I’ve spoken many times about getting into this industry, from talking about getting apprenticeships to discussing front-of-house positions and the pros and cons of entering the industry in general. And one of the questions I get asked often about this is when people can start working in a studio. Very often people are asking if can I work in a studio if I’m not 18 yet? And unfortunately, the answer is no, but for some very very good reasons. So let’s get into it- why you can’t work at a studio as a minor.
Bloodborne Pathogens Risks
At piercing studios, we work with blood and bodily fluids on a daily basis. Piercers of course have the highest risk of exposure as they are working directly with clients. But many people assume that the piercers are the only people in the studio who face this risk, and working in a front-of-house role or back-of-house role would be immune from this, but that is not the case. Cross-contamination, or the spread of harmful bacteria from one person, object, or place to another, can happen anywhere in the studio but particularly up front in the lobby and public spaces of the studio. Cross-contamination happens probably more often in the lobby than in the piecing room. A client touches their fresh piercing, gets blood on their hand, and then touches the counter, door handle, or credit card processor. A client may come in with worn jewelry they need reinserted and set it on the counter or try to hand it directly to a staff member, covered in all sorts of delightful biological material. The folks who work front and back of house have to be very vigilant about cross-contamination and spend a large portion of their day cleaning surfaces between clients and keeping everyone safe. And of course, there is always the risk of an emergency situation where a large cross-contamination mess happens somewhere in the studio. This means there is a major risk of exposure in every role in the studio. These risks are greatly minimized with universal precautions, proper PPE, and great training for staff, but it’s not a risk to take lightly with a minor. The last thing we want is someone under age potentially becoming exposed to a Bloodborne pathogen that could change the trajectory of their entire life. We need some to be of age to consent to take on this risk in the workplace. In many states, there are clear laws that state minors are prohibited from working in a job whose duties “contain exposure to bodily fluids or other infectious agents”.
Many studios offer a range of piercing services. We do the classic earlobes, nostrils, and navel piercings, but we also pierce nipples and genitals. These piercings are always done behind closed doors in secure situations, but conversations and interactions about them may happen anywhere in the studio. Someone may come in asking for jewelry for their Prince Albert piercing. A client may be getting checked in for nipple piercing and asking general questions about healing and activities. You may pick up the phone to someone asking if it’s safe to use a vibrator on their 3-month-old triangle piercing. Part of offering these services is interacting with clients about them, fielding their questions, getting them checked in, and communicating about these things. Inherently, there will be some conversations about sex and sexual conduct when we offer genital piercings- and these interactions are handled with professionalism and discretion. But a minor should not be exposed to these interactions, especially not from adults. It’s not ok to have someone underage working in an environment where these interactions are going to be not only taking place, but a part of their job to handle. Just like there are laws about working with exposure to bodily fluids, there are also laws about working in “massage parlors, tattoo parlors, or adult-orientated business.”
If the above two reasons weren’t enough to make you realize that working in studios is not a place for minors, insurance policies will get you. Studios need to carry insurance, both general business insurance and insurance specific to our industry. Industry-specific insurance protects studios and clients alike from unsafe practices, injuries at the studio, and accidents. Every employee is insured to protect them from lawsuits and injuries and to protect the business as well. There is different insurance for piercers, tattoo artists, and front of house. At the time of writing this, I am unaware of any insurance policies that would insure a minor to work in a tattoo or piercing studio. There is so much added liability with attempting to insure a minor to work in this business, not even considering how many laws exist expressly forbidding minors from working here.
I understand many folks are excited about the prospect of getting into the industry and it’s many people's dreams. But it is a dream that will have to wait till you are 18 or older. In the meantime, I would suggest reading this blog about getting a good apprenticeship, which has some amazing suggestions for things you can do in the meantime to prepare for the industry. I actually find working in food service or retail can teach you a lot of foundational customer service skills that will translate to working in this industry. You can also spend time learning about piercings, and their history, and working on other skills that will help you in this industry like photography, social media, and math. There is no rush to get into working in the industry, take your time!