Most of us assume that piercing our bodies is a safe beauty option. However, ear piercing has recently been studied to show that ear-piercing is linked to bacterial infection. I’m not talking about old-time high school piercing by your best friend with a sterilized needle and some thread, which is an obvious risk. I’m talking about piercing performed in malls using hand-powered piercing guns or in tattoo parlors using sterile needles and a forceps.
The study was carried out at the Department of Emergency Medicine at UCLA-Harbor and involved surveys of 14 businesses that pierce ears on a regular basis. Included in the study were the types of instrument and earrings used (ie, platinum, gold or silver posts), the amount of employee training, the location on the body of the piercings and the preparation and aftercare instructions. Both tattoo parlors and mall stores and kiosks were part of the 14 businesses studied.
The tattoo parlors generally used sterile needles and forceps to pierce ears, while the retail stores and kiosks used piercing guns. All of the 14 businesses offered earrings made of 14 or 24K gold, stainless steel or other metals, and none offered earrings made with nickel. Many people are allergic to nickel, leading to nasty infections just from the material.
The training at the stores and kiosks tended to involve videos and demos of piercing but the tattoo parlors generally had an apprentice program of varying lengths. Both the mall stores/kiosks and tattoo parlors performed lobe and cartilage piercings.
The big difference was in the preparation solution used when the piercings were done. All the cosmetic stores and kiosks used benzalkonium chloride or isopropyl alcohol to prep the area, while the tattoo parlors used iodine-based solutions. At each one of the businesses, aftercare instructions were given, which focused on maintaining piercing hole patency but did not discuss infections, ie, how to identify or avoid them.
The study also showed that the cosmetic shops and earring kiosks patients were more likely to have infections, especially in cartilage piercings. The takeaway is that the increased infections were due to poor training and the use of benzalkonium chloride as a preparation agent instead of iodine. Some of these infections studied were severe, even to the point of requiring surgery and IV antibiotics to treat a particularly nasty bacterium called Pseudomonas.
I know people love piercings. However, I urge you to think about taking a bit more precautions when piercing your body. Ask the store, kiosk or tattoo parlor what kind of preparation they plan use prior to piercing you, and ask about the training. There’s no harm in knowing what’s going to be used on you and the skill of the person doing it. You might avoid a bad infection later.
To your health and beauty,
Dr. Vip Dev