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Punch vs. Poke: More parents turn to tattoo shops for safe ear piercing

HENDRICKS COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — A growing movement suggests tattoo shops may be the safest place to pierce your child’s ears. It comes down to who is doing the piercing and what materials they’re using.

Professional piercers in tattoo shops use different equipment than jewelry stores or kiosks and are held to higher health standards. So, many piercers are speaking out to educate the public and it seems parents are listening.

“I’m just going to use this q-tip to clean your ear, all right?” Chris Summers prepares the earlobes of a 10-year-old girl. “How are you feeling? Are you feeling ready?”

Summers is a professional piercer at Free Hand Body Art in Brownsburg. He’s pretty hardcore offering not only piercings, but implants and even scarification, but he’s known for his work with children.

“You wouldn’t think that these big guys, tattoos, hair, piercings would be so gentle and understanding with kids, but they absolutely are,” Caryol Watts, who brought her two daughters in for ear piercing, said.

Stacey Gann, another mother, said “He explained everything that he was doing to her. She was very comfortable. I could tell.”

Summers said he does take his time to talk each child through the process slowly. 10-year-old Cheyenne Cayze was a little nervous while lying on the table as he lifted the needle to her ear.

“Boom. it’s over,” Summers said.

“That was nothing,” Cayze shouted before letting out a laugh.

Cayze was Summer’s third set of child ears that day. You wouldn’t expect to see little girls flipping through the tattoo art at a shop, but Tera Theison, her mom, said bringing Cheyenne to this type of business was an easy choice.

“Better sterilization processes and more experience. I’ve worked in a Walmart and I’ve seen the kind of training that people go through and I just don’t trust it,” Theison said.

Our cameras weren’t allowed inside, but I called the Avon Walmart to find out how they train the staff who pierce ears at the store. While Summers has a room just for piercing that is sanitized after each client, Walmart pierces in the jewelry department. The Walmart staff member told 24-Hour News 8 another staff member shows them the process and then they must pierce two to three sets of ears on family or friends before piercing customers.

Claire’s is the most common place for ear piercing. The company’s web site says ear piercing specialists undergo intensive training. An associate at a Plainfield store told 24-Hour News 8 off-camera that includes reading materials, videos and practice until quote “the person is ready.”

Summers says body art training is much more extensive.

“It’s not just one day you pick up a needle and just start jamming holes in people,” Summers said. “A typical piercing apprenticeship is a year to two years. Then you have to go through a pretty lengthy process of learning things from an anatomical angle, medical angle.”

Aside from skill, Summers says piercing with medical grade equipment, compared to a gun is more sterile and increases the chance of a well-healed piercing.

“They use guns to do it. It’s a spring-loaded gun with a product called a studex, which is essentially just a pointed earring. And then it uses that spring force to puncture it into the ear, essentially kind of blowing apart the tissue. It doesn’t actually pierce or remove any tissue creating what’s called a piercing canal or channel for the jewelry to sit in and heal appropriately,” Summer said.

According to the Association of Professional Piercers, piercing with a needle is much safer than the guns used in many jewelry stores and mall kiosks.

“It is the position of the Association of Professional Piercers that only sterile disposable equipment is suitable for body piercing, and that only materials which are certified as safe for internal implant should be placed in inside a fresh or unhealed piercing,” the Association’s web site states. “We consider unsafe any procedure that places vulnerable tissue in contact with either non-sterile equipment or jewelry that is not considered medically safe for long-term internal wear. Such procedures place the health of recipients at an unacceptable risk. For this reason, APP members may not use reusable ear piercing guns for any type of piercing procedure.”

“I did a lot of research on that. It’s mainly the punch versus the poke. It made more sense to do that. These guys are skilled, trained, and they’ve pierced who knows how many ears, noses, anything else,” Watts said.

Still some are against children’s ear being pierced at all. That’s why some tattoo shops will turn children away, but Summers said he feels he has a moral obligation to do the opposite.

“If we refuse to do them, Walmart or Claire’s will do any kid’s ears for any reason and they use antiquated equipment to do it and it’s not a sterile environment,” Summer said.

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