Kids

Ear piercing: What you need to know

From methods of piercing to healing and care, here's what you need to know before letting your kid pierce her lobes.

“Can I get my ears pierced? Please? Can I, can I, can I?” If you’ve got a daughter, chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of this plea.

Two years ago, Ami Broom’s then five-year-old, Gracie, wanted to get her ears pierced—until she found out it would hurt. But by the time Gracie was almost seven, she was willing to go through a little pain. Still, Broom had some reservations. “I wanted to know she could take care of them herself,” she says.

Getting pierced ears is an exciting event for kids, but there’s plenty for parents to consider before giving the go-ahead.

Is she ready?
To see if Gracie was prepared for the responsibility of caring for pierced ears, Broom put her to the test. “Once you show me you’re brushing your hair and your teeth really well, and you’re washing your hair really well, I’ll know you know how to take care of them,” Broom recalls telling her daughter.

It was an open-ended challenge. Broom wanted to ensure the habits became routine, not just something Gracie did for a few days to get what she wanted. After a couple of months of consistent results, Broom was confident Gracie was ready.

Choosing a piercing method
The first big decisions are where and how you’ll get the piercings done. Mall boutiques and salons use a piercing gun with individually packaged pre-sterilized studs, and the piercing is often free with the purchase of earrings. Some will pierce both ears at once to guarantee kids don’t go home with only one lobe pierced after experiencing the pain. Ear piercing at a studio or tattoo parlour is generally more expensive because there’s a piercing fee on top of the cost of the jewellery.

Piercing professionals argue that a studio or tattoo parlour is safer because sterile surgical needles are used instead of a piercing gun that’s just cleaned with hydrogen peroxide. “All our stuff is individually sterilized for each client,” says Deanna Mae, who handles the kids’ piercings at Tribal Expression in Calgary. “They can’t autoclave [sterilize with high-pressure steam] the gun because it’s made of plastic. The autoclave would melt it.”

Mae adds that jewellery used with needle piercings is safer because it has a flat back, rather than a sharp post that can poke a child’s neck. The earrings are also typically made with high-quality materials, like 18-karat gold, platinum, stainless steel and titanium, so the risk of an allergic reaction is lower.

Wherever you go, make sure the piercer is experienced and wears gloves. To help reduce the pain, a topical anesthetic can be applied to the earlobes beforehand.

Healing and care
Ear piercings heal in about six weeks, and it’s important to keep them clean—but skip the rubbing alcohol, says Janice Heard, a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s public education advisory committee and a paediatrician in Calgary. “Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide actually slow healing down. The best thing is cleaning twice daily with soap and water, and clean hands.” Turn posts three full rotations when cleaning.

Infection or allergy?
An infected ear piercing will be sore, red and swollen, with a pus discharge around it, while an allergic reaction to the metal earring will cause dry, cracked, peeling, itchy, red skin. Playing with new piercings can increase the risk of infection. “Rule number one is keep your hands off,” says Mae.

Infected piercings should be cleaned with soap and water; if there’s no improvement after two days, see a doctor, says Heard. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic cream or ointment, or an oral antibiotic if the infection has spread or if your kid has a fever. “Infections clear within four or five days with antibiotics, or seven to 10 days with washing twice daily,” she explains.

When it comes to a metal allergy, the only fix is to take the earrings out, says Heard, who adds that you’ll have to let unhealed piercings heal over and then wait six months before re-piercing with stainless steel.

Read more:
Why I don’t want my daughter to get her ears pierced>
The debate: Would you pierce your baby’s ears?>
Strong is the New Pretty: Small step in the right direction>