New guidelines from medical experts and voluntary sector organisations confirm that refusing people living with HIV a tattoo, piercing or beauty treatment is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.  Asking clients if they are HIV positive is also unjustified according to current data protection legislation (Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulation 2018) as collecting this information is unnecessary. 

HIV Scotland, alongside the British HIV Association (BHIVA), the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) have published the statement to explain that HIV and HIV treatment do not present a barrier to tattooing, piercing and cosmetic or routine beauty treatments.  The new guidelines have been produced in response to reports from people living with HIV being refused tattoos or asked about their HIV status by beauty treatment providers in pre-treatment questionnaires.  These actions are illegal, inappropriate and reinforce HIV stigma.

The guidelines explain that licensing requirements mean that clients are protected from HIV and other blood-borne viruses by standard universal precautions, such as sterilising equipment, using fresh disposable gloves, and new ink for each and every person. These treat each and every client as though they may have an undiagnosed blood-borne virus and eliminate the risk of a blood-borne virus being passed from one client to another.

It is estimated that 5881 individuals are living with HIV in Scotland, and of these, 91% (5353) have been diagnosed, of whom 92% (4913) are attending specialist HIV services for treatment and care. Of those attending services, 4799 (98%) are receiving antiretroviral therapy, of whom 94% (4530) have an undetectable viral load.

Commenting on the release of the new guidelines, the Chief Executive of HIV Scotland, Nathan Sparling said:

“Too many people living with HIV have been discriminated in tattoo studios, and today’s joint-statement makes clear that it is illegal and shouldn’t happen in modern-day Scotland. Whilst HIV stigma continues to manifest across Scotland, we thwart progress for testing, treatment and prevention.

“Tattoo studios need to be aware that standard infection control procedures, such as sterilising equipment, are enough to prevent any transmission of blood-borne viruses. This statement is also important as it clearly states that HIV, or the medication people take, will not be impacted by a tattoo – and that such procedures are safe for people living with HIV. 

“We hope that this statement will ensure that people living with HIV can access tattoo studios without fear of being turned away. Local Councils should now issue this guidance to all license holders, and ensure that license holders are investigated properly if any future cases of discrimination are reported.”

The guidelines can be viewed here.