Body Piercing

Body piercing has become a popular and fashionable activity.

It is often performed in the same premises as tattooing and carries the same health risks:

The risk of acquiring these infections is low if the practitioners adhere to certain principles of good practice. In order to protect the public the Environmental Health and Consumer Protection Service of Aberdeenshire Council expect high standards of hygiene from the owners of premises and those who perform the body piercing or tattooing.

In addition members of the public should ensure that they are happy with the premises and the operator. The following information highlights the standards which should be expected from such premises.

Health risks

The procedure of body piercing involves the operator piercing the skin of the client with a sharp instrument. This simple process introduces a number of health risks which can be grouped as:

  • Allergic reaction to jewellery
  • Migration or reaction of jewellery
  • Localised infection at the piercing site
  • Localised swelling and trauma


The operator may have an infection, which can be transferred to the client, or an infection may be transferred between clients. The instruments employed may not be sterile or may act as the vehicle for transferring infection between clients. There is also the possibility of a wound becoming infected through poor client hygiene or aftercare.

The results of the procedure

Health problems may be the result of the piercing itself – swelling & trauma, scarring, jewellery embedding in the skin, allergic reactions to the jewellery metals and antiseptics employed.

Client's health status

Problems may arise if the customer suffers from heart disease, eczema, folliculitis, impetigo, genital warts, allergic reactions, haemorrhaging, fainting, seizures (epilepsy), diabetes, hepatitis or HIV infection.

Legislative position

Since 1st April 2006, anyone who carries on a business which provides skin piercing or tattooing is required to obtain a licence from the local authority to do so. It is a criminal offence to operate without a licence.

Skin piercing and tattooing includes:

  • acupuncture
  • cosmetic body piercing
  • electrolysis

You should apply to the local authority in whose area you are operating in or in whose area you intend to operate in. If you operate in more than one local authority area, you will need a licence from each authority.

You will NOT require a licence if you are carrying on the above activity and you are a regulated healthcare professional.

The applicant will be required to demonstrate to the local authority that they, or, where the applicant is not a natural person, the individuals who will be carrying out the activity or activities have sufficient knowledge, skill, training and experience to do so, when applying for their licence.

This was introduced in order to manage and reduce the risks faced by potential clients, in relation to health and specifically the transmission of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Principles of good practice

While good practice cannot guarantee the prevention of all incidents of infection, it should reduce substantially the risks associated with skin piercing.

Responsible operators will wish to follow good practice and may seek advice from Environmental Health Officers in the course of inspections. The following advice is recommended:

Information and Records

  • A Notice should be prominently displayed on the premises informing clients of the possible risks from body piercing
  • A written record should be kept of the clients personal details, relevant medical history and piercing procedures performed
  • Clients should be provided with both written and verbal information of aftercare
  • Operators will wish to consider the issue of parental consent when dealing with young people


  • A local anaesthetic injection can only be administered by a registered medical practitioner
  • A suitable surface local anaesthetic may be applied to the area using a clean disposable applicator (such as a new piece of sterile gauze cloth) for each application, spray is permissible


Neither the operator nor client should be under the influence of drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Sterile technique

  • The operator should discuss relevant aspects of the customers history with them and written GP authorisation may be necessary
  • Prior to piercing, the operator must 'surgical scrub' with soap and hot water, dry with clean disposable paper towels and then wear new disposable sterile gloves for each client
  • Needles must be pre-packed and pre-sterilised and only used once before being disposed of safely in an approved sharps box
    Piercing should not take place next to muscle
  • Piercing of the tongue introduces a particular risk of excessive bleeding, accordingly the practice cannot be recommended
  • A hands away technique, such as using sterile forceps, should be used where practicable to reduce the risk of skin and soft tissue infections and injury to the operator
  • Skin markings should be done prior to cleansing using a fine indelible pen and the skin in the area of the piercing site must be cleaned appropriately before piercing
  • Jewellery should be of a suitable grade, such as surgical steel or high carat gold and must be kept in sterile conditions until it is inserted
  • Ear piercing should be conducted using only appropriate instruments and pre-sterilised earrings, ear piercing guns are generally inappropriate for other parts of the body
  • There should be no attempt to increase the size of the piercing until it has healed completely
  • Nose piercing is to be discouraged because the inner mucous surface cannot be adequately disinfected and may contain pathogenic organisms, there is a risk of disfigurement should an infection occur
  • In practice, nose piercing is often conducted using ear-piercing guns, the guns will become contaminated and could subsequently be the vehicle of infection to the ears and noses of subsequent clients - only completely disposable guns can be countenanced for use on the nose, but the practice should be discouraged and customers advised of the risks

Sterilisation of equipment

  • Sterilisation of equipment using autoclave or bench top steriliser is recommended
  • The use of chemical disinfectants is not recommended
  • Disinfectants can, however, be used for wiping down surfaces

Immunisation and first aid

  • The operator should have a basic first aid kit available
  • Operators should be immunised against hepatitis B


Should you have any concerns with the level of service provided or standards offered then please contact:

Team Manager (Health and Safety)
Towie House
Manse Terrace
AB53 4AY 

Telephone: 01467 537494
Email :