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What every mom should know about getting a kid's ears pierced at the mall

Lisa Rabasca Roepe often writes about three the things she loves most -- parenting, food and drink, and pop culture. Her parenting essays have been published in Scary Mommy’s Club Mid, Yahoo Parenting, Women’s Day and Mommyish.com.

Getting your kid's ears pierced at the mall could be a big mistake

Google the term “mistake with kids’ ear piercing” and you’ll find post after post about a child’s ears being pierced unevenly. Look closer and you’ll likely find that most of those ear piercings were done at a mall store or kiosk. 

Although getting your child's ears pierced at the mall is popular and convenient, there are several reasons you may want to investigate other avenues for having your child's ears pierced, specifically a medical office or even a body art studio. And yes, getting them even is one of them.

Carolyn Presby, a physician assistant at Miami Plastic Surgery, has corrected her fair share of those uneven ear piercings in the year since she began piercing children’s ears. Presby was trained by another PA from a pediatrician’s office on how to pierce ears. In comparison, she says piercings done at the mall are typically done by non-medical personnel whose training might be as basic as watching a video.

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Presby says she spends time marking each earlobe and involves the parent in the marking. “In the office, we have the luxury and relationship to have the time and familiarity to get it right," she says. "We want the parent and child to feel we did everything we can to get it right.”

But getting "even" earrings is just the beginning when it comes to reasons the experts direct moms away from the mall.

According to Presby, it's a matter of safety.

Ear piercings done at a mall also are typically done with a reusable piercing gun that cannot be sterilized in an autoclave because it is made of plastic. The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) does not support the use of piercing guns because the reusable versions can’t be sterilized and, without proper sterilization, the risk of spreading diseases such as hepatitis and staph infections increase.

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What's more, according to the APP, piercing guns occasionally cause serious issues when the intense pressure and speed of the gun’s spring-loaded mechanism is not sufficient to force the blunt jewelry through the flesh. In these cases, the earring stud may become lodged partway through the client’s ear. The gun operator, who may not be trained to deal with this possibility, has two options — to either remove the jewelry and re-pierce the ear, risking contamination of the gun and surrounding environment with blood flow from the original wound, or attempt to manually force the stud through the client’s flesh. It is unclear how often gun malfunctions occur but, according to APP, some gun operators report that it is frequent.

Another issue that should be on parents' radar? A medical office or licensed body art studio uses surgical steel products, which limits the risk of an allergic reaction, and the instrument used to pierce ears is one-time use and disposable, with surgical steel earrings pre-loaded into it. According to Presby, you don’t know what material the earrings are made from or whether they are sterile if you opt for the mall route.

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Regardless of where you go, parents should watch to ensure the person doing the piercing washes their hands, uses hand sanitizer or dons gloves before starting the process. They also should clean your child's ears with an antiseptic before doing the piercing.

If there is a problem or your child develops an infection afterward, you should call your pediatrician — an advantage to opting for a medical office piercing in the first place. As Presby says, there is continuity of care with a medical office piercing.

Not sure where to go? Call your pediatrician or local plastic surgeon. If they don't offer piercing, they can direct you to a safe place that does.

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