Inked: Tattoos in the Workplace

Are tattoos more accepted in today’s workplace? As members of the beauty industry, do you think it’s more accepted than in corporate America? We asked nail techs what they thought about visible tattoos at work and most of you told us it should be no big deal, but there seems to still be some stereotyping that comes along with that skin ink.

“I am a college-educated individual with two degrees who left the teaching profession to pursue my life-long interest in the beauty industry — and my forearms are visibly tattooed. While working as a teacher in both private and public schools in New York City it was never an issue. My students and their parents, as well as faculty and supervisors, were extremely accepting of my appearance and it never occurred to me that it would be a problem in any other modern workplace in New York City.

For two years now, I have been employed in the corporate side of the nail industry and have also been a professional nail technician for a little over a year. During that time I have been fortunate enough to work with several high-profile nail companies as an educator and for events such as New York Fashion Week, beauty shows, and photo shoots. My experience at these events has always been positive and I am happy to see that backstage a great number of nail technicians, hairstylists, and makeup artists are also visibly tattooed. These are highly professional, educated, and talented individuals who choose to express themselves creatively through their style of dress, hair color, and body art.

Suffice it to say, I felt at home among these individuals and never suspected I would run into any discrimination in this industry because of my personal style. However that is exactly what happened a few months ago. To make a long story short, I was told by a nail company that my appearance is acceptable in certain venues (such as beauty shows), but it is not how they wish to portray their corporate image in more intimate settings such as business presentations. During the conversation they reassured me that they highly respect my skill and professionalism, but their concern was that my ‘tattoos and black clothing’ are not the type of image they want to exhibit during business dealings as they are a ‘conservative and traditional’ company. 

To say that I felt shocked and insulted is an understatement. When I interviewed with this company, they were aware of my appearance and it was never communicated that they objected to my body art. In fact, when I was hired and began to build a steady working relationship with them I believed my preferred color of clothing and tattoos were viewed just as they had been in my previous profession — as a non-issue. I was deeply hurt by the comments they made to me and the fact that my ability to function in my position was being unjustly limited. As a nail technician, I have never had a client, coworker, or any other employer make a negative comment based on my tattoos. One company that I regularly work with even encourages the nail techs who work with them to show off their tattoos, piercings, funky hair, and individual style.

Now that time has passed, I have to believe that such short-sighted opinions are the result of ignorance. To judge someone based on their physical appearance alone is superficial, but to know them and acknowledge that you highly regard their skill and work ethic, yet still look down on them for something as trivial as a tattoo is discriminatory — plain and simple. In this situation, the best revenge I can think of is to become a better nail technician for having gone through it and gain wisdom through the experience. This injustice only motivates me to continue to pursue my passion and dedicate myself to my art — and to never, ever compromise my individuality and self-expression along the way.”

— Teresa King, Nailing It, Brooklyn, N.Y.


“I am 22 years old and have been a successful nail tech for four years. I also have several visible and large tattoos, as well as a few facial piercings (side of lip, nose, and stretched ear lobes). I rent a booth in dFine Salon in Sonora, Calif., which has won several awards including Salon of the Year in Tuolumne County. My work has always spoken for itself. I feel that if a client was ever unsure about my appearance (which has never been brought to my attention) then it would have shown by now. I have built an extremely full clientele and maintain it. On top of working six days a week, averaging 10-13 hours a day, I have also in the past had two side jobs that required me to be in a customer service position. I still keep a professional appearance and am well put together. My pin-up/rockabilly appearance may be more forgiving with tattoos, I suppose, as they have never posed a problem at the workplace or when interviewing for a job. I do not cover my tattoos either. Both insides of my forearms are covered from wrists to elbows. I have a quote running across my collar bone shoulder to shoulder as well as a half sleeve from the top of my shoulder to my elbow. They are all tasteful and are not offensive in any way.”

— Amanda Holmes, dFine Salon, Sonora, Calif.


“I have three tattoos that I have had for a while. I have worked at jobs where I had to wear a shirt that exposed the tattoos. They were not an issue, but more of a conversation piece. When I decided I wanted to open a nail and tattoo studio (coming soon), plenty of people said, ‘Wow that is unique. But they both are related. I could see going there to get services.

I consider both occupations — a nail tech and a tattoo artist — an expression of art. When I start my hiring process, I will not discriminate if a potential employee has tattoos. I will welcome their uniqueness and their creativity.”

— LaShondra W. White, CRAVE Nails & Tats (coming soon), Macomb County, Mich.

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Refers to the naturally occuring fingernail (as opposed to nail enhancements).
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