My daughter recently turned seven, the same age I was when I went through that first pain-is-beauty female rite of passage: ear-piercing. Sure enough, Helena has begun asking for earrings. At first we balked, saying she should wait until her thirteenth birthday and use the occasion of becoming a teenager to have the procedure done. However, I totally sympathized with her perplexity over not wanting to be the last of her friends to get earrings. So I did a little digging. The main concerns surrounding this procedure: the possibility of developing an allergy from the metals in the earring, (especially nickel), the safety of the procedure, and the location where it's done. Let me add one more: getting past parental anxiety, as researching the above had me questioning whether Helena should ever have her ears pierced at all.

Now, I understand that most parents are probably a bit nervous about the ear-piercing process. Pondering it takes me back to my own experience: while I fondly remember the little gold heart studs that inaugurated my earlobes into prepubescent prettiness, I have horrible memories of the process itself. I remember the piercing guns without too much reticence – I believe there were two technicians working on me and they both pulled the piercing guns' triggers at the same moment so I was stunned with pain for a mere second. The aftermath was the nightmarish part – my mother somehow misunderstood the aftercare directions and thought that in order to clean my newly-punctured lobes taking the earrings off was necessary. Much blood and tears flowed from her removal of the first earring from my tender earlobe and I will be forever grateful that my father intervened and convinced her not to remove the second one. Later we learned that you don't take the earrings out for at least six weeks after piercing.

So, determined to have Helena's ear-piercing be a more positive experience, here are the bits of knowledge I've gleaned recently (and I'll keep you posted about how her piercing goes):

Safety issues:

  1. Choice of material – The main concern: attempting to avoid your child developing a nickel allergy. While gold is a popular option, caution is advised – often earrings are gold-plated, so metals underneath may still cause a reaction. Look for gold that is 14K and nickel-free. Surgical steel is another common route for initial piercing – again, look for a grade that's biocompatible (see!/~/product/id=19172918) . Implant-certified titanium is considered safe, as is niobium. Biocompatible polymers (medical-grade plastics) are allergy-safe because they don't contain metal (see a sampling here: Other considerations: make sure the earring is smooth (without nicks, rough spots, etc.) – I read that even the little 14K stamp in an earring post can irritate the skin and damage the healing process. Another issue – make sure the earring is the right size for your child's ear and the back is on loosely, as wearing the earring too tightly can cause issues.

  1. Method – here one must decide between a piercing gun and a surgical needle. There are definitely a lot of opinions on the gun-needle debate, as a quick Web search shows. Aurora Healthcare advises again piercing guns, saying they can carry bodily fluids and cause unnecessary trauma to the ear (see There are three types of guns: a traditional model, a disposable cartridge kind, and a hand clasp model (see The cartridge guns eliminate having the gun operator touch the earrings, and the hand clasp model doesn't use a spring to force the stud through the lobe, so that cuts down on blunt force. The hand clasp gun is supposed to be quieter and leave less margin for error. While my theory is that gun-piercing is probably faster, both that and the needle option are going to be at least a little painful, albeit only for a few moments.

  2. Avoiding infections – no parent wants to see their child suffer. How to prevent piercing-site infections? This was perhaps the most confusing aspect of the process for me. First, before having the piercing done, make sure your child's tetanus shot is up-to-date. Watch to see that the person doing the piercing uses sterile earrings, procedures, and equipment (this is where the piercing gun cleanliness controversy comes in). The Association of Professional Piercers advises using saline solution to clean the piercing site. Most piercing parlor Websites also talked about avoiding alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, saying they were unnecessarily harsh. Some advised using antibacterial soap. All cleaners can be applied around the earring with a Q-tip. Some advised turning the earring every day; others said turning causes infection and that there is no way your opening is going to heal attached to the post. All sources agreed – Do not remove the earring for 6-8 weeks for a lobe piercing, and touching the earring area with dirty hands is a no-no. Once your child is ready to change earrings, clean the lobe and earrings with rubbing alcohol before insertion. If you do suspect your child's ears are infected, see the above Aurora website for a list of symptoms. Other prevention ideas – have your child be careful when brushing their hair so they don't accidentally rip the earring out with the brush. Choosing small earrings like studs can help prevent this problem.


On top of my own childhood trauma, the thought of a stranger punching permanent holes in my child's head is a bit unnerving. Ideally, the person doing the piercing should be experienced, concerned with sanitary practices, and good with kids. Where to go? Options include: a mall store or kiosk, such as Claire's, a salon, a pediatrician's office, or a piercing/tattoo parlor.

I'm pretty sure my mom took me to a salon, and my younger sister recalls getting her ears pierced at Claire's. However, I had some concerns about how experienced the young teens who tend to work at mall stores could really be, and I didn't want Helena to end up with her earrings' placement slightly off, giving her an unbalanced look. I was also worried about how sanitary (or not) the procedure would be. My daughter's pediatrician's office informed me that the pediatricians and jewelers they used to refer people to for ear piercing no longer perform it, and the nurse I spoke with said she'd taken her granddaughter to the Piercing Pagoda in the mall and she was fine.

I looked into the piercing parlor idea, visiting the Websites of parlors that assures will perform child piercing ( I read the Google reviews of each, too. Maybe they're ok in the end; personally, and no offense to those who love their tattoos and piercings, I wasn't sure that my seven-year-old's experience at a tattoo parlor wouldn't be as traumatic as the piercing itself just given the atmosphere, décor, clientele and even the appearance of the piercing artists (for a sample visit I liked the needle rather than gun option but thought if I could go to a metal-free earring option that would be great allergy-wise.

I felt comfortable with the idea of an experienced kiddie salon and considered A Hair Salon for Kids, but they don't offer plastic earrings. I also wasn't as confident about the sanitation of a salon's guns compared with a doctor's office.

I found a pediatrician's office in Waukesha ( that uses plastic earrings, and I thought that, if there's truth to the usual lack of sanitation of piercing guns, at least in a pediatrician's office they should have some record of the health of those pierced before you, so hopefully your child won't contract Hepatitis or HIV, whereas in the other places, it's more of a gamble. The doctor can also apply a numbing cream fifteen minutes before the piercing, to help with pain prevention (in my opinion, a good idea since I assume the doctor will be piercing one lobe at a time and I don't want my daughter to balk after the first hole-punch). Here's another place I found that promises to follow doctor's office standards and has some tips on piercing and after-care:

Whatever route you choose, discuss the procedure with your daughter ahead of time. YouTube has videos of ear-piercing – go for it if you think it would reassure your child to view one in advance. And realize that if your child is younger than, say, age 10, you'll probably be doing the work of caring for the piercing site. Some people pierce their baby's ears – personally, I avoided this route because I wanted my daughter to decide for herself if piercing was something she wanted, and I thought a baby wouldn't be able to avoid touching – or even tugging – on newly-pierced lobes and earrings (possibly leading to a tear or infection).

Stay tuned for more on Helena's ear-piercing adventure...

Wondering how other moms weigh in on this issue? Check out these posts: