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Teens and body piercing: What all parents should know

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Piercing safety pointers

Teenagers express themselves in a variety of ways, and body piercing is one of the most popular. Girls aren't just piercing their earlobes anymore. Now girls and boys alike are piercing all parts of the ears, as well as lips, noses, eyebrows, tongues, cheeks, belly buttons and more! Find out what you need to know before your teen gets a body piercing.

Teen Girl with PiercingMost piercing places won't allow someone under the age of 18 to get a piercing without a parent's consent. Before you give your consent, do your homework to make sure your child stays safe.

Investigate the piercing shop

Body piercing is not regulated in all states, so the responsibility lies with you to make sure you locate a facility that provides a safe, sanitary environment. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable in the shop -- if it doesn't feel clean or you can't get answers to all your questions -- do not hesitate to look elsewhere for the piercing.

  • The shop should be clean.
  • The instruments being used should be sealed in packets. If the shop does not use disposable instruments, then it must have an autoclave to sterilize the instruments.
  • Make sure the person doing the piercing thoroughly washes her hands with germicidal soap before donning fresh, disposable gloves (like those seen in doctor's offices).
  • The needle used for the piercing must be new and unused. Some shops use piercing guns. A single-use gun uses sterile jewelry to make the hole; then the gun is discarded. Other piercing guns are not sterile and are not recommended.

Visit various piercing shops with this checklist and observe others getting piercings so you can determine whether or not it's the right facility for your child.

The piercing process

As the name indicates, a body piercing is a puncture to the skin made by a needle. A piece of jewelry, like an earring or bellybutton ring, is then inserted into the pierced area.

A reputable piercing facility will likely follow a routine such as this:

  • The body part to be pierced is cleaned with a germicidal soap to kill disease-causing bacteria.
  • The skin is punctured with a clean, very sharp needle.
  • A sterilized piece of jewelry is inserted into the pierced area.
  • The piercing needle -- and anything else with blood on it -- is disposed of in a sealed biohazard waste container.
  • The pierced area is cleaned with rubbing alcohol or antibacterial ointment.
  • The jewelry is adjusted for proper fit.

The piercing professional should provide instructions on how to keep the piercing clean and healthy, as well as how to identify and treat problems resulting from the piercing.

Health Risks

There are potential health problems that can result from piercings, including prolonged bleeding, scarring, hepatitis, abscesses or nerve damage.

Even with good care, it's fairly common for piercings to become infected. Some parts of the body -- especially the mouth and nose, where millions of bacteria live -- are more prone than others to these infections. If an infection is present, the pierced site may turn red, warm and painful and may ooze thick pus. Your child may become feverish.

The infection won't go away on its own and may even spread, so it's important to treat it. A doctor may recommend cleaning the piercing and putting antibacterial ointment on it. If the infection hasn't cleared up within a week or so, check in with the doctor again.

Piercings of the mouth -- tongue, cheeks, or lips -- can cause tooth damage and/or gum problems. With tongue piercings, increased saliva can be expected.

Individuals who are prone to keloids should avoid body piercings. Keloids are an overgrowth of scar tissue in wound areas.

People with certain types of heart disease, as well as those with allergies, skin disorders, immune system problems, or diabetes, should also proceed with caution. It is recommended that individuals with such conditions consult first with a medical professional. Anyone considering a body piercing should make sure their hepatitis and tetanus immunizations are up to date.

The jewelry

Some kids have allergic reactions to certain types of metal, and it's important to know this before getting a piercing.

Only nontoxic metals should be used for piercings. These include surgical steel, platinum, titanium, and solid 14-karat or 18-karat gold.

After the piercing has healed, the jewelry can be changed. All jewelry should be soaked in rubbing alcohol before it's inserted into the hole.

The healing process

Healing times range from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on the body part.

Good care is important:

  • Do not let your child pick or tug at the new piercing.
  • Do not allow anyone to touch the piercing without first washing their hands.
  • Do not use hydrogen peroxide on the piercing -- it can break down the tissue that's trying to form.
  • Tongue piercings should be cleaned with alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthwash, especially after eating.

If you suspect any problems with the piercing, seek medical attention. Taking proper care of the pierced body part is a lifelong commitment.

Some kids would rather forego the safe route and let a friend do the piercing than try to obtain a parent's consent. Talk with your son or daughter about the dangers of having a body part pierced by someone other than a professional. Together, you can find online pictures of some of the horrors that result from infected piercings and other piercings gone wrong. No teen wants to express herself with an infection.

Piercings only look cool if they're healthy!

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