Almost a fifth of people who had a tattoo, cosmetic piercing, acupuncture or electrolysis (‘special procedures’) in the last five years suffered unwanted side effects, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said.
One in 10 of those needed medical treatment.
Anyone can buy specialist equipment online and offer tattooing or piercings without being trained or gaining qualifications, the RSPH said.
And people offering “treatments that compromise the skin barrier” were not legally required to hold an infection control qualification, it said in a report called Skins and Needles.
Legislation and regulation in some parts of the UK is “not fit for purpose”, it contended.
Regarding cosmetic fillers, the RSPH is calling for age-limits, saying that 87% of the public believe they should be made illegal for under-18s according to its research.
And it wants special procedures to be included when notifiable diseases are reported to local councils or local health protection teams.
About 20% of us now have a tattoo, and there was a 173% increase in the number of tattoo parlours in the UK between 2004 and 2014.
Two fifths of those getting a tattoo or a piercing do not check whether the person doing it is registered or licenced, the RSPH said.
When thinking about using a parlour, they considered the technician’s skill, how clean the premises were, and recommendations from previous clients.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH, said the “legislation and regulation of providers of these services… is markedly different across the UK and in some areas is not fit for purpose”.
Ms Cramer called for a “mandatory licensing scheme which will require practitioners in place to ensure that the risk of complications is reduced”.
Nicole Holmes, President of the UK Association of Professional Piercers (UKAPP), said: “People should have the freedom to express themselves through piercings, but they should also have the right to do so safely and without harm to their health.
“Piercers should embrace the mandatory licensing scheme called for in this new report. It will enhance our craft, ensuring everyone in the industry is qualified and working at the highest hygiene and safety standards.
“This will minimise risks and, in the end, lead to higher rates of client satisfaction.”