Despite what parents may think, piercing is not just for criminals, juvenile delinquents and rebellious youth. (It just looks that way.) Seriously though, piercing has become much more mainstream and the stereotypes surrounding it are generally untrue. In a recent review of people with piercings, adolescents and teens were the minority. Approximately 80 per cent of piercees were over age 29 and only 50 per cent saw themselves as adventurous.
Not only is piercing becoming more common, but the areas pierced are also much more varied than the traditional ear piercing. For the faint of heart and stomach we’ll avoid the gory details.
In spite of piercing being more prevalent, it doesn’t prevent parents from swallowing their own tongues in shock at the sight of their teen showing up with a face that looks like a TV antenna. The first thought many parents have is ‘Why?’ followed closely by, ‘Where’s the number for that military school?’ However, like any other decision, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Understanding the current realities of piercing can help parents and teens make the right choices together. Sometimes it may help to discuss what is behind the desire to adjust one’s image with a piercing. Many issues may need to be addressed relating to a teen’s desire to change his or her appearance. Again, open discussion is essential.
Before even considering any piercing, it is important to understand the potential health risks. The first step involves going to a piercing parlour that is safe and has a good reputation.
The parlour should be unwilling to pierce anything other than ears on anyone younger than 16. Most require parental permission for anyone 16 to 18. The Government of Canada, through Health Canada, and most provinces have released guidelines regarding piercing safety and health impacts.
Recommendations include going to shops that have a clean zone for the actual piercing and a so-called ‘dirty’ zone for other shop business. All surfaces should be smooth and easily cleaned. Storage should be protected from dust. Instruments should be made of surgical steel that can withstand the heat of sterilization. The skin around the piercing site should be clean and stainless steel equipment should be used.
The person who does the actual piercing should wear disposable surgical gloves. (It also helps if his name isn’t ‘Mad Dog’ and he doesn’t look like he eats raw meat.) Although home ‘piercing parties’ may sound harmless, they are not a safe alternative.
Finally, choose the right jewelry. Jewelry absolutely must be new and never used by anyone else. It should also be the right size for the body part being pierced. If it is too big it could lead to large scars or tissue damage. If it’s too small it could cut the skin or break off. Jewelry should also be made from stainless steel, not nickel, to limit allergies. It is important to know that some gold jewelry contains nickel.
Assuming pleading, threats and prayers have failed to stop an adolescent from deciding to get a new piercing, together you’ve found a reputable shop and chosen the appropriate jewelry. Now what? Before proceeding, consider the health and social impacts of body piercing.
First, there is a potential for infection associated with piercing. This includes the risk from contaminated piercing equipment as well as the risk of infection at the piercing site when the body’s protective skin is broken. One of the most significant infections is HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Hepatitis B and C are also of serious concern. These can lead to liver failure, liver cancer or even death. Although relatively rare, none of these infections have a cure so prevention is the only treatment.
Local skin infections from staph or strep are also a risk whenever the skin’s protective barrier is broken. Fortunately, infections can often be treated with good skin hygiene and antibiotic medications. With this type of infection, jewelry generally does not have to be taken out. This helps prevent the hole from closing and promotes drainage of the infected area. Of all of the body sites commonly pierced, the navel seems most likely to become infected because of its shape. Extra caution should be taken with these piercings.
• Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching the pierced area or jewelry. This keeps bacteria from your hands away from the piercing site. Keeping the pierced area clean is the most important way to prevent infection.
Another significant piercing risk is that of allergic reactions. Nickel allergy is a very common and potentially serious risk of piercing. This allergy has become much more common as a result of the increase in piercings. It has risen from about 10 per cent in 1980 to about 40 per cent now. Again, jewelry containing nickel must be avoided. A reaction often requires the jewelry piece to be removed. Steroid creams can then be used to help stop the reaction.
Another health risk is the potential damage to teeth from the now very-popular tongue studs. The Canadian Dental Association now recommends avoiding tongue studs altogether. Certainly a teen’s desire to have a tongue stud may not be worth a potential hockey player smile. Another less common social impact is that some blood banks do not allow anyone with many piercings to donate blood. Numerous piercings can affect medical care in emergency situations by influencing X-ray quality and interfering with access to skin sites.
Finally, fair or not, people will also judge someone who has many piercings based on appearance. Maybe that is the teen’s intention from the start, but more than one job opportunity has been lost based on appearance. So when parents ask, ‘Why would my teen get a piercing knowing it drives me crazy?’ they may have answered their own question.
Still, remember we were all young once. When the issue of piercing comes up, the decision should be a joint one based on the best information available. Look on the bright side - if your teen does get a lot of piercings, they just may improve your TV reception!