Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Piercing and Teens

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Well parents, it is only a matter of time before you hear it - "Mom, Dad, can I get my [body part] pierced?"

Be prepared. The good news is that you can let a piercing grow together - a tattoo is forever. More good news - in California, people under 18 cannot get tattoos, even with parent permission. However, piercing is OK with parent permission, so when you hear the question, breathe, smile, and say, let me think about it.

Here is some of what you need to know.

How is it done?
A hollow needle is passed through the body part followed by the insertion of the body jewelry in the hole. A piercing gun should not be used because it crushes the tissues that are pierced and it cannot be properly sterilized.

How do the holes heal?
Skin heals after piercings by forming a layer of cells called epithelial cells along the inside of the piercing to protect the body from the foreign object. The epithelial cells form a tube-like layer of skin along the inside of the piercing. The process takes at least six to eight weeks, although most body piercings require at least six months to a year before the jewelry can be removed for any length of time without the risk of the hole closing.

After the epithelial layer has formed, the piercing may constrict around the jewelry. The epithelial layer can be easily torn or dislodged, so do not force the jewelry to rotate without first applying warm water. Once the epithelial cell layer forms, it must toughen and strengthen for up to a year before the piercing will become more flexible and relaxed around the jewelry.

Caring for the Piercing Site

First, make sure that your piercing is done with a sterile object (single use), and that jewelry inserted in the new piercing site is also sterile, to prevent bacteria and foreign objects from entering the body.

All new piercings produce a sticky white to off-white discharge that dries into a crusty formation around the openings of the piercings and on the jewelry). The area around the new piercing should be kept clean.

Do not touch the new piercing (unless cleaning it). Wash your hands with antibacterial soap before cleaning the piercing.
  • Sea salt-water soaks are good to loosen up crusty formations. You can make salt water by adding 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 12 ounces of clean water.
  • For piercings in your ear or around your face, avoid make-up and powders in that area during the healing process. Cover the pierced area with a tissue when applying hair spray.
  • For body piercings, do not wear tight clothes.
  • For navel piercing, do not wear large belts, stockings or body suits, and do not sleep on your stomach. Good air circulation is important for healing.
  • Be careful where you swim. Avoid public pools and hot tubs until the piercing has healed.
Signs of Infection
If you experience pain that does not go away within a day or two, increased pain, unusual pain or swelling in the piercing site, if the area feels hot to the touch, or you see red lines starting from piercing, or see oozing, bleeding, pus, see your health care provider. Do not remove your jewelry. If the jewelry is removed, the openings of the piercing may close and trap the infection, which can create an abscess (a pus-filled, painful area).

Oral Piercing and Dental Health
No matter where you put pierced jewelry, you could have an infection or sensitivity. Piercings in the mouth have some specific additional risks, according to the American Dental Association.

Metal jewelry in the mouth can cause irritation to the soft tissue in the mouth, and it can cause the gums to recede due to constant irritation. Constant contact of the jewelry against the teeth can cause chipping and cracking of the teeth, and jewelry that comes unfastened can be a choking hazard.

Picking a studio - where to get it done?
I know it will be tough, but wouldn't you rather be there, than not? If you say yes to the piercing, have your teen research local piercing studios and select one based on these criteria:
  • Is the shop clean, well-lighted, and licensed by the county?
  • Does the studio have an autoclave used to sterilize equipment?
  • Are needles used only once and thrown away?
  • Is there a consent form and photo ID required?
  • Does the piercer use gloves and wash his or her hands thoroughly between customers?
Then, make an appointment and go together. You will both need a photo ID and you can ask the piercer to go over the health issues before the piercing and the aftercare guidelines after the piercing.

I recently watched my eldest get her ears pierced at the Bulldog studio in San Jose, by a man named Jason who told us everything there was to know about protecting her health and had the patience of a saint. It was a family field trip that both my children will be talking about for a long time.

Resources:
We're Talking Teen Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Bulldog Lifestyles Body Art Studio in San Jose, CA

Photo Credit: fathero9

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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