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For teens, self-expression of piercings must start with research, sound decisions

August 11, 2018

Studs, rings, eyelets. They’re among the many options for body piercings, from ears to noses to navels and beyond.

Brad Francis, a 22-year-old from LaPorte, has 11 piercings, with one ear double-stretched for a 1-inch and quarter-inch eyelets — larger holes in the ear to accommodate eye-catching jewelry.

“It’s my job to create my own body image in the way that I see myself. Body modification has always been a big outlet in self-expression and in confidence,” Francis says.

He’s not alone. According to statista.com, 32 percent of respondents to a survey indicated they have one body piercing; 34 percent have two to three.

But special care is needed for kids younger than 18 considering such body art. Dr. Usama Moustafa, of LaPorte Physician Network Pediatric Care, says he has seen many young patients with problems caused by piercings. They are as young as 13, the minimum age covered by insurance for piercing businesses.

Moustafa estimates 1 in 3 patients in their teens has a medical problem with a body piercing. Sterile equipment used for the piercings is a must, he says, as is proper care for the piercing site afterward.

Moustafa says he sees the most complications with navel piercings, and he advises against genital piercings, which can cause injury or a condom to break, potentially exposing people to sexually transmitted diseases.

Besides infection, problems he’s treated in youth include:

Getting the jewel caught on something and torn out, requiring stitches. Mouth piercings chipping, breaking teeth and causing other problems. An allergic reaction to the metal in the jewelry, usually nickel.

Indiana Senate Bill 38 imposes criminal penalties for those who perform body piercing (other than an earlobe) for children younger than 18 without the presence and written consent of a parent or legal guardian. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also sets standards for safety at piercing businesses. Local ordinances may be stricter.

Becky Lawrence, a piercing practitioner at Bugaboo in Hammond, which also requires a photo ID, says education is key to preventing most problems.

“I always educate,” Lawrence says. “People are researching more beforehand, but there’s always education needed about care.”

Nose and ear piercings are the most popular among younger people, Lawrence says. “I also do tons of nipple piercings; celebrities spike the popularity of those.”

However, she will not perform some piercings, such as navel, on children younger than 15. “It takes a long time for navel piercings to heal. I will say no if I think a person is too young; it’s unlikely a 13-year-old will take care of it properly.”

And engagement piercings on fingers? “That is definitely one of the piercings I will talk you out of doing. It’s going to get infected, and the jewelry can get ripped out.”

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