Seoul’s Constitutional Court upheld the tattoo ban on Thursday, confirming that South Korea is the only developed country that only allows medical professionals to perform the procedure.
Tattoo artists derided the decision, calling it retrograde and lacking in cultural understanding.
Despite the decades-old ban, South Korea has nearly 50,000 tattoo artists, who face police raids and prosecution for practicing their craft.
Violating the ban is punishable by fines of up to 50 million won (C$51,700) and prison terms – usually two years, although the law provides for up to life.
Tattoo artists’ associations have taken a series of legal actions since 2017 to challenge the law, claiming it infringes on their freedom of expression and their right to practice a profession.
In a 5-4 vote, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the law was constitutional. He dismissed the lawsuits, saying the tattoo comes with potential side effects and safety issues.
“The limited medical knowledge and skill involved in tattooing cannot guarantee the levels of treatment that medical professionals can provide, treatment that may be required before or after the procedure,” the verdict reads.
BTS member Jungkook’s arm tattoo can be seen in a recent Instagram post:
A union of 650 tattoo artists released a statement condemning the decision, calling it “retrograde” and “not worth a penny”.
“The court always walks on four feet when all citizens walk upright,” said union leader Kim Do-yoon, a renowned tattoo artist better known as Doy.
Kim said the court had not moved forward since a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that copied a Japanese verdict that tattooing was a medical activity, although Japanese courts have since overturned that ruling.
Eyebrow tattoos, eyeliner also practiced
Kim Sho-yun, vice president of the Korea Tattoo Federation, also criticized the latest decision, saying the current law is “absurd”, especially given the growth of the country’s tattoo market and its rising global status. .
“Why do they insist tattooing is a medical procedure when doctors can’t and don’t?” she said in tears during a press conference outside the courthouse, vowing to continue the fight.
The popularity of “K-tattoos” has increased at home and abroad in recent years thanks to their fine line designs, delicate details and use of bright colors.
While tattoos are usually covered up on TV, many Korean celebrities, including members of K-pop groups, have flaunted them on social media.
Polls show most South Koreans support legalizing tattooing, but medical associations oppose it, saying the use of needles is an invasive procedure that could damage the body.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol voiced support ahead of this month’s election for the legalization of so-called cosmetic tattoos, which are semi-permanent and popular for enhancing eyebrows, eyeliner and the hair.