In the modern world, tattoos have always been a source of artistic creativity and a fashion statement for many individuals. However, this is not the case in Korea. For many Koreans, tattoos are still associated with gangsters and thus remain a taboo for many conservative citizens. Nowadays, many athletes, K-pop stars, and celebrities in this country can be seen sporting tattoos to display their unique individuality. Nonetheless, because it is illegal to get them from unauthorized tattoo parlors, television programs censor tattoos and even discourage people from getting one.
Just as society has changed, so has the history of tattoos. In the past, they were either a sign of rebellion, or had been used in ancient medicine as part of a treatment. In many ways, the practice of tattooing has changed over the years, which is why in many Western countries, it is legal to operate a tattoo store and become a tattoo artist. On the other hand, it is still illegal to get one in Korea due to safety and sanitary issues. However, it seems that people are not realizing the fact that tattoos can be used to honor someone, to commemorate a personal experience, or even to express creativity
Jang Jun-Hyuk, one of Korea’s first tattoo artist said, “So if you want to get a tattoo, you’re supposed to go to a hospital? That is absurd.” Contrary to what many people in Korea believe, tattoos are done by doctors. This means that the country already highlights the importance of safety when performing tattoo surgeries and that people are worrying excessively only over hygiene. In fact, Korea already has enough resources and experience to allow tattoo parlors to operate.
Indeed, even though a tattoo needle costs approximately 80 cents to two dollars, some tattoo artists reuse needles to save more money. For that, Korea has strict regulations for tattoos as customers may be exposed to health risks such as skin allergies, blood-borne diseases, and even human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
To reduce the concern surrounding the hazards of tattoos, Korea should introduce two guidelines to prevent skin infections. The first step is to make sure shops that sell needles and tattoo ink which have been verified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other agencies. Many people worry that ink from an unknown source can cause minor rashes or even serious allergic reactions. Following this, tattoo artists should obtain a business license and display it in the parlor, similar to the official tattoo rules in the United States (U.S.), set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By implementing these procedures in Korea, citizens will have more faith in tattoo artists.
Even so, currently, many shops use disposable medical grade needles only once and use ink caps that are individually sterilized. In addition, any potential customer can check to see that the studio has an autoclave, which is a heated container that uses steam to disinfect equipment and other objects. This can be done by asking for a tour of the workspace; at the same time, it is recommended to confirm that the tattoo artists wear disposable gloves and gowns to avoid the exchange of blood or and to gauge the overall atmosphere and cleanliness of the shop.
People have to realize that there are certain limitations to what doctors can do with respect to tattoo surgeries. Tattoo artists are currently hiding and operating their own parlors underground in a black market. If the Korean government establishes more tattoo safety protocols and citizens have an open mind and realizing that tattoos are a fashion trend, eventually this different outlook on tattoos may lead to its legalization.