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History of Body Art Regulation

In 1962, Massachusetts became one of the few states in the country to consider tattooing a "crime against the person," and ban the practice except for medical purposes. The law took effect on March 12, 1962, five months after New York City imposed a similar prohibition. The New York City Board of Health believed that tattoo parlors were fueling an outbreak of hepatitis.

At the time Massachusetts was not experiencing a hepatitis outbreak, but health officials believed that tattooing might lead to one. Over the years, tattoo artists and lawmakers made some lackluster attempts to challenge the statute, but nothing materialized from their efforts.

The statute remained in effect until 2000 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts launched a successful court battle to overturn it. ACLU lawyer Harvey Schwartz made the novel argument that the art of making tattoos was protected as free expression under the First Amendment. The Suffolk Superior Court ruled that the Commonwealth's public health interest in a ban on tattooing could better be served by licensing and regulation, which would ensure that tattooing is conducted under sanitary conditions.

On January 31, 2001, the Cambridge Public Health Department enacted rules and regulations overseeing the practice of tattooing and body art in the city. The regulations were revised on July 1, 2003 pursuant to General Laws, Chap. 111, §31 for the granting of licenses to practice Body Art in the City of Cambridge.

Last updated on January 31, 2020


For more information about body art licensure, please contact:

Sammi Chung, MS
Public Health Compliance Specialist
Cambridge Public Health Department


Cambridge Public Health Department
119 Windsor Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-665-3800 (main)
617-665-3888 (fax)
617-643-0744 (TTY)

Hours: Monday-Friday:
8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
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Derrick Neal
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