Sales Tax Slice: Taxing Tattoos and Other Fine Arts

There seems to be a burgeoning trend of reality television shows about the art of tattooing. Indeed, there are 25 such shows currently listed on Wikipedia. These shows, such as “Inked,” “Tattoo Nightmares” and “Tattoo Nightmares: Miami,” often follow employees of tattoo parlors as they ply their increasingly popular trade. But, I’m sure you’re wondering, are the services offered by these tattoo parlors taxable?

In addition to tattoo services, tattoo parlors have expanded into permanent cosmetics, according to the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals and piercings. Some parents are even taking their daughters to tattoo parlors for their first ear piercing, according to Time Magazine. Well, if the only thing standing between you and a new tattoo, piercing or permanent makeup is the thought of paying sales and use tax, the results vary from state to state.

In most states, tattooing is a nontaxable service. However, some states, such as Connecticut, specifically enumerate services provided by tattoo parlors as taxable. Additionally, tattoo artists usually must pay sales and use tax on their purchases. For example, in Minnesota, tattoo artists must pay sales and use tax on their purchases of cleansing agents, tattoo ink and other tools and equipment.

The plurality of states do not tax piercing services, but some specify a different tax treatment depending on whether property is transferred in conjunction with the piercing. For example, in Massachusetts, piercing, tattooing, body art and scarification are nontaxable services as long as sales of personal property are separately stated, or if the cost of tangible personal property is less than 10 percent of the total cost. In Georgia, piercing is not a taxable service, but if there is a mandatory charge associated with the sale of earrings, then the piercing charge is subject to sales tax.

Like tattooing, most states do not impose tax on permanent makeup services. However, in some states, like Iowa, such services are taxable as beauty services. Additionally, in New Jersey, permanent cosmetic applications are taxable unless prescribed by a doctor in conjunction with reconstructive breast surgery. In New York, permanent cosmetics are nontaxable, but are subject to New York City sales tax if performed within New York City, unless performed by someone licensed under Title VIII of the Education Law, such as a physician or veterinarian (just in case Fido needs some skin art).

Now that I know whether the services provided by tattoo parlors are taxable, I just have to decide what kind of tattoo to get. I’m thinking a photo of my cat.

Continue the discussion on LinkedIn: Should services performed by tattoo parlors be subject to sales and use tax?

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By Emilie Burnette