Skin penetration procedures and the law

Skin penetration is a procedure which incorporates:

  • the skin being cut, punctured, torn or shaved
  • a mucous membrane being cut, punctured or torn.

Skin penetration includes body art such as:

  • tattoos
  • piercing
  • scarification or branding
  • dermal anchors
  • 3-D art or body modifications (for example beading).

Some beauty therapies, such as waxing, shaving, tweezing and electrolysis are also considered a skin penetration procedure, as is the practice of acupuncture.

If you are an operator providing any of these services, you need to be aware of the potential health risks and the importance of following correct infection control guidelines.

Why are laws on skin penetration necessary?

It is important to have standards for infection control for skin penetration operators so clients can have confidence in the services they access.

Laws help prevent the spread of infections, including:

  • viral infections (for example hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS)
  • bacterial infections (for example Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium fortuitum)
  • fungal infections (Candida albicans).

Laws applying to skin penetration

Most people visit establishments, such as studios, salons or practices, for skin penetration procedures where operators are required by law to operate at high standards of infection control.

WA establishments wishing to perform skin penetration procedures are required to notify the local government of their registered trading name and business address, and the types of procedures they are planning to perform.

They must also comply with the following:

The regulations and code outline minimum standards of infection control including basic hygiene, disinfection and sterilisation requirements.

It is mandatory for an operator of a skin penetration establishment to comply with the above legislation. The owner of an establishment who fails to comply with the Regulations or the Code may be fined up to $1000, plus daily penalties.

There are several pieces of subsidiary legislation which an operator may also be required to follow:

Age limits for body art procedures

The Department for Child Protection (external site) is the State Government agency responsible for enforcing age limits for tattooing, piercings and other body modification procedures in Western Australia.

Tattooing and branding

In Western Australia it is illegal to tattoo or brand a person under the age of 18, unless they have the written permission of their parent or guardian.

The penalty for tattooing or branding a minor could be a $12,000 fine and imprisonment for one year.

Body piercing

In 2011 new age limits were established for body piercing procedures as part of an amendment to the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (external site).

Under Section 104A of the Act it is prohibited to pierce a child under the age of 18 in any intimate area. This includes:

  • genitals
  • nipples
  • anal area
  • perineum.

A person who carries out this type of piercing on a child under the age of 18 can be fined $18,000 and imprisoned for 18 months. It is not a defence to say that the child, or a parent of the child, consented to the body piercing.

Additionally, a child under the age of 18 will require the written consent of their parent for all non-intimate body piercings.

Non-intimate body piercing means piercing a part of the body such as:

  • nose
  • tongue
  • face
  • navel (belly button)
  • other skin surfaces.

A person who carries out this type of piercing on a child without written parental consent can be fined $12,000 and imprisoned for 1 year.

Visit the Department for Child Protection (external site) to learn what information needs to be included on a parental consent form.

The only circumstances where a child does not need their parent’s consent is for ear piercing if the child is aged 16 years or over.

Does the law apply to me?

The legislation and regulations applies to any operator performing a skin penetration procedure including:

  • tattooists
  • body piercers
  • beauty therapists
  • acupuncturists.

The legislation does not apply to:

Mobile practitioners

Mobile practitioners (tattooists, beauty therapists, etc.) are not permitted to undertake skin penetration procedures unless:

  • every place where a skin penetration procedure is undertaken is registered with the local government
  • the mobile therapist complies fully with the Code of Practice for Skin Penetration Procedures.

Making a complaint

If you have concerns about a skin penetration establishment and their level of infection control you are encouraged to raise your concerns with the local government Environmental Health Services (external site) in the area where the establishment is located.

Local government employ authorised officers who have powers under legislation to inspect the establishment and enforce the regulations.

More information

Contact the relevant local government Environmental Health Services (external site) for further advice about starting a business, making a complaint about a business operating in a local district or for general advice about this topic.

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Public Health