Primal Teen: Tattoos and Body Piercing

Get the facts behind teens' fascination with tattoos and piercings.

In this article, you will find:

Piercing and tattooing safety

Primal Teen: Tattoos and Body Piercing

You may have taken your daughter to get her ears pierced when she was still in elementary school—so now you're shocked that she wants extra holes? Or that your son wants some, too? Go figure. (You ought to be smarter than that.)

Tattoos and body piercing (nose rings, nipple jewelry, and belly button rings) are some of the latest forms of self-expression among teens. Because they can be dangerous, you may want to get involved.

Like any other serious discussion you'd like to have with your teen, it's important to know all you can about the issue.

Body piercing, if done safely, is not harmful. Unfortunately, the profession is unregulated in most areas, and many consumers are getting pierced under unsafe conditions (at a sloppy tent at a music festival, or in some rickety tattoo shack on the outskirts of town).

People who get tattoos and body piercings run the same kind of health risks as anyone sharing needles. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never traced an AIDS case to a tattoo parlor, a very real danger is the risk of contracting hepatitis B or C. That's primarily because the HIV virus dies on a surface in 12 minutes, but the hepatitis virus can live for up to 10 days.

Currently, it's up to the consumer to select a piercer or tattoo artist who practices in a safe, hygienic manner.

Danger Zone

A few facts about tattooing and piercing:

  • Piercing guns are safe only on earlobes. They cannot be properly sterilized and when piercing other parts of the body there is a greater likelihood that the gun will become contaminated with blood.
  • Holes in noses and near the top ridge of the ears are vulnerable to problems if the cartilage is pierced instead of the soft tissues.
  • Body jewelry is a different size than ear jewelry, and smaller jewelry can become embedded in other areas of the body.
  • Remind your teen that tattoos are permanent and can only be removed with expensive (and not always successful) laser surgery.

The Association of Professional Piercers is clamoring for state regulations that would outline proper sterilization. In the meantime, the organization recommends the following guidelines

  • Get pierced or tattooed at a sanitary studio (rather than a booth at Lollapalooza).
  • Piercers should not accept clients who are not sober. Many kids get tattoos when they are drunk, and alcohol in the system can lead to heavy bleeding.
  • Piercers should use disposable or autoclaved instruments; sterile, disposable needles; and jewelry that has been disinfected and stored in sterile bags.
  • New and sterilized needles should be used for each tattoo or piercing.
  • Practitioners should wear clean latex gloves, dispose of the needles in puncture-proof containers after each use, and throw away tissues in plastic-lined containers.
  • Tattoo artists should not dip into contaminated bottles of ink; they should use small, disposable containers of ink, and any ointments should be removed from containers with sterile spreaders.
  • Belly-button piercing takes up to a year to heal and should be done only after great consideration. Teenage girls should be especially careful because the belly button is just a few inches from the fallopian tubes—it isn't a good place for infections.
  • After-care is extremely important in any type of tattooing or piercing, so a true professional will offer very specific instructions. (Tattoos should be treated with an antibacterial cream and kept out of water and sunlight. Pierced areas should be washed at least twice a day with a surgical scrub/water solution.)
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