Family Health

Tattoos and Piercings... Oh My!

New attitude

In the past, body modification was associated with adolescent high risk behaviors – but today, that’s just not the case. More and more teenagers and young adults are getting tattoos or piercings in places other than their ears as a form of art or self-expression. For many teens, it can demonstrate empowerment and autonomy.

In 2010, 38 percent of 18 to 29 year olds had at least one tattoo, and nearly a quarter of them had piercings in locations other than the earlobe. In 2016, 30 percent of adults in the U.S. had at least one tattoo – up from 20 percent just four years earlier.

Read this new report on adolescent tattooing and piercing from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Not new

Tattooing and piercing has been around for a long time. Archaeologists have found evidence of tattoos and piercings as early as 2000 B.C. Tattoos and piercings were largely used as a form of art or to identify group membership.

Your teenager wants a tattoo

What should you do if your teenager asks you for a tattoo?

Don’t just say no. Discuss with your teen what they are thinking about in terms of a tattoo or piercing.  No to a teenager may only mean, not until you are older.   The State of Nebraska requires that a person under the age of 18 has written parental consent before a person may get body art/tattoo.

Discuss the permanence of a tattoo. Discuss where the tattoo may be, it may need to be covered later in life for interviews or employment.

Discuss the area of the body the teen is considering tattooing. It may distort with weight gain or even pregnancy later in life.

Discuss risks of tattoos. Licensed and regulated parlors should use sterile equipment. Amateurs and non-regulated tattoo artists can run the risk of dirty needles which increases a teen’s risk of acquiring Hepatitis C or HIV.

Try it out. The teen may want to try a temporary tattoo to see what it is like to walk around with body art and how to cover it.

Discuss the cost of removal and permanence of the tattoo. If the teen does not like the tattoo or decides to have it removed, the average cost per laser removal treatment is $356.

Do your research. There are several things you should know about a tattoo salon:

  • Make sure the salon is sterile, clean and reputable. Infection control should be similar to a doctor’s office.
  • Make sure the provider is licensed and regulated by the state.
  • The tattoo artist or aesthetician should put on new sterile gloves, use new needles or piercing equipment removed from sterile container and fresh ink poured into a disposable container for each new customer.

Check your immunizations. Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date.

Taking care of a new tattoo

If your teen gets a new tattoo, your tattoo parlor should provide you with a list of do’s and don’ts regarding care of the healing tattoo, and what signs might indicate a problem. You should know things such as:

  • Tattoos generally take two weeks to heal.
  • Sun exposure should be avoided.
  • Avoid swimming, direct shower jets or soaking water.
  • Don’t wear clothing that may adhere to the tattoo site.
  • Know the signs of infection which would mean a trip to the pediatrician: Redness, swelling, evidence of pus or drainage, the start of new fever, red streaking lines on the skin


If your child pursues piercing:

  • Review the salon’s sanitary practices. Many piercing salons are not regulated.
  • If your teen gets an oral piercing of the lip or tongue, have the teen rinse with non-prescription oral cleansers such as Listerine to prevent infection.
  • Know that one of the most common complications of tongue piercings is tooth chipping.
  • If your teen participates in sports, they should know all jewelry and all piercings need to be removed prior to participation.
  • Teens should be counseled about the implications on job placement and maintenance if piercings are visible.
  • Complications can include infection as well as a reaction to the metal being used. Surgical stainless steel rarely causes allergic skin reactions, but some surgical steel can contain some nickel which many people can have a reaction.

If you and your teen have decided to pursue piercing or tattoo, don’t hesitate to ask questions of the artist or aesthetician. For any other questions, speak with your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider.

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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