A tattoo shop may be the safest place to pierce your kids’ ears, even if the mall seems more family-friendly
I got my ears pierced a lot later than some kids. I desperately wanted them done, but my mom said no — she hadn’t been allowed until she was 17. Then, when I was 11, I opened my Christmas stocking to see the most exciting gift I had received in my young life: a set of colorful earrings. I remember asking my mom, almost in tears, if it was OK for me to pierce my ears. “If Santa says it’s OK, I guess it’s fine,” she answered. A few days later, we went to the mall to get it done.
I loved my newly pierced ears, but they hurt. I put up with it for a few days before asking my mom if it was normal for them to be so sore. She took a look, and my lobes were angry red and oozing. My brand new earrings had to be taken out so the infection could heal. After a few months (and a lot of begging), we went back to the same store to have them pierced again. Again, they became infected, only this time, so badly I had to go to the doctor for antibiotics. I gave up on having pierced ears.
Fast forward to college, where I was friends with a tattoo artist, who talked me into coming into the shop where he worked and having my ears pierced by a professional with a needle. I was wary, but I gave it a shot. Now, I have 13 different piercings in my ears. All of them were done in tattoo shops. None of them got infected. When I was a kid getting my first piercings, my mom wouldn’t have let me set foot in a tattoo shop. I wish she had.
Brian Keith Thompson, owner and chief piercing officer at West Hollywood’s Body Electric Tattoo, is part of a growing movement of piercers advocating for parents to take their kids to tattoo shops instead of the mall for piercings.
“I don’t prefer (the mall) because I had it done with my first piercing, and it didn’t go well for me,” he told Pop Sugar. “They got infected because I have sensitive skin.”
Thompson, whose Instagram is filled with adorable photos of the piercings he does for kids, also explained that piercing guns make for a more painful piercing, since they don’t use needles, and are dangerous because they can’t be properly sterilized.
“The stud gets placed into the gun and the gun uses blunt force to get it through the ear. It punctures it, not pierces it,” he said. “The needle is made to pierce the skin. It heals faster. You can sterilize it.” Piercing guns, on the other hand, can’t be sterilized because the plastic would melt under the heat required to properly sterilize a tool. “You can sanitize it, wipe it down with MadaCide, but you can’t sterilize it. It’s made out of plastic. To properly sanitize something, you need heat and steam.”
According to the Association of Professional Piercers, piercing with a needle is much safer than the guns used in many jewelry stores and mall kiosks. It echoes the sterilization concerns that Thompson shared.
“It is the position of the Association of Professional Piercers that only sterile disposable equipment is suitable for body piercing, and that only materials which are certified as safe for internal implant should be placed in inside a fresh or unhealed piercing,” the Association’s website states. “We consider unsafe any procedure that places vulnerable tissue in contact with either non-sterile equipment or jewelry that is not considered medically safe for long-term internal wear. Such procedures place the health of recipients at an unacceptable risk. For this reason, APP members may not use reusable ear piercing guns for any type of piercing procedure.”
Thompson isn’t the only piercer who takes that standard seriously. Sarah LaRoe, a mom and professional piercer with several facial piercings of her own, told Time magazine that she supports petitions to ban piercing guns altogether.
“There is a stigma attached to tattoo parlors that they’re dirty and will be bombarded by foul-mouthed people,” LaRoe added. In reality, though, tattoo parlors in many states face far stricter regulations for cleanliness than any store at the mall.
Thompson, who has pierced ears for clients as young as three weeks, did empathize that not every piercer wants to work with kids, so doing some research and calling ahead is important.
“Go to Yelp, read reviews, and check websites out. If they have positive reviews, then call,” he said. “Not all places will do it. Some states have different regulations. It’s not bad that they don’t want to do it, but some people don’t want to work with kids. So call and ask.”