On Putting Holes in Your Body

I’d so much rather my kids go crazy with piercings than with tattoos. You can totally take piercings out, regardless of scarring, but a tattoo is forever. (Not that I’m anti-tattoos – obviously, I couldn’t be, I have two – but I think that your taste in body art at sixteen is going to be much different than your taste at forty.)

I’m going to encourage my kids to get piercings when they’re determined to express themselves via the mutilation of their perfectly wonderful skin. I’ll protest, of course, and agonize a little over coffee with my girlfriends, but in the end, I’ll have to meet them halfway. And then I’ll go with them to make sure they don’t go to some sketchy piercing parlor, or worse, let their friends do it for them.

I remember the incident when I pierced my belly button with only a safety pin. If I was in an interview and they asked me what accomplishment I was  most proud of, I’d honestly have to bite my tongue before that one slipped out. I’m serious. I know it’s incredibly gross, immature, all of the bad things, but it literally took me hours to do it and I still look back and think, damn, that’s determination. Idiotic, absolutely, but it was a great show of perseverance. (This is also a prime example of the infections, etc. that they discuss in this article. Again, another reason why I’m going to go with my kids. I’ll take pictures, just to embarrass them. I’m learning from my own mistakes – or perhaps anticipating the moves of my as-yet-unborn-and-therefore-not-yet-rebelling children.)

But are kids really getting so many piercings these days? I would argue that the trend died out quite a while ago, just after the emo scene came crashing down. But maybe I’m just old. Or a square. Either or.

Ah, well…

From NPR

When Body Piercings Go Bad

by NANCY SHUTE

12:37 pm

February 21, 2012

Will it look as good with a scar?

EnlargeiStockphoto.comWill it look as good with a scar?

Thinking about getting a body piercing? Who hasn’t, right?

Well, one thing to consider is that about 20 percent of the time there are complications from the procedure, such as infection or scarring, a fresh review of the medical literature finds.

Piercings of the bellybutton and upper ear are especially prone to problems.

“I think piercing can be quite dangerous, actually,” says Anne Laumann, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was a co-author of the review. “I would not encourage it in a teenager.”

Indeed, a 20 percent complication rate with a medical procedure would make many patients think twice.

But given the popularity of piercing, that’s a message that might not keep a young person from putting metal to flesh. So Laumann hopes that people contemplating piercings will become educated enough on the health issues that they can avoid the most common problems.

Prevention is paramount. And enemy No. 1 is infection. “You’ve got an open wound,” Laumann told Shots. “You’ve got germs on your skin, like we all do. That’s where the problem comes.”

Most piercing-related infections are local and get better with time, the analysis found. Still, it’s important to make sure that the person doing the piercing uses sterile equipment and cleans the piercing site, Laumann says. Then it’s up to the piercee to keep the site clean.

Bellybutton piercings can take a year to heal, according to the analysis, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. Maybe that’s why bellybutton piercings are particularly prone to infection. “Is it terrible? It’s not terrible,” Laumann asks. “Is it comfortable? It’s not comfortable.”

The study recommends that during that healing period, owners of navel piercing refrain from sit-ups, and cover the area during exercise or intimate relations to reduce risk.

She’s also down on piercing the upper ear, because it’s easy for the cartilage there to get infected. That can lead to necrosis, or death, of the cartilage, and collapse of the upper ear. Piercing the earlobe doesn’t cause those problems, Laumann says, because there’s no cartilage involved.

OK, what else should you know about? Scarring, for one. Some people form large, disfiguring keloid scars after piercing. (The nasty lump on the earlobe in this slide showof problems is a piercing-caused keloid.) Permanent hole marks or bumps are more typical.

Then there’s the fact that piercing jewelry needs to be removed before medical procedures, playing contact sports, and other activities. Removing the jewelry frequently for those reasons, or to hide it from bosses or relatives, can slow healing and increase infection risk. When it comes to nipple piercings, the study reports dryly, “The recommendation is to remove jewelry before breastfeeding.”

Despite her warnings, Laumann is philosophical about the fact that the fad for piercing shows no sign of abating. And her paper suggests that body piercers take a careful history of their customers to identify factors, such as some allergies, that may predispose someone to have complications.

And she does see some positive applications. Right now she’s working on using tongue piercing jewelry to help quadriplegics drive wheelchairs and computer cursors.

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