Risks of ‘getting inked’


Sporting a tattoo is more in vogue at present than ever before especially among the youth which is why Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) urged health authorities recently to regulate tattoo studios and artists. “There is a danger in persons who lack adequate training wielding the needle,” President of the Public Health Inspectors Union Sri Lanka (PHIUSL), Upul Rohana said.   

No Idea 

Frankly, it is doubtful as to whether even the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) or any of the public health authorities have contemplated the need to regulate and give at least guidelines for body piercing, circumcision and tattooing for the safety of the individual acquiring these body adornments, enhancements and genital mutilations practiced for religious reasons.

Informed sources of the NMRA revealed that needle stocks imported by tattoo suppliers required registration just as needles imported for acupuncture treatment. They noted that the needles are classified under surgical devices. However, sources were unwilling to speak further with regard to the procedure sans approval from the CEO of the NMRA.

Several attempts made during a period of two weeks to contact NMRA’s CEO, Dr. Wijith Gunasekara failed.

Although there were provisions under the Cosmetic Devices and Drug Regulatory Authority (CDDRA) Act No.27 of 1980 to monitor and regulate beauty parlours, cosmetic clinics and cosmetic products.

Unfortunately the NMRA Act No 05 of 2015   failed to include the provisions for regulating cosmetic procedures and cosmetics. The increasing use and demand for cosmetics and tattooing is still a cause for debate as to whether any part of the procedure should be regulated with guidelines imposed.

In other words “proper mechanism is not involved nor is any department engaged in monitoring the process,” NMRA sources said.

Who should regulate?

While the President of the PHIUSL felt that the Medical Officer of Health (MoH) should have the grassroots level authority to regulate tattoo studios, the Health Ministry itself which unless pointed out did not seem to have a notion that this was not mere body painting that was being talked about.

Should tattoo studios jbe listed as commercial establishments for which the Divisional Secretariat have to give a Business Registration Certificate (BRC)?


PHIUSL President Rohana said that starting from license to function, tattoo studios should be regulated and monitored to ensure that the needles being used are sterilised in case of repeated use to prevent disease spread and quality of ink is maintained.

The President of the Medical and Civil Rights Professional Association of Doctors (MCPA), Dr. Chamal Sanjeewa observed that the hygienic conditions of the studio should be ensured when introducing regulations. The use disposable needles and the standard and quality of the ink used were also a priority as they both could lead to severe infections and diseases.


The Chief Medical Officer of Health of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni said that although the requirement for regulating tattoo artists and their studios is highly important, there were no regulations even in the CMC’s Public Health Department (PHD) to streamline the trade within the city limits.


However, a spokesperson for ‘Win Tattoo Supply’ lamented that while the trade alone had been hard hit by the economic crisis and the gazette banning imports, tattooing culture is also faced with other demons. She noted that registering imports is required by the Customs. However, the situation is more easily said than done.

Having been in the trade for 15 years, she said it imports its supplies from the US, India and China. While the ink is imported from the US, needles and machines are purchased from India and China. Tattoo artists are provided with disposable needles, she said noting that they are required to change needles for every customer.

But there are difficulties when registering with NMRA, who are keener on registering pharmaceutical products. People are sent from pillar to post when registering items which have been assessed by the Medical Devices Evaluation Committee of NMRA.

Outlining the difficulties, she said that although health authorities called for the regulation of tattoo artists and their studios, they had a very little understanding of the art. For instance when, obtaining the BRC, a PHI is sent to observe the establishment and give recommendations for hygienic conditions. The PHI often has very little idea about the process or the utensils used. Instead tattoo artists have been victimised with instances where bribes have been demanded.

The art of tattooing

Explaining about tattoo ink and the quality of the ink, Sunith, a tattoo artists who runs a studio in Kiribathgoda, said the colours are chosen according to skin colour. Although the ink that is used is imported from the US, it has been developed to suit Asian dark skin, he said.

Having been in the field for 14 years, the majority of customers reach out to a studio that he or she trusts, he added.

By Dilanthi Jayamanne