Healthy living

Body art

What is body art?

Tattoos, body piercing, branding, scarification, dermal anchors and three-dimensional art or body modifications such as beading, are all classed as body art. In Western Australia the most popular forms of body art are tattoos and body piercing.

Body art is a very personal choice, and there are many reasons people choose to do it. It can make a real statement about who you are, but it is important to be clear about your reasons for getting body art and know how to get body art that doesn’t harm your health.

Types of body art


Tattoos are permanent designs on the skin. They are made with coloured inks injected under the skin using a machine called a tattoo gun.

Think before you ink.

A tattoo should be considered permanent. Although tattoos can be removed, it is expensive and your skin may never be the same, as often ink remnants still remain.

Cosmetic tattooing (permanent makeup)

Cosmetic tattooing (including eye and lip-lining) is most commonly performed in beauty salons and may be advertised as permanent makeup rather than tattooing.

If you are thinking of having one of these procedures, remember cosmetic styles change and although the work will fade over time, it is a permanent procedure.

If you choose to go ahead with the procedure, make sure the body artist meets health and safety requirements. Make sure that a new sterile needle is attached to the tattooing machine in your presence. Do not agree to a procedure if the needle is already in place as it may not be sterile or may have been used on someone else.

Temporary tattoos

Reactions to temporary tattoos and henna tattoos have been reported. People with sensitive skin or with any skin conditions such as eczema, or with known allergies, should avoid temporary tattoos including henna tattoos. 

Henna tattoos should appear brown to orange. Particularly tourist spots overseas often mix toxic substances with the henna to make it appear black. "Black henna" is toxic and should be avoided.

Body piercings

Traditionally body piercings were limited to ears, tongues, and lips – places that could be pierced right through. Now, with advancements in the piercing industry, piercings can be placed virtually anywhere.

Body piercing can result in scarring, which can remain long after jewellery is removed. Oral piercings, such as tongue studs, pose serious dental health risks. Speak to your dentist for more information.


Beading – also known as three dimensional body art – involves cutting open the skin and inserting stainless steel or silicone implants (such as rings, beads and other jewellery) beneath it.


Scarification involves cutting the skin with surgical tools or a laser to create scar tissue.


Branding involves using heated surgical steel (hot branding) or dry ice (cold branding) to leave a permanent scar or mark on the skin.

Age of consent

Under the Children and Community Services Act 2004 (external site) it is illegal to:

  • carry out intimate body piercing (nipples, genitals, anal area, perineum) on a person under 18 years of age, even with parental or legal guardian consent
  • carry out non-intimate body piercing (apart from ears) (such as belly button) on a person under 18 years of age without written parental or legal guardian consent
  • carry out piercing on the ears of a person under 16 years of age without parental or legal guardian consent
  • tattoo or brand any part of the body of a person under 16 years of age
  • tattoo or brand any part of the body of a person aged over 16 years of age (but under 18 years of age) without the written consent of their parent/guardian for a specific tattoo or brand on a specific part of the person’s body.

An operator can face imprisonment or be fined for illegally branding, tattooing or piercing a person under the legal age.


  • Think carefully before getting any body art – there are risks associated with all body art procedures.

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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