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Health & Safety

Is She Ready for Ear Piercing? How to Know

If you're thinking about ear piercing for your daughter, here's what to know before you decide

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Thinking about getting your daughter’s ears pierced? Here’s what to do to make the process easy, painless, and fun.

Decide when to pierce. Medically there’s no right or wrong answer, experts say. While some people might opt to wait until their daughter is old enough to choose to get her ears pierced and mature enough to care for the earrings herself, others want to do the piercing early, often for cultural reasons. Keep in mind that your child’s ears might be a little sore after the piercing, and she might need some time to get used to her new jewelry. “Parents should also consider the timing of ear piercings as it relates to sports that involve protective helmets or other gear that could compress or rub against the new piercings,” says Elizabeth Martin, M.D., president of Pure Dermatology & Aesthetics in Alabama. For example, your daughter should avoid swimming or any other activity where her head would be submerged underwater for the first week or two after the piercing.

Know what's involved. If you choose to get your daughter's ears pierced early, remember that taking care of them after the procedure will be up to you. Regardless of when you choose to pierce your daughter’s ears, plan to be involved in or at least supervise the care of the new piercings, says Dr. Martin.

Choose the right place. While piercing isn’t a major surgical procedure, it is one that punctures the skin and carries a small risk of infection and scarring, says A. Yasmine Kirkorian, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. “It’s important to select a location where the practitioner is experienced in piercing children's ears and where parents can be comfortable with the surgical technique, the cleanliness of the instruments and office, and the experience of the provider,” she adds.

While theoretically a good option, many dermatologists do not perform piercings on a regular basis. If that’s the case, choose a clean location that keeps all items involved with the piercing sterile or uses disposable kits. Whether you opt for a doctor, a mall chain, or a piercing studio, the practitioner should have performed at least a few hundred piercings; the more the better. Ask your dermatologist, friends, and relatives for suggestions.

Safety comes first. “Technicians should wash their hands prior to the procedure, wear gloves throughout the procedure, thoroughly clean the ear prior to piercing, and make sure all equipment and earrings are clean and sterile prior to the procedure,” says Dr. Martin. Ask your technician to avoid piercing the cartilage as doing so tends to cause slower healing and more infections and keloid (thick scar) formation.

Ease the pain. Ask your dermatologist about a prescription topical numbing cream with lidocaine that can numb the earlobes. Also, consider applying ice to the lobes for 15 to 30 minutes before the procedure. “Other soothing techniques include having the parent hold the child during the procedure, using distraction techniques such as music or movies, and using a medically-indicated sucrose solution recommended by your doctor for very young infants,” suggests Dr. Kirkorian.

Pick the right metal for earrings. Avoid nickel. “Nickel is the most common contact allergen in both children and adults, and rates are rising,” explains Dr. Kirkorian. The technician should pierce with a metal that doesn’t release nickel (surgical stainless steel is a better option) and you should select jewelry that does not contain nickel, such as surgical stainless steel, platinum, titanium, or 14kt gold. Avoid cobalt as well, as it’s another common allergen. Talk to your dermatologist about the best option for your child.

Know the signs of an infection or allergic reaction. Notify your doctor if you notice any signs of infection such as soreness, redness, puffiness, or pus oozing from the piercing, says Dr. Martin. Also, watch out for allergic reactions which often look like a dry, scaly rashes and are due to a particular component in the piercing, often nickel or cobalt. If you suspect either, take your child to a board-certified dermatologist who can determine the best course of action. For instance, if it’s an infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. If it’s an allergy, then you will have to try another metal, and your doctor may prescribe an ointment that contains cortisone.

Follow proper after-care. “It’s important to twist the earring a few times each day to keep the piercings open,” says Dr. Martin. “Also, remember that you should leave starter earrings in at all times (even at night) during the first six to eight weeks after the piercings. Removing the earrings too soon may cause the piercings to close.” Experts suggest gently washing the front and back of the earlobes with soap and water, using an alcohol swab or antibacterial cleanser with a cotton ball daily, and making sure you and/or your child wash your hands before touching her earlobes.