ear piercingGuest Post: by Dr. Laura Burkhart

When I was 16 years old I wanted to get my nose pierced. After the surprised initial reaction from my dad of “why would you ever want to voluntarily put a hole in your body?!”, we had a really respectful and honest conversation. What I remember the most was that he was open to my point of view, even though the idea of a body piercing wasn’t his favorite. Kind of like when I’d begged for a puppy; part of the deal was that I had to take complete care and responsibility for it. While I had other piercings after this, my memory of this piercing is a positive one. It was one of the first thought out “adult” conversations I had with my dad about something we didn’t agree on, because of his willingness to hear me out. This memory could have easily been one of teen rebellion and anger had I been simply told “No because I said so”. I share this story so hopefully inspire the kind of open conversation I had with my dad if your teen asks about body piercing.

What is it and why get it:

Let’s start with the basics. The fancy language for body piercing is ‘the insertion of an ornament into a perforation made in the tissue for decorative, cultural, spiritual or other reasons.’ What that basically means, as my dad would say it, putting a hole in the body and putting jewelry in it. There are many different types of piercings and many more types of jewelry that can be used. Body piercing, like tattooing, is becoming more common and it is not unusual for all personality types and professions, including young and older, to decorate their bodies this way. Teenagers are drawn to body piercing for many reasons including as a way to explore a sense of identity as they search for who they want to become.

The Law:

Alright now that we have covered what piercing is, let’s talk about the laws in Washington State. In a previous post about permanent body art, you might recall that it is a misdemeanor to tattoo someone under 18 years old. There is no such law regarding body piercing here, so it is up to the parlor or shop to determine their policies. Reputable parlors most often require a parent or legal guardian to be present to allow body piercings on those less than 18 years old. In addition, most have age restrictions on the types of piercings a minor can get, with sensitive piercings such as the nipple and genitalia only done for 18 and older. Make sure to check beforehand with the parlor to see what age limits they enforce.

The Risks:

There are several known risks of body piercing that are important to discuss. Make sure to talk with a health care provider first, particularly if your teen has certain medical conditions such as heart conditions, diabetes, bleeding disorders or disorders that compromise the immune system.

  1. Infection: This includes both local infection of the piercing site itself as well infection that can spread through the whole body. The risk of infection is increased if the piercing is done by an amateur, so always make sure to go to a parlor that guarantees sterilized equipment.
  2. Skin reactions: Some people might have allergic reactions to certain types of metals. Piercing jewelry should only be made from non-toxic materials such as surgical steel or solid karat gold.
  3. Bleeding: The amount of bleeding will depend on the piercing site. Talk with your medical provider if there is prolonged bleeding, but also check in with the piercing parlor to make sure the jewelry is properly fitted.
  4. Healing: Everyone heals differently and the time it takes to heal varies depending on the piercing site. Some people are prone to keloids or overgrowth of scar tissue, which can occur after a piercing and can be difficult to remove.
  5. Medical procedures: It’s always a good idea to tell your health care provider if you have body piercings before any type of procedure or imaging as it might interfere with what they are trying to do.

For more information check out: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/body-piercing-safe.html#

Your teen should get an aftercare instruction handout so make sure to get any questions answered before you leave. These risks differ based on the site of the piercing as well. For example, with tongue and mouth piercings there is risks of infection, but also possible damage to gums and teeth. It’s a good idea to have your teen checked out by the dentist beforehand to make sure everything is healthy.

Piercing Guns:

There have been some concerns with using piercing guns which are difficult to sanitize effectively. If you do decide to go to a place that uses piercing guns, make sure they use a disposable one and not a reusable one. Also make sure they only use the gun on the lower ear lobes, as it is not meant to be used on any other part of the body. For more information on piercing guns visit: http://www.safepiercing.org/learn/piercing/faq/

Talking points for Parents:

  • If your teen asks about body piercing to listen to their reasons for wanting one. This is a great opportunity for both of you to work on listening and communicating without shutting each other down right away.
  • During this conversation, gently inquire about what friends they know that have body piercing. We know that peer relationships can have a heavier influence on teen’s opinions, so let them know that body piercing might not be for everyone. Encourage them that they can find lots of ways to set themselves apart and not to feel pressured into something that doesn’t feel like a good fit for them.
  • Make them aware of your expectation that if there are to get a body piercing, they need to be responsible for caring for it to minimize risks. Make sure they understand the aftercare instructions given to them by their piercer.
  • Have a conversation about the dangers of getting a piercing done by amateurs. Heavy handed scare tactics might not be the best way to start this discussion, so ask your teen to talk about what might be the downfall of inserting a piercing by a friend or on their own. Chances are they know some of the risks, so it’s a great way to help fill in the gaps without feeling like your talking down to them.
  • Encourage them to advocate for their health by ensuring the piercer wears fresh disposable gloves and a new needle is used to avoid contamination.
  • Make sure your teen is up to date on their vaccines especially their Hepatitis B which is a 3 dose series and tetanus which is due every 10 years.