Skins and Needles

The regulatory environment for ‘special procedures’ – tattoos, piercing, electrolysis and acupuncture – is patchy across the UK

Our report investigates the infection control risks of these procedures and highlights the need for additional procedures, such as dermal fillers, to be added into legislation

In the last decade, there has been a big increase in the numbers of people having tattoos, piercings, electrolysis and acupuncture in the UK. 

The legislative environment has struggled to keep up with this evolving environment, and despite some parts of the UK taking steps towards improving how these procedures are regulated, there remains no standard legal requirement for technicians delivering these procedures to hold an infection control qualification. There is also no legislation covering other equally invasive treatments, such as dermal fillers.

Based on a national survey of people who had at least one special procedure in the previous five years, of those who reported having had a negative side effect, one in ten required medical treatment. Our research also found: 

  • Anyone can purchase specialist equipment online to carry out tattooing or piercings without the necessary training or qualifications in how to use them
  • Two fifths of people who had a special procedure did not check whether the person carrying it out was registered or licenced to carry it out
  • The most important factor that influenced where they had their special procedure was the skill of the technician, followed by the cleanliness of the premises and recommendations by previous clients


9 in 10

of the UK public believe that people who carry out tattooing and piercing should be legally required to hold an infection control qualification

Of people who have had a tattoo, cosmetic piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis in the last five years


experienced negative effects


of the public believe dermal fillers should be made illegal for under-18s

What we're calling for

  • All UK governments to make non-surgical cosmetic procedures illegal for under 18s
  • Businesses to only sell tattoo and piercing equipment to individuals who can provide documentation evidencing their registration or licensing with their local authority
  • All UK health systems to bring in a requirement for an infection control qualification as part of licensing and to review the procedures included within special procedures legislation
  • Infections linked to special procedures to be included in the list of notifiable diseases that must be reported to local councils or local health protection teams
  • All UK governments to review their special procedures legislation to include non-surgical cosmetic procedures such as dermal fillers