When it comes to getting your kids ears pierced, a trip to the mall seems like the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient option - and for the most part it often is.
But fears of infection, as well as painful piercing experiences, now means many parents are making the trip to the local tattoo parlour for their kids' first ear piercings.
It’s a trend that’s on the rise in the US, and local body piercers here say they’re also seeing more parents who want their children pierced by professionals.
Jess Lowe is a body piercer at Karangahape Road’s The Tattooed Heart. She says over the nine years she's been working as a professional piercer more parents have been bringing their children to her to have their ears pierced.
Lowe says the main reason she's seeing more parents is increased concern over infection from piercing guns.
“Who hasn’t got a scary story about being pierced as a child," she says, "and having their ears get completely infected?"
The body piercing expert, who is well-versed in hygiene practices, likens all piercings to minor surgery, and states piercings should only be done under the most sterile conditions to avoid infection.
Lowe explains piercing studios go to great lengths to make sure their hygiene practices are of the highest standard.
"Any equipment we use has been through an autoclave (a machine that sterilizes at extremely high heat), all needles are disposable, and there are multiple glove changes throughout."
Aside from the fact that piercing professionals can guarantee a much more hygienic experience, Lowe says piercing with a needle actually minimises the pain.
“Piercing with a gun is often more painful because studs don’t pierce the ear, they tear through the lobe with the force of the gun.
“Needles are much quicker because they are specifically designed to slide through the skin. The procedure itself causes minimal discomfort, and has generally been described as feeling like a quick pinch.”
Swelling after piercings are normal but the ‘one-size fits all’ stud doesn’t allow for differences in how a piercee’s ear may react, she says.
Part of the piercing service at the Tattooed Heart is to make sure customers are looked after before, during and after they get pierced and follow-ups are free, and encouraged.
While a trip to chemist to get pierced by an assistant using a piercing gun is by far the cheaper choice, piercing safety is still a priority, according to Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand.
A spokesperson for the Guild said via email that hygiene standards are properly managed in pharmacies that offer ear piercing.
Aside from making sure that only staff that have been trained in ear piercing are piercing ears, the Guild states piercing ears with piercing guns is safe, with minimal risk of infection.
“Pharmacies use a piercing gun specifically designed for piercing ears. These guns require the use of a particular stud and clasp that come in a pre-loaded, single use, sterile cartridge.”
The cartridge is disposed of after the piercing, and while the gun itself can’t be sterilised in an autoclave because it’s plastic, it is cleaned using a 70 per cent alcohol solution.
Despite these methods of sterilisation, it's claimed piercing guns can still be a breeding ground for infection-causing bacteria.
The problem, Lowe says, is that piercing guns puncture the ear with force causing a ‘micro-spray’ of bodily fluids. These fluids can end up in the inner workings of the gun and unless the whole gun is soaked between 11 – 20 minutes in alcohol, between each piercing, there’s no way to ensure proper sterilisation.
The Association of Professional Piercers, an organisation that promotes industry-wide standards, also echoes Lowe’s concerns about hygiene standards.
“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 inside a fresh or unhealed piercing,” the Association’s website states.
While some might be put off by taking their children to be pierced at a tattoo parlour, Lowe says, don’t let “stigma” get in the way.
“Tattoo and piercing studios are generally adult areas and have a certain reputation!
“But our piercers and tattooists are generally doing the job because we are passionate about it.”
And the best part, piercers like Lowe always have a lolly stash on hand, "just in case anyone starts feeling a little squeamish."
Words: Emilia Mazza
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