Fiona Ma for State Assembly

With Body Art, Safety is a Must

Once upon a time, branding was for cattle, not people.

But then, there was a time when tattoos were mostly for sailors and the piercing was mainly for women's earrings.

Today, nearly one in four Americans between the ages of 18 and 50 has at least one tattoo, according to the American Society of Dermatology. For Americans between 18 and 29, it's 36 percent — more than one in three.

One step beyond tattoos is a process called scarification, otherwise known as branding or extreme body modification. Unlike tattooing, branding transfers an image through a strike brand or a cauterizing gun.

The Cathedral City City Council this month voted to ban the practice. In the's unscientific poll, 56 percent of those who voted supported the ban.

According to the ordinance, branding can make people vulnerable to Hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

Robert Roberts, manager of Anarchy & Ink Tattoo, expressed concern that the ban would force the practice to go underground, where it would be performed in unsupervised conditions.

Even though Roberts called the practice of branding “barbaric,” he believes keeping it legal will help keep it safe.

“The smarter thing to do would be to go ahead and permit it at the shops because of the likelihood of a licensed practitioner is higher,” Roberts said. “By passing the ordinance, you're forcing it to go underground.”

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, took a different approach with Assembly Bill 517, the Safe Body Art Act. That would require all body artists, except standard ear-piercers, to register annually with counties and complete training in sanitation and the prevention of blood-borne pathogens. The bill has passed the Legislature and awaits the governor's signature.

Tattoos, branding and piercing are risky procedures that need to be performed by professionals under sanitary conditions.

Ten years ago, legislation was passed to make sure the body art industry was regulated and inspected. The state Health Department set standards. Since then, the body art industry has grown 400 percent.

We certainly wouldn't endorse branding. But, if people are going to such extremes, tighter regulation is necessary.

As Assemblywoman Ma says, it is important to ensure safety first. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign the bill.