Kentucky Proposes Ban on Tattoos for Covering Up Scars

By Victor Westerkamp

A recently issued statement (pdf) from the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) proposing a ban on tattoos covering up scars has created a stir in the community of tattoo artists and clients.

The proposed regulation has left tattoo artists and clients alike perplexed. The announcement is both vague in terms of what types of scars would be ruled against covering, and what the actual benefits of such regulation would be. Furthermore, the regulation does not give a medical reason for the ban. Many tattoo artists have spoken out against it.

Paige Spear, a paramedical tattooist from Bowling Green, Kentucky, helps women who’ve had mastectomies regain “a sense of normalcy” by creating and reconstructing nipples and areolas for those clients. She also covers up trauma-related scars on veterans and people who have mutilated themselves, helping them to win their self-respect back thanks to their skin art, she told Reason. An overall ban on those services would probably do more harm than good, she says.

Louisville-based Louisa Kleinert, another tattoo artist who specializes in cosmetic tattooing for scarred clients, told Lex18, “I work with trauma victims of all types.” She continued, “I’ve seen a lot of burned victims who have lost their eyebrows or eyelashes due to other trauma. I could talk about this for hours.”

Warning: This video contains images of tattooing

So, if so many people benefit from having their scars tattooed, why ban it? So far, the DPH has not provided any reasoning for why such a ban would be necessary, except that it wants to focus on cleaner environments in tattoo shops. In a statement from the Cabinet of Health and Family Services simply says, “Regulations in this area have not been updated for about 15 years.”

Spear believes there may be two health-related hazards involved. One has to do with some people who tend to produce excessive scar tissue, a phenomenon known as keloidal scarring. Keloids, however, are known to be non-carcinogenic, so this issue should be ruled out as a health risk. The other thing is that it’s wise to wait for 12 months before starting the tattooing process, as fresh scars still tend to change in color and shape, but that’s more of an aesthetic issue. “Other than those two major things, there isn’t really a reason someone couldn’t tattoo over a scar,” she says.

Dermatologist Elizabeth Muennich from Mason, Ohio, told WLWT, she could only think of one reason for the proposed ban.

“I think one of the issues is they might be worried about tattooing over melanoma scars, and that is a concern,” she said. “You have other types of scars that would benefit from tattooing and would benefit from better cosmesis. You can’t paint this broadly.”

Kleinert posted her findings to Facebook when she learned about the proposed regulation: “If they are going to regulate this, they need to regulate it with the health and wellness of people in mind, and not try to ban it entirely,” she said.

The statement from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services sent to Lex 18 reads:

“Regulations in this area have not been updated for about 15 years. The Department for Public Health (DPH) filed the proposed new regs earlier this month. Public comments are being accepted through the end of May. A public hearing is also scheduled for May 28 at the Cabinet. DPH will review and analyze all comments and then determine what changes, if any, need to be made to the regulations. Comments can be directed to Chase Coffey, Executive Administrative Assistant, Office of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, 275 East Main Street 5 W-A, Frankfort, KY 40621; Phone: 502-564-6746; Fax: 502-564-7091;”