Should she get her ears pierced by an MD, or a 16-year-old minimum wage mall worker?
March 24, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

My 12-year-old wants to get her ears pierced, and I'm wondering about the pros and cons of having it done at a doctor's office versus at the mall. Any advice or experiences from the hive mind comparing these two options would be much appreciated.

Ideally I'd wait to ask the pediatrician, but she wants it done OMGYesterdayRightnowTomorrow, and our pediatrician isn't open over the weekend (doesn't seem like this warrants asking for a call-back). I'd frankly be more comfortable with having it done by a doctor, but my wife thinks that a place like Piercing Pagoda would be fine, and that I'm over-thinking this. My daughter would prefer a place that uses a gun (quicker and less painful, I guess?), which makes her hesitant about going to a MD who presumably would just use a needle.

So if you made the decision to have your own or your child's ears pierced by an MD, what contributed to that choice? And if you gave this issue some thought and decided to go with a regular old piercing place, what led you to that decision? I've agreed to ask this question here with the possibility that I might be convinced by the responses one way or the other, and I'll share the responses with my daughter. So if you'd like to frame your response as advice to her that'd work too. Thanks everyone!
posted by plantbot to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (66 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think as long as they're using new needles each time and giving out the antiseptic solution, it'll be fine. I got mine done at Claire's.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:09 PM on March 24, 2012

Are you sure your pediatrician does it? Most don't any longer. I have a friend who needed a closed hole re-pierced and she wanted her primary doctor do it and he was like um... we don't do that... go to piercing place.

Piercing place totally fine.
posted by Fairchild at 4:11 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The inbetween option is a tattoo/piercing parlor. A qualified piercer will make an earlobe piercing quick, painless, and even. Do a little Yelp research and make sure you get a good feeling from the person (ie, you do not want Bob's Inks-a-Lot), but a reputable studio would be perfect.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:12 PM on March 24, 2012 [26 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with a piercing gun for earlobes, other than that I've seen some atrocious sterilization errors at mall piercing places. Another option would be to go to a reputable piercing place (meaning a place that does body piercing, not a mall kiosk); anywhere good will have autoclaved needles, jewelry, etc, and compared to complicated and scary "below the neck" locations, ear lobes are cake, no pain, almost no effort.
posted by Forktine at 4:13 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know people who've had problems with bad placement with piercings at the doctors office. I wouldn't worry about the place in the mall, but I think that if you are really concerned about quality and experience, I'd go to a place that did body piercings generally, and had people who specialized in piercing.

(Not that I think you need to do that, but my guess is that it's the option that is reliably the highest quality.)
posted by mercredi at 4:13 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please do not pierce your child's ears with a gun. The piercing "guns" are unsanitary, as they are made of plastic and cannot be autoclaved like a needle. There is a huge difference between cheap jewelry from Claire's and surgical grade jewelry and while this may not be important after the piercings are healed one should use high quality jewelry while the peircings are healing. Since your daughter will presumably have these piercings for the rest of her life I strongly suggest that you have it done right, the first time, by a professional instead of by someone who has had (essentially) no training.
posted by sacrifix at 4:14 PM on March 24, 2012 [47 favorites]

I'd head to a piercing place instead of the mall. Mall piercers are quite young and not terribly experienced (or at least this was my mall piercing experience). Gun piercings also don't heal as nicely and tend to be "too tight" where as a needle piercing with a hoop doesn't have tension issues.

Two of my piercers at piercing places have been nurses (RNs) and it's AWESOME having a resource who is well educated about infections and wounds in the event there are issues. Piercing places are also going to be cleaner and cleaner = more sterile = less likely to introduce ick from the onset.

Needle piercings are also less painful, in my opinion, than the gun which stings for quite a long while after the piercing.
posted by countrymod at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Go to a professional piercing parlor (usually joint with a tattoo parlor) where they do all sorts of body piercings. Those are the experts with the best, most sterile equipment.

Also, what a fun, new experience for a 12 year old - to be at a badass tattoo/piercing parlor, instead of some mall kiosk!
posted by amaire at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [37 favorites]

On preview, everything sacrifix said.

Also added data points for you -- I have 5 ear piercings. Three done by gun (formerly 4) -- all infected, inflamed, problematic, unpleasant. Two piercings done by piercer and NO issues with those. Dreamy awesomeness as far as piercings go with proper care instructions and cleaning solution.

I'd also add that taking your daughter to a real piercing shop is also a good way to give her a lesson in the proper way to have body work done. While you may not want to think about this, given the prevalence of tattoos and piercings, it's somewhat likely this ear piercing will not be her last. Take her to the real deal and give her a lesson on how to choose a safe, sanitary, qualified shop to do any sort of piercing/tattooing.
posted by countrymod at 4:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had mine done a the mall as a tween, and so did my mom, as an adult. As I recall, there was some discussion of this at the time and I believe Dr's did it with actual needles, whereas the mall places used a gun which was quick and easy and had far less of a scary icky association than a needle. This was in the Dark Ages, however, so it may have changed.

On preview, tattoo/piercing parlors weren't as common back then, I don't think; that might be a good (and yes, much cooler!) option.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:19 PM on March 24, 2012

Anecdote: I had my ears pierced with a gun at the mall, and over twenty years later, they still have not healed properly. The holes are fairly ragged, easily irritated, and often fill up with pus-like cast-offs of oil, dead skin, and well, probably pus. It's gross and when it's bad they smell.

While I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who got their ears pierced with a gun and are totally fine with the results, I really, really wish that my mom had known enough at the time to have taken me to a place where my ears could have been done by a professional and with a needle.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:19 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had my ears pierced at the mall with a gun. The gun got STUCK and it took about 10 minutes to dislodge it from my ear. The piercing never healed properly and the holes are a bit misaligned. Go to a professional piercer. And tattoo parlors are great fun, honestly.
posted by fifilaru at 4:22 PM on March 24, 2012

Data point, twenty years ago my mom insisted that my pediatrician do it so it would be done "right" and he used a gun.

Get it done with a needle.
posted by telegraph at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2012

Also, I forgot to mention - don't assume that if the piercing gun messes up the piercing, you can just let it heal and do it again. Many people's holes will heal up, but not everyone's will, especially if it's not a clean piercing. I went years without wearing earrings, hoping that mine would heal and they never did.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Needle piercing really doesn't hurt any more than gun piercing if it's done right. Needles are intimidating, but someone who knows how to use one can make it feel like they've just prodded you with their fingernail and nothing worse.

Probably, though, your pediatrician doesn't fall into the category of "people who know how to do needle piercing right." Even if he does it, it's not what he's focused on, and he won't have much practice.

I agree with the other folks upthread that you might as well go to a proper piercing studio that has good reviews online. It may not make a huge difference for lobe piercings. It will make a huge difference if she ever decides to get her ear cartilage or nose or whatever pierced. So you should take the opportunity now to teach her that this stuff needs to be done by a real skilled professional. That way when she's eighteen and decides that she totally needs a tongue stud, she'll at least know where to go to get that done safely.

Also, a piercing studio will have a better selection of hypoallergenic jewelry. Getting pierced with some crappy cheap metal can be really unpleasant if your body decides it's gonna complain.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:26 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mine had it done at the mall and had the infection cleaned out at the derm's.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:30 PM on March 24, 2012

Please, please don't let anyone use a piercing gun on your child. The guns cannot be autoclaved (and the stores that use them don't even HAVE autoclaves), so while the piece of metal may be sterile, but implement is not. There is a lot of information out there about the dangers of piercing guns. So no no no Claires.

Call ahead to a piercing studio that has a good reputation. I used to work at one. They loved parents coming in with kids, and they were always gentle and kind to the kids and professional with the parents, because they are truly the best option for safe and competent piercing.
posted by robot-hugs at 4:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oooh ooh, I was totally your daughter! I think I was 11, but my mom insisted on taking me to a doctor (maybe a dermatologist or something?) Data point, my left lobe the placement was slightly off somehow and my left earlobe is perpetually a little bit swollen and more sensitive than the right one. (I don't know if this was the FAULT of the doctor per se, but I'm not super happy about it).

I've had several other piercings, all done at tattoo parlors which seem legit, and had no problems with the piercings. Take her to one of these!

The particular doctor I went to also gave me a spiel about how the only piercings they are willing to do are lobe piercings, and on girls. No cartilage and no boys. This creeped me out.
posted by mokudekiru at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2012

I have two sets of piercings done with mall guns, and one in my ear cartilage that was done with a proper piercing needle.

The thing about the piercing needle is that it's hollow, so it actually removes a bit of the ear leaving room for the jewelry. My experience with the cartilage piercing (15 years ago) was great.

It hadn't occurred to me that that was an option for basic ear piercing, but now that you mention it, I think going to a piercing place is a much better idea than going to Claire's or something. More expensive, too.
posted by leahwrenn at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2012

Don't go to the doctor (that's not what doctors are for, really), don't go to the mall, but do go to a body piercing shop (example) that knows its business and will help educate your daughter about keeping things clean and sterile, while having staff with the knowledge and skills to do the job properly (i.e., with a needle).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to add a data point, my daughter had her ears pierced at a Claire's when she was 7 and had no issues. We were very diligent with the antiseptic solution and rotating the posts.
posted by briank at 4:45 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also came to recommend a piercing/tattoo parlor.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:45 PM on March 24, 2012

Total agreement with the other posters here to find a good piercing place with trained, professional piercers. They will be faster, nicer, and more sterile than anyone in the mall. I got my first piercings done with a gun at a mall and they are noticeably uneven. All the rest of mine were done by professional piercers and they were all really fast and very helpful with the aftercare information, not to mention ordering jewelry and other assistance.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:46 PM on March 24, 2012

I had mine done improperly with a gun as a child, and had to get them redone later.

Get them done at a reputable piercing place with a trained piercer using a needle. It will hurt about the same amount as a gun, but it will heal faster. It has less risk of infection. It will be placed properly on the ear. It will cost a little bit more, but it's definitely worth it.

It might work out fine with the gun, but it's not worth the risk.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:49 PM on March 24, 2012

I wanted my ears pierced when I was a kid, and my parents made me wait until I was 13 (which, I suppose, is the age when you're "mature" enough to care for them and for nice jewelry). Anyway, my mom said no way on getting it done at the mall (at a Claire's or the like). The people working there are generally just kids themselves (or very young/inexperienced), and they do it right up in the window (and she didn't want people to hang around and watch in case something went wrong, or be there to distract the piercer), and she was concerned about cleanliness.

So instead, we went to a Merle Norman store to get them done. They still used a gun, but they used a disposable one (she pulled it out of a sealed clamshell container), and the woman piercing was in her 40s and had been working there (and piercing ears) for years. They had better quality piercing jewelry than what was available at the mall place. It went just fine, no infections, no real problems. They stung for a while, though, since the guns are pinchy.

When I was about 15, I stopped caring about earrings and stopped wearing them. One of the holes grew back in. The other one formed a scar tissue lump that occasionally had the stinky pus issues that Kutsuwamushi mentions above.

A year ago, I decided I wanted to start wearing earrings again, so I looked on Yelp to find a well-regarded piercing studio here in Chicago. I went, got the one that had mostly closed up stretched back to normal, and the one that had completely closed up pierced with a needle. The piercer mentioned that the gun piercer had done a remarkably good job putting my holes in straight when I was 13, and that he usually saw people with really wonkily gun-pierced ear holes. My new pierced ears healed beautifully and didn't hurt at all.

Long story short: I highly--HIGHLY--recommend going to a tattoo and piercing studio to get it done by someone who puts holes in people's bodies for a living. They're good at what they do. And I highly recommend NOT going to a mall place. (Also, it will be cooler for your daughter.)
posted by phunniemee at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was getting mine done, I asked around, and the consensus was very strong - go to the professionals (ie not the mall, not the doctor).

I was also advised against the gun, so went with a needle, though I was afraid it would hurt. I don't know if it just doesn't hurt or if the experts were just expert in how they did it, but after the worry, it turned out that pain and discomfort simply weren't an issue. If she wants a gun because she thinks there will be less discomfort that way, my anecdata suggests she need not worry. If she wants the mall because that's what her friends did, I think her friends would secretly be more impressed if she got hers done at a tattoo/piercing parlor.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2012

This is very informative. I have two piercings in each ear, done at the mall with a gun but years apart. The first two had no problems, the second two hurt on and off until I got some really good diamond earrings that I just leave in most of the time. After reading this thread if I ever got another piercing or was asked to recommend a place to have it done, I would also opt for the professional piercing/tattoo place. I learned something today, thanks!
posted by mermayd at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2012

Take her to a body piercing studio. Don't pick at random. Try to find someplace that does primarily piercing, not primarily tattoos (maybe not possible in your neck of the woods).

They'll hook you up.
posted by Netzapper at 4:56 PM on March 24, 2012

Another vote for a professional piercing studio. I had my first ones done at the mall with a disposable plastic gun. They're crooked, they hurt like crazy, and they used humungous earrings.

When I was 18 I went to Body Manipulations (are they even still around?) and it was night and day. Great after care instructions and the piercing itself didn't hurt any more than getting blood drawn, if that.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:59 PM on March 24, 2012

First set in my ears when I was 10. Got a second when I was 13. Got the third when I was 17. All three were at a Claire's. Third hole in one ear closed because it got infected. Remaining five holes are just fine 20ish years later.
posted by Heretical at 4:59 PM on March 24, 2012

Body M is absolutely still around! That's where I've gotten most of mine done and our neighbors took their kid there on my recommendation a little while ago and had a great experience.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:06 PM on March 24, 2012

I first got my ears pierced around 12-13 (13 I think) at a Claires, and while it was fine I agree that professional parlor is a better idea.
posted by kavasa at 5:08 PM on March 24, 2012

gingerbeer: Cool! It looks like I went there just after they opened, in 1990. I haven't seen them on Fillmore so I thought they'd gone away.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:09 PM on March 24, 2012

Ask yourself, what would be more painful and take longer to heal? An incision made with a scalpel, or with a blunt kitchen knife? I personally would never let anyone near me with a piercing gun again, though I didn't know better when I was 10.

What the guns do is blast a ragged hole through the lobe with the blunt post of an earring. The guns are not sanitary, are not very precise, cause unnecessary trauma to the tissue, and are usually being wielded by idiot retail clerks with poor training. The aftercare advice they give is usually bunk too.

A good piercer will use a very sharp, sterile needle and have the experience and eye to make sure the piercings are properly placed and symmetrical. Between a piercer and a doctor, I'd choose the piercer. Doctors don't necessarily know how to place piercings correctly, or what gauge needle to use for the purpose of earrings.

Bonus, the earlier your daughter learns about piercing safety, the better. I would be wary about letting her think mall piercers are okay, lest she one day wants to get cartilage piercings, a navel piercing, etc. I hope you will consider taking your daughter to a reputable piercing shop.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Last fall I wasn't feeling well. Not go-to-the-emergency unwell but certainly let's-not-wait-until-monday-when-the-GP's-clinic-reopens unwell.

Because it was cold and flu season both neighborhood walk in clinics were closed by 2:00pm; they'd filled their quota of clients with flu shots. It turns out my not feeling well was a developing dental abscess that did send me to emergency.

There are people who do this for a living, do it well and aren't likely to have the same opportunity costs associated with this elective cosmetic surgery. Perhaps this is my failing but I can not imagine a situation where this seems to be a difficult decision.

Go to the piercer's, get a verbal recommendation if that makes you feel better, keep it clean and follow the above advice regarding jewelry. Or, y'know, not. If the whole body modification thing worries you enough to seek medical advice perhaps it's just not the right thing right now.
posted by mce at 5:10 PM on March 24, 2012

To add to my above answer: if I am counting correctly, I have had six piercings in my ears (lobes and cartilage). Two with a gun, two DIY, and two at a modern, professional piercing place. Guess which two didn't hurt and healed correctly? The worst were the ones with a gun, the DIY ones are so-so but a bit wonky, and the pro ones are great.

Go to a place that does body piercings all day, belly buttons and nipples and noses and "down there" piercings. They have the best standards for both sterilization and jewelry, they will take the time to get the piercings centered and straight, and it will hurt less than a gun. And, as was mentioned above, if heaven forbid she ever decides to anger her parents and get her belly button or nose pierced, she will know where to go and how it should be done. It will cost a little more, but in the grand scheme of things it isn't a big deal.
posted by Forktine at 5:13 PM on March 24, 2012

Nthing going to a professional piercer. And since you seem to be the researching sort, I recommend looking at for lots of information - particularly about good aftercare
posted by kitkatcathy at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2012

This is an oldie but goodie that sums up exactly why you should have a professional piercer -- not a doctor or a 16-year-old in the mall -- pierce your daughter's ears.

why a needle piercing is superior to a gun piercing, by Lish Daelnar

Please, please don't have her ears done with a gun.
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:21 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have two daughters, both with pierced ears.

My wife took them to the mall for the various piercings. Various ages at 6, 7, 13, 14.

After the piercing, my wife focused them on the care/cleaning/twisting/whatever of having pierced ears. She checked on them regularly and everything was fine. They were carefully about checking for an allergic reaction and at one point switched to 24k gold on my youngest.

It sounds like others have had bad experiences with the mall, but we haven't.

I just asked my 16 year old and she said she wouldn't want the doctor because it "would not be as relaxed as the mall".

According to my wife, who I trust in such matters, "Don't overthink it. Just keep them clean."

YMMV. Good luck!
posted by Argyle at 5:22 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing, go to a proper piercing shop! Look for someone who's a member of the Association of Professional Piercers.
posted by mollymayhem at 5:39 PM on March 24, 2012

I had my ears pierced at a proper piercing place when I was 11 (after a lot of pushing from 13, the original age). It was a zillion step thing, starting with some weird bullet things for a month, then gold for two months, then finally anything I wanted. I have gone without earrings for ages, and they never closed up, there was never infection, they look good.

I had my ears pierced twice more, at the mall. Both closed up within a few weeks of not wearing earrings.

Go pro. It costs a bit more, but it's worth it.
posted by jeather at 5:39 PM on March 24, 2012

Chiming in with everyone else to say no to mall piercing and no to doctor. Go to a reputable professional piercing/tattoo parlor.
posted by HMSSM at 5:51 PM on March 24, 2012

To counter the gun/mall/Claires horror stories...

I had my first set done at Piercing Pagoda when I was 13. I had my second set of holes done at Claire's when I was 19. Twenty(cough) years later all four holes are fine. When I was 13, the only one of my friends who had an infection had her piercings done at the pediatrician.

Then again, there wasn't a piercing industry all those years ago like there is today. (According to the link above, the AAP wasn't created 'til 1994 and I bet there are a lot of great piercers near you who don't want to pay $150 to get on an association's official Google map.)

Advice: Infections are going to happen wherever you go if you don't follow the directions and keep your holes clean. Even if it hurts to twist them. Even if it hurts to apply the solution. If you take out the earrings early, your holes will most likely close. And even if you get them done at Claire's, wait at least 6 months before you wear a pair of junky Claire's costume jewelry earrings.
posted by ladygypsy at 6:08 PM on March 24, 2012

Nthing the piercing shop. I had mine done in college (both earlobes) with a needle, at the recommendation of girlfriend at the time. She had about 10 piercings in her ears, all had been done by the same chap on Venice Beach with a needle. Never had any problems.

Plus, your kid will have a cool story to tell at school about the piercing parlour:

Oh you went to Claire's? Plantbot took me to Daisy in this tattoo shop downtown. He used a needle. You really need to use a needle if you want it done right. The mall's for little girls…
posted by nickrussell at 6:10 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sisters and I had ours done at the mall without any problems, but it sounds like we were lucky! Might as well take the time to do it right and minimize the possibility of future problems. I definitely would have found going to a real piercing parlor much cooler - Claire's just happened to be the most convenient thing around.
posted by naoko at 6:26 PM on March 24, 2012

My mom took me to the mall piercers (Piercing Pagoda I think it was) when I was 7. We followed their aftercare instructions to the letter. My ears got so completely infected that after 3 weeks of agony I took them out and the holes promptly closed up. Went back at 13, again to the mall. Got their most "allergy sensitive" jewellery, religiously followed aftercare instructions. I toughed it out for 7 weeks this time. Eventually had to *rip* the earrings out of my ears because the skin had grown completely closed over the jewellery.

I figured I just had super sensitive ears or a really bad allergy and that I wasn't meant to wear earrings.

At 23, I finally decided to give it another go. This time I went to the best body piercing (and tattoo) parlour in my town. I told them my stories and the (very experienced) piercer told me that it is not at all uncommon for people to have horrible reactions to mall piercings for a number of different reasons: the guns create a jagged open wound, the guns are not sterile and can introduce bacteria, the jewellery they use is crap, their aftercare instructions are wrong.

Luckily for me, the first piercer had at least done it somewhat evenly. The guy was really surprised at this: he said most people coming in from butchered mall jobs usually have very uneven and lopsided holes.

He used sterile needles, everything in the studio was very clean, he was very professional, gentle and helpful and did not think it at all strange that someone would get such a normal piercing at a body art shop. In fact, he wished more people would come in and "get it done right the first time". It did not hurt very much at all. In fact, I would say it hurt far less than the gun (though with such an age difference, who knows). And there wasn't the loud clicking of the gun, which I think was the hardest part on me as a kid.

The piercing was about $40 and included the standard small stainless steel rings. He was really helpful about aftercare. The instructions he gave me were different to the mall instructions. The mall tells you to use this special product (that helpfully enough you can buy directly from them!) and rotate them twice a day. The professional piercer told me not to do this at all: I wasn't to touch them at all except once a day in the shower to run warm water over them and give them a light twist (but not all the way around - just to make sure there's a little movement).

I had absolutely no problems with infection, no soreness, no redness, no pus. It was such a completely different experience to my first two. I took the stainless steel out a couple of months later and, years on, I have still never had a single problem with them.

I would highly recommend taking your daughter to a reputable professional body art and piercing studio. It should not be much more expensive than the mall, if at all. the jewellery will be better quality, the sanitation will be much better, the piercer will have a lot more experience, the aftercare instructions will be better and your daughter won't run the very real chance of having lopsided and not level piercings that she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
posted by mosessis at 6:54 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Advice: Infections are going to happen wherever you go if you don't follow the directions and keep your holes clean. Even if it hurts to twist them. Even if it hurts to apply the solution. If you take out the earrings early, your holes will most likely close. And even if you get them done at Claire's, wait at least 6 months before you wear a pair of junky Claire's costume jewelry earrings.

I strongly disagree with this. This does not describe everyone's experience with piercing, but this does describe most people's experience with piercing guns.

Piercing guns are dangerous

Piercing gun versus the Needle
posted by mosessis at 7:00 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I got my first set done when I was 5, at a mall. The other ear piercing I got in my teens, at the mall (Claire's and Piercing Pagoda). I had no bad experiences with either of those. Since the people who work there do piercing regularly, they aren't inexperienced as someone mentioned before. The biggest thing is after-care -- antiseptic, cleaning, rotating, etc.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2012

I worked at various mall piercing places for a few years in my late teens. We had about 1 hour of training that involved piercing orange skins and foam ears - then had to do 3 practice runs on friends or family before they let us at the customers. I was a pro at it after a few years, but the first few months I really had no idea what I was doing. The turnover rate at the mall stores are so high, it is very likely you will encounter someone with little experience.

Gun piercings aren't very gentle and they are notorious for healing problems. The guns aren't sterilized, but this is supposed to be okay because the actual gun does not touch the ear. The only thing that is supposed to touch the ear is the earrings that were in a sealed sterile package. In practice, things sometimes jammed and we had to do some wiggling which resulted in all sorts of contact. The piercings that I had done with a gun (letting my teenage trainees give me second and third holes) all have problems. Two have keloids and the others never healed right so I let them close up.

This was a decade ago, so things might have changed, but I agree with those above who recommend an actual body piercing place.
posted by Lapin at 7:21 PM on March 24, 2012

Just as an FYI, a lot of professional piercers located through tattoo and piercing shops won't go near minors, even with parental consent. A lot of this has to do with local laws and individual state license requirements for piercers, but I know a fair number of shops that have signs indicating the shop will not allow minors even into the area where piercing or tattoos are done.
posted by zizzle at 7:32 PM on March 24, 2012

Add me to the list of people recommending a piercing studio. Had my daughter's done at a Claire's or something similar, with a gun, and they bled everywhere. We had to let them close up and have it redone.

One of mine closed up and I had it redone at the mall - they did it crooked, and I ended up letting it close up.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:42 PM on March 24, 2012

I worked at a jewelry store for about four years in a tourist town, I pierced a lot of ears with a gun, and I must say that I was good at it. But this was back in the early 90s, and there just weren't a lot of professional piercing places yet. As soon as I got familiar with body piercing, I was a convert to its superiority (and before I left my jewelry store job, started recommending that people seek out piercers.) A needle is infinitely more sterile, the holes heal better, and yeah, that piercing gun feels really loud and startling in your ear.

I can't even fathom having a pediatrician do it in this day and age, even though this was still commonplace when I was a child. Even if the doctor was willing, they'd hardly be experienced at it, and c'mon, this isn't pediatric health care. If you're going to have a doctor do it, go to a plastic surgeon.

I have ten holes in my ears total. I've not worn earrings in many, many years, but the piercings I had done with a gun in the 80s still occasionally flare up. The ones I did myself with a sewing needle sterilized with a lighter and rubbing alcohol, in my dorm room, undoubtedly tipsy -- yeah, those are fine. (Not that I recommend this method for your daughter's ears.)
posted by desuetude at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I strongly disagree with this. This does not describe everyone's experience with piercing, but this does describe most people's experience with piercing guns

All I'm saying is that you can go to the best body piercer ever, (or the mall, or have your friend pierce you with a flame-sterilized safety pin) but if you don't follow the after-care instructions, you can run into trouble. You can get surgery at the best hospital ever, but if you don't take care of your surgery site, it might get infected. That's not even my being a pro-mall person...that's just wound care.
posted by ladygypsy at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I swore up and down that when my daughter wanted her ears pierced we would forego the mall and head straight to a professional piercer. I've a bunch of non-ear piercings, spent the early 90s reading BME religiously, scoffed at parents who subjected their daughters to mall guns.

The thing is? The piercing place (where I'd had most of my piercings done) scared the shit out of her. Decidedly not child-friendly places, which would have been obvious to me if I'd given it half a thought--there were hardly toddlers hanging out when I was getting work done 20 years ago. We went in to make an appointment/ask questions and she balked. She reaaaaaaallly wanted them, but the whole vibe scared her.

About six months later, we were in Ardene (that's Canadian for Claire's) buying socks or whatever and she noticed someone getting their ears done, I asked if she wanted to, she said yes, and Bob's your uncle. We had some trouble healing the ear she sleeps on (the same happened to me with a daith I had done professionally 20 years ago) but otherwise it was fine.

All of the warnings above are absolutely true: the guns don't produce holes as exact or clean as needles, the jewellery isn't of the same quality, they don't autoclave their equipment. On the other hand, pretty much everyone I know my age (early 40s) got their ears done at the mall and we all lived to tell the tale. I had 8 holes put in that way over the years and the only one that ever gave me trouble was the 9th--because I got greedy and tried to do cartilage that way.

As for pain: I have a friend who had her daughter's ears done by a piercer and the first one hurt/scared her so much she couldn't do the second one. And I have a friend whose daughter had the exact same experience at the mall. The second ear is always the hardest!
posted by looli at 9:02 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to pierce people with a gun at a mall store. No training, no nothing. I just grabbed the gun and started piercing (after my customers signed the waiver, of course). I can't believe I was permitted by law to do such a thing.

Go to a real piercing studio that uses needles. Anyone who pierces dicks for a living isn't going to have much a problem with an earlobe.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm 29 years old and frankly I didn't even know that pediatricians ever did pierce ears.

That said, I'm with the others who are completely against getting ears pierced with the guns (my original lobe piercings were done with guns, but I was young and going to the piercing shop wasn't really a thing in my area at that age). The piercings that have lasted for the last 13 years done were done by a licensed professional at a piercing shop.

Some of these tattoo/piercing shops may seem a little intimidating or not child friendly. This is where your research and reliable recommendations come in to play.
posted by asciident at 9:15 PM on March 24, 2012

One more vote for the unbearable grotendousness of piercing guns, which should be fucking illegal. The sole piercing I ever had from a gun developed a huge, gaping abscess. Meanwhile, the 7 I did by myself with a fucking unsterilized sewing needle (ears) healed perfectly and have never been infected a single day in my life. (Obvsly I'm not advocating that you let your kid do it herself with a sewing needle. I'm just saying that it's hard to find something less filthy than a piercing gun, unless it's a piercing gun that's been sitting in a public squat toilet in the Beijing subway.)
posted by elizardbits at 9:28 PM on March 24, 2012

DO NOT GO TO CLAIRES. They did one of mine CROOKED (so the end isn't parallel to the beginning) and it's *ALWAYS* a little sore, and drives me insane. I've had my ears pierced since I was 7 and I am STILL mad about this.

I've gotten other ear piercings at Claire's, and each time something's gone wrong.
posted by spunweb at 11:02 PM on March 24, 2012


Definitely a tattoo / piercing shop.
Imagine the difference between some "Did I clean the gun? I dunno. I don't remember" bored-as-hell chick who leaves you sitting on the counter while she goes to sell jewelry to a bunch of customers (who did mine, which got infected horribly) and a professional.

Obviously, make sure the shop is good, since there are always variables. Maybe you know someone, or two or 12, who got a tattoo? You can ask them for their recommendation.

It's one I know had a good experience with getting pierced at the mall.
posted by DisreputableDog at 12:01 AM on March 25, 2012

This thread is fascinating to me, I never realized there was such controversy and strong opinions to be had over a simple ear-piercing!

That said, the consensus above in favor of the professional shop makes total sense. Anecdotally, I had mine done at the mall (not Claires, god forbid, but one of the slighty-higher-end jewelry stores with slightly more experienced salespeople) and while they never got infected or made my ears fall off, they ARE crooked. Most of my friends' were done at the mall. We're ok, but yeah, the piercing place is probably a lot better.

And then there's my little brother David's preferred method: stick a needle in a lighter flame, go up to your teenage brother, say "hey, can I pierce your ear? I'll do mine first" and proceed to do so. This is especially fun when your super-conservative mom wanders into the kitchen and catches them in the act, and you overhear the reaction from the living room...
posted by celtalitha at 1:03 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love this thread! I just want to add: the other reason I like the idea of visiting a piercing shop is that in my mind it shows her that you will support the things she wants to do in a safe manner, even if it takes you "edgy" places.

Maybe I'm just projecting, but I have always loved tattoos, and told my parents I wanted one. They were not thrilled, but calmly said "OK, when you turn 18" and then helped me research safety issues around tattooing, finding a good place, etc. Even while gently telling me the whole time "well, I wouldn't do it, but here's how you do it the right way".

I know your daughter is only twelve, but letting her know that you will take her to not-traditionally-kid-friendly places if it means Doing Something Right seems like a really neat thing to communicate. I'm sure I'm reading too much into this, but it reminded me of my folks' attitude to my first tattoo and, looking back, I really appreciate the level-headed way they went about it.
posted by lillygog at 8:15 AM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I hadn't even considered going to a "real" piercing place, but of course that makes the most sense. I'm actually way more comfortable at a reputable tattoo place than I am at the mall (my wife and I both have tattoos), so that option is really appealing.

Unfortunately it turns out that the reputable shops in my town don't do work on minors, even with parents present. So I decided to show my daughter the responses to this thread and let her make the decision on her own -- she's off to the mall with mom right now. I'm not thrilled, but what can you do. At least she's hopefully learned to take these decisions somewhat seriously.
posted by plantbot at 8:29 AM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, it's a bit late now, but if your kid decides she want additional piercings--cartilage or extra lobe piercings--make it mandatory that she does it with the needle and not the gun. There are all of the serious sterilization and professionalism issues that come with the gun. But another issue is that the gun simply damages the tissue too much for it to heal properly. You might think of your cartilage (especially the more solid cartilage of the upper part of your ear) like a slab of Jello. The difference between a needle and a gun is the difference between sliding a knife into Jello and punching it with your fist. It takes a long time for cartilage to heal because of the relatively lack of blood flow, so using a more stressful method of piercing can have a tremendous effect on the long term success of the piercing.

My lobe and cartilage piercings were done with a gun because I didn't know any better. My lobe piercings are OK now, the cartilage ones are long gone because of constant infections and I was worried about scar formation and ear collapse). Anyway maybe in the future you can find a further away parlor or something if she's got to have the additional piercings.

(Good Google keywords to scare her from further gun piercings: "Ear collapse", "keloid scarring", "piercing rejection")
posted by schroedinger at 9:07 AM on March 25, 2012

This is an oldie but goodie that sums up exactly why you should have a professional piercer -- not a doctor or a 16-year-old in the mall -- pierce your daughter's ears.

why a needle piercing is superior to a gun piercing, by Lish Daelnar

Please, please don't have her ears done with a gun.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:21 PM on March 24 [4 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

That was what I was coming to post, fiercecupcake, and I have posted it on MeFi before. RABbit?

Obviously, i back those who are saying to go to a professional piercer. A couple of points: a)Ask when their autoclave was last tested. It should be done often, if it hasn't been go elsewhere. b)Ask the pierced you know for recommendations, shops vary in how good they are. c)Don't follow the advice about aftercare you would get from Claire's.

The best aftercare is really LITHA (leave it the hell alone.) Let it heal on its own, no twisting, turning, pulling, aftercare solution, etc. If need be a little bit of salt water to soak only if it is tight or really itchy.

I have healed a lot of piercings with the above method and have had no issues. The piercings I healed with other methods have not healed as well.
posted by SuzySmith at 7:00 PM on March 25, 2012

Yes, seconding the LITHA method. The solution they sell you when you get your ears pierced with a gun is generally far too irritating to a healing wound. You don't need hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol -- a very gentle soap, if you simply must use a soap, like Satin or Provon, is fine, and sea salt soaks only as salty as your tears.

The "twisting" the jewelry thing is kind of an abomination -- if you have crusties from lymph on the jewelry and you're twisting them, you're dragging those sharp crusties through a healing fistula. Ouch. The less you disturb this process, the better. Soak those grody bits off in the shower or with a sea salt soak, and call it good.

SuzySmith, yes, RABbit, GUDU-er, and million-year-ago IAM member. Hi :D
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:41 AM on March 26, 2012

I remember I was told to use Dr. Bronner's, now that I think about it.

My ones from the mall tried to get infected but my mom, an RN, was very aggressive with the Betadine.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:06 AM on March 26, 2012

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