Politics & Government

Kentucky drops proposed ban on tattooing scarred skin after public backlash

In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, Taryn Aiken poses for a portrait at her home in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The tattoos on her wrists are the names of her two children, Collin and Caitlyn, and cover the scars from where she cut herself in a suicide attempt.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 photo, Taryn Aiken poses for a portrait at her home in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The tattoos on her wrists are the names of her two children, Collin and Caitlyn, and cover the scars from where she cut herself in a suicide attempt. AP



After an inundation of public comments critical of a state health department move to disallow tattooing on scar tissue in Kentucky, department officials have backed off their proposal for good.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services made the announcement Tuesday, roughly three months after the proposed rule change was first announced. A broad update of regulations that govern tattoo parlors, “aimed at addressing changes that have occurred in the tattoo industry over the last 15 years,” would have prohibited tattoo artists from tattooing over “unhealthy skin,” including all scars, in order to prevent infection, according to the cabinet.

Changing state regulations requires input from the public, and more than 600 responses were submitted to the department in May on the issue, spurring the announcement Tuesday that the state would not prohibit tattooing over scars. That, and “there is a lack of available evidence to support this prohibition,” the cabinet said.

When announced in April, the state’s proposal was met with swift backlash from the industry, provoking Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey Howard to walk back the proposal a month later, citing the outcry as “unintended consequences” that he assured “will be addressed.”

Many who submitted responses to the department took issue with the overly broad language of the proposal, bucking against the notion that tattooing on any scarred skin was harmful. Others shared personal stories of getting tattoos over their own scars, and emphasized how the availability of that option helped them in their healing process.

The original intent with the proposal, the Cabinet said Tuesday, was to prevent tattoos on “freshly scarred skin,” but “that part was left out of the filed version of this administrative regulation.”

Howard said public input led to the department’s decision to “remove the language relating to scar tissue.”

The updated iteration of the law will require a notarized statement of parental consent for any minor seeking a tattoo, as well as new requirements for tattoo artists to receive blood-borne pathogen training, and updated disinfectant and equipment sterilization standards.

The amended law will be vetted by the legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review subcommittee in August.

Tattoo artist Roy Lee Rowlett, from Louisville, Kentucky, created a Rick and Morty-inspired tattoo on Aug. 4. The tattoo features the duo looking into the portal they use for their inter-dimensional adventures. The portal doubles as a green screen.

Alex Acquisto covers health and social services for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. She joined the newspaper in June 2019 as a corps member with Report for America, a national service program made possible in Kentucky with support from the Blue Grass Community Foundation. She’s from Owensboro, Ky., and previously worked at the Bangor Daily News and other newspapers in Maine.
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