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A doctor talks about legal practice of tattoo in Korea

Posted July. 22, 2017 07:14,   

Updated July. 22, 2017 07:33

There is no domestic provision that stipulates practices of tattooing as illegal. However, almost all types of tattooing in Korea are labeled as illegal since the Supreme Court ruled that tattooing is a medical practice 25 years ago.

There were several attempts to legalize tattooing. However, such attempts were failed due to the opposition from the medical community. Still, there is a great chasm between the tattoo industry and medical community.


“It is the majority of people, tattoo consumers, who are affected by the current law that only allows tattooing practice of doctors.”

Dr. Cho Myung-shin at Vincent Clinic in Seoul has been supporting for tattooing legalization. He belatedly learned tattoo technique and tattoo art after being attracted by tattoos while performing tattoo removals 18 years ago.

His suggestions to legalize tattoos are very specific and realistic. Gradual relaxation of qualifications: Mitigate tattooing qualifications to nurses and medical personnel first and then to nurse assistants. “It is a more realistic approach than to establish a separate qualification system for tattooists," Dr. Cho said. "It can also minimize oppositions from the medical community as they cannot resist any more in such method.” 

The government’s last efforts to legalize tattooing practices were failed. Former Rep. Kim Choon-jin, who led the Health and Welfare Committee, introduced the Tattooist Act and held a public hearing in the previous 19th National Assembly. Back then, the government had positively considered the legalization of tattooing practice but the bill had been discarded due strong oppositions. “There had been much progress. I met lawmakers, welfare minister and senior presidential secretary and persuaded them," the former lawmaker said. "But the biggest obstacle was the public opposition.”  

“There is no way to satisfy all tattooists at once. We need to resolve issues one by one to appeal to negative public sentiment," Cho said. “The medical community should not unilaterally oppose legalization of tattooing practice with no options. It is time to think about the matter seriously.”

Ho-Kyeong Kim kimhk@donga.com