Piercing Through a Piercing Habit
Body piercing is increasingly popular among teens. Aside from a trail of holes in their ears, teens are also piercing their eyebrows, noses, tongues, bellybuttons and even other, more private, areas of their bodies.
Appearances aside, piercing can, if not performed correctly, present a health risk to your child. Some body piercing shops aren’t regulated in any way. These unlicensed operators may have little knowledge of proper sterilization techniques, and infection can easily occur in unsanitary piercing conditions, leading to serious illness, including:
- Bacterial infections spread via the bloodstream
- Hepatitis C and B
- Painful cysts (abscesses) at the piercing site
- Allergies to the jewelry
Most parents discover their child's predilection for piercing after their teen shows up with an eyebrow stud or nose ring. However, many places require parental consent if kids are less than 18 before they will perform piercings. You may want to be the one to broach the topic of piercing, ahead of time. Ask your teen why he wants a piercing and discuss whether he has thought about the consequences. Infections are common with nose and mouth piercings because of the millions of bacteria that live in those areas. Tongue, cheek and lip piercings can cause issues with your child’s gums.
What if your teen decides to get a piercing?
Have your son or daughter make a list of the pros and cons of piercing, then make a decision based on these criteria, rather than on friends’ choices. If the answer is yes, make sure your child takes these steps to protect his health:
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B before the piercing.
- Choose wisely. Consider using a dermatologist or aesthetician. Here’s what to expect from a piercing professional:
- Sterilization. The piercer should use an autoclave, which sterilizes equipment at high temperatures, between clients.
- Cleanliness. The piercer should wash hands and put on latex gloves before each piercing.
- Gun control. Avoid piercers who use a piercing gun, which makes it easier for them, but which crushes the surrounding tissue and can’t be properly sterilized.
After the piercing, make sure your teen:
- Knows when it's infected. Mouth and eyebrow piercings are especially susceptible. Signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling, warmth and oozing. Contact a healthcare provider immediately.
- Uses proper jewelry. Inexpensive costume jewelry or household items, such as safety pins, can cause allergic reactions. Instead, use surgical steel, 14K gold, niobium or titanium to avoid problems. Make sure the jewelry fits the hole. Too small, and the jewelry will move around and irritate the perforation; too wide (or too short), and it may cause swelling.
- Keeps it clean. Piercing sites need to be regularly cleaned:
- Use a cotton ball or swab dipped in ear piercing solution (available from piercing shops) to gently clean earlobe piercings only.
- Other piercing areas need a gentler antibacterial cleanser that won’t destroy the healing tissue. They will need to be cleaned daily for several months, until the hole heals. Tongue piercings need to be cleaned frequently throughout the day with antiseptic mouthwash. Bellybutton piercings can be cleaned with antibiotic soap during showers.
- All jewelry studs need to be gently rotated and cleaned.
- Covers (or uncovers) it properly. Keep clothes and bedding clean during the healing process. Tight clothes across bellybutton piercings can prevent circulation and slow healing.
- Checks it out. Your teen needs to monitor the piercing sites at least once a week, even after they’ve healed. For example, mouth piercing jewelry can come loose. Some kids have swallowed the barbells or damaged teeth when they inadvertently bit down on the loose jewelry.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: September 2012