitment of its own. You may get something that you love at 16 and then hate at 20.

But Cassie doesn’t agree.

“At 16, I think you can understand the commitment … some kids at 15 are just as mature as 20-year-olds,” she said.

Beth McCullough, 42, who is the manager at Acme Tattoos in St. Paul Minn., has been working on this law since 2000. Minneapolis and St. Paul already had city ordinances that said minors couldn’t get tattoos, so the new law isn’t going to impact her business.

Mentally people need to be adults to be ready to get a tattoo, McCullough said.

“In the tattoo industry, if a business is based on kids then you’re exploiting children,” McCullough said. “This is basically preying upon peer pressure.”

McCullough thinks a lot of teens want a tattoo because their friends have one.

Tattoo artists at Acme, who helped write the law, were also motivated by a disturbing trend of younger and younger people getting tattoos, McCullough said.

McCullough said she once had a mom come into the shop with her 13-year-old son and allowed him to get his name tattooed on his neck.

“What if that boy wants to be a lawyer?” McCullough asked. “He’s probably not going to want that tattoo anymore.”

Jerome James, who goes by JJ, owns Canvas Tattoo Studio in Prior Lake, where 17-year-olds were able to get tattoos before the new law passed.

James said that the percentage of his customers made up by minors was so small that the law isn’t going to hurt his business.

“I like it,” James said of the law. “It provides a safe environment and makes it a professional industry.”

As of January 1, 2011, tattoo artists must have a state-issued license to perform either tattooing or piercing. But James said he thinks the state should require 2,000 hours of experience, not just 200.

“It keeps amateurs out of the industry,” James said.

McCullough said the new law is really about regulating the tattoo industry, and that’s why she wanted it to apply state-wide.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are also new piercing rules. There are a number of piercings that minors can no longer get: nipple or genital piercing, branding and more. Getting things like your ears and nose pierced are still allowed. To find out more about what piercings minors can still get, click here.

But for teens, the part of the law that impacts them the most remains the prohibition against minors getting tattoos.

Cassie plans to get a new tattoo soon because she is now legal.

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