Tattoo artists and other body art practitioners in California are regulated by the state's Safe Body Art Act. This state law was enacted in 2012 to protect both clients and practitioners in the body art industry from the transmission of infectious diseases through the use of needles. If you want to become a professional tattoo artist in California, you must register with the department of health in the county where you plan to work. Your license must be renewed every year. Training in control of bloodborne pathogens exposure also must be completed every year.
California Safe Body Art Act Requirements
While the specific procedures and requirements for licensure vary from county to county, all people who perform tattooing, body piercing, branding and the application of permanent cosmetics ("body art practitioners") in California are subject to the Safe Body Art Act. The act sets the minimum statewide standards for body art practitioners and is intended to protect clients and practitioners from the transmission of infectious diseases. The act sets rules for the registration of body art facilities, age and informed consent mandates for clients and requirements for decontamination, sterilization and the safe performance of body art. Additionally, the Safe Body Art Act requires that all body art practitioners be registered with their local enforcement agency before performing body art; it also sets the conditions of this registration.
Conditions of Registration for First-Time Body Art Practitioner Applicants
At a minimum, each county must comply with the Safe Body Art Act registration requirements, but individual counties may also set additional conditions for registration. If you've never registered as a tattoo artist in the state of California, visit the health department office in the county where you plan to work. There, submit an application for your license and learn where to complete the mandatory training. In accordance with the Safe Body Art Act, all tattoo artists in California must complete a training course covering bloodborne pathogens exposure control. Your county health department will have a list of county-approved providers.
The body art act also requires practitioners to submit evidence of a current hepatitis B vaccination, including boosters, or demonstrate hepatitis B immunity. You have the right to refuse this vaccination, but you must sign the declination form indicating that you know and understand the risk, but have chosen not to get the vaccination.
Although the Safe Body Art Act does not specify training requirements for new practitioners, applicants must self-certify that they have knowledge of, and a commitment to meet state law and local regulations pertaining to body art safety. Some counties further require applicants to either self-certify or provide evidence of body art training. For example, on the registration application in Santa Clara County, you must self-certify that you either have acquired adequate knowledge, experience and training to perform body art, or that you are under the supervision of a locally registered and permitted practitioner in a body art facility. In contrast, in Orange County, you must provide evidence that you have at least six months of related experience in the tattoo industry.
The act also requires you to provide the addresses of all facilities where you will perform body art and pay a registration fee to your local enforcement agency. The fee varies among counties, ranging from an annual fee in Los Angeles County of $47 to $175 in Santa Clara County.
Along with your completed application, you must present a government-issued photo ID to prove you are over the age of 18, a certificate of completion for the bloodborne pathogen training course and proof of either a vaccination against hepatitis B, hepatitis B immunity or compliance with the declination requirements. Check with your county for any additional required documentation. For example, in Los Angeles County, you must also provide a 2-inch by 2-inch passport-style photo of yourself for your body art photo ID card.
Your tattoo license must be renewed every year before the expiration date. Your county health department will send you a renewal notice a month or two before it expires. When you get this notice, start making plans to take your training and update your Hepatitis B vaccine, if necessary. The bloodborne pathogens exposure control training must be taken every year before you can renew your license.
You'll complete the same form to renew your license as when you originally applied. Submit the form to the health department with your renewal fee, and a new body art photo ID card will be mailed to you. There's no need to take a photo for renewals, although you can if you want. If not, the photo you originally submitted will be used.
To get your tattoo license in California, you must be over 18 and vaccinated against Hepatitis B. You also must complete a county-approved training course in bloodborne pathogens exposure control.
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: Safe Body Art Act
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: Summary of the Safe Body Art Act
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: Body Art Practitioner Registration/Renewal
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: Voluntary Declination of Hepatitis B Vaccination
- Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health: New Regulations and Policy Changes Affecting Your Body Art Practitioner Registration/Permit Annual Renewal
- San Diego County: Safe Body Art Act
- Maintain the industry standards and pass the Department of Health annual inspection to keep your tattoo license legal and current. Pay any fines and correct any violations found during annual inspections in a timely manner.
- It is illegal to tattoo anyone in California without a license.
Sally Brooks is a writer living in New York City with her chunky toddler and patient husband. She graduated magna cum laude from the University Cincinnati College of Law and her work has been featured in Jurist and the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review.