I took my 8-year-old to the tattoo parlor and here’s how it went.

I took my 8-year-old to the tattoo parlor and here’s how it went.

Last January, my oldest daughter Sarah (then age 9) got her ears pierced as an early birthday present (of sorts). I found out a little too late that I wanted to take her to the tattoo parlor and not the mall: Sarah got her ears pierced at Claire’s.

I knew then that if and when the time came for my younger daughter to get her ears pierced, we’d go to the tattoo parlor.

(Sarah had a good experience at Claire’s. Her piercer was kind and professional, her hole placement is good, it didn’t hurt too much. Her ears did get a little bit infected during the healing process; six months later, they’re fine, thank goodness.)

Lucy just turned 8; she got her ears pierced for her birthday. (I was afraid that Sarah would think this patently unfair, but it was actually her idea: she didn’t want Lucy to endure the anticipatory fear and dread that she did.)

This time, we went to the tattoo parlor.

earrings

I did my research last time and knew the ropes, even though I’d never set foot in a tattoo parlor before. I had the signed and notarized form ready to go; we made an appointment well in advance.

When the day arrived, Lucy and I went to the tattoo parlor together. The lobby looked like you’d expect a tattoo parlor to look: diverse clientele, albums of tattoo designs as reading material, lots of photos of happy pierced and tattooed customers on the walls.

While we waited, two thirty-something women flipped through one of the albums, oohing and aahing over various botanical tattoos, and a twenty-something man pulled off his shirt to show his back to a tattoo artist, described in detail what he wanted to add to his tattoo, then made an appointment to come back for a four-hour session.

But when we got to the room it looked more like a doctor’s exam room (albeit one with a beautiful fireplace: this tattoo parlor is in a 100-year-old brick converted residence). Lucy sat on a table just like the one at our pediatrician’s office. The walls were covered with containers holding various sterilized implements: it looked like a nurse’s station.

The two piercers spent nearly an hour with us. First we talked, then they sterilized Lucy’s ears. After eyeballing the placement of the holes, they used fancy-looking calipers to verify the placement was correct.

When they were satisfied with the placement, they explained to Lucy exactly what would happen. (The method is entirely different from Claire’s and other places that use piercing guns: here they used a hypodermic needle to create a hole in her ear, then they inserted the earring.) They coached her on how to breathe, and did a practice run. (1 … 2 … 3 … go!) Then they did the piercing.

We were fortunate that this tattoo parlor has two trained piercers: one has been piercing for twenty years, and piercing kids for fifteen; the other has been apprenticing for a year, and piercing kids since January. For Lucy, this meant they could pierce both her ears at the same time. (Read: it only hurts once, although Lucy said it only hurt “a little.”)

8 Year Old Birthday

They gave Lucy strict but simple instructions for how to take care of her newly pierced ears: don’t touch them, and spray them with saline solution twice a day. (I was surprised that no twisting or turning was required, but they said that only interferes with the healing process.)

We were instructed to call if we had any questions at all, or we could send an email that would go straight to the experienced piercer’s cell phone, 24/7.

Lucy’s piercing cost $40 (instead of the typical $45; we saved $5 because we were referred by a friend). I tipped the piercers $5 each. (The receptionist told me 10% of the total cost was a good baseline.) This was a little less than we paid at Claire’s.

The piercers said they don’t advertise the service. Most parents don’t know that a tattoo parlor is even an option, and that it’s widely considered to be safer these days. Most of their kids’ business comes from referrals, and those are mostly from moms’ groups. Right now they pierce ears for about 4 kids every week.

Lucy was enthusiastic about the whole experience, although she’s definitely glad it’s behind her. For all you parents who think you may have a piercing in your future, I hope this is helpful as you decide what to do, and where to go.

A note to Louisville locals: we visited Twisted Images on Bardstown Road.

Here's what you need to know about getting your daughter's ears pierced. (Hint: It doesn't have to be scary!)

I’d love to hear about your experiences with kids and pierced ears in comments.

P.S. Pierced ears and parenting angst, and girl drama and the central struggle of parenthood.

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57 comments

    • Anne says:

      I know several established and busy places here in town don’t do kids because their insurance doesn’t allow it. I wonder if that’s why.

  1. Sarah says:

    Super glad I didn’t know anything negative about Claire’s before I took my daughter there five weeks ago to get her ears pierced. She’s doing great with them! I don’t plan on any additional piercings in the family, but it’s good to know there are options!

  2. Liesl says:

    I got my ears pierced at the pediatrician’s office, back in the day. They used a gun, but my mom was much more confident about it being sterile. One of my holes closed up about 10 years later, so I got that hole re-pierced at Claire’s – it was on a whim in New Orleans, so I guess I wasn’t thinking about the cleanliness of the gun! But I haven’t had any issues with the new piercing. I’ll have to remember the tattoo parlor though, just in case I decide to get another 🙂

  3. Shannon says:

    We did the same with our daughter. She has very sensitive skin and they use surgical grade platinum which limits irritation. I also appreciated the time they spent balancing where the holes would be. The woman doing the piercing talked about how they don’t just line them up based on the center of each earlobe but balanced them so that when she wears larger earrings one isn’t higher than the other. Having one crooked hole myself I was very pleased they checked for that. I’ve recommended it to all our friends and will do the same for our younger daughter too.

  4. Mary Lou says:

    Thank you so much for this info and for the comments! My daughter, who is now 14, has had her ears pierced twice, both times with disastrous results. The worse of the 2 experiences involved her earlobes swelling so quickly that they actually encased the earring backs on both ears. Yes, that’s right–she had both earring backs stuck inside her earlobes, and they had to be surgically removed. It was a quick outpatient procedure but plenty traumatic (for mom, too!) nonetheless. Both times we had to let the holes close up, but the brave (crazy?) child has been asking about getting them pierced one more time. Maybe we’ll give the tattoo parlor a try.

    • Lisa M. says:

      Mary Lou, your daughter might have a sensitivity to the metals used is earrings. My oldest had quite a few problems and she had to be very careful about wearing only surgical steel or 14K gold posts to get her ears to heal properly after piercing.

    • Kristen says:

      I suggest checking out metal allergies too! I myself can only wear titanium earrings due to a nickle allergy.

  5. Allison says:

    Hi Anne – That’s great that you and your daughter didn’t have any problems. Here’s my issue with getting my 13 yo twin girls’ ears’ pierced: I can’t stand the thought of purposely putting holes in my children. I’m not sure why I think this, I have pierced ears. Did this an issue for you? I know – I’m strange. Thankfully, they’ve stopped asking for them. But if the time comes and they do start to ask again – I’m glad to have your research. Thank you.

    • Anne says:

      I have pierced ears too and struggled with the same thoughts when my girls were younger. By the time she hit 8 or 9 and was begging to get her ears pierced it didn’t bother me much anymore. I’m not sure I have a good reason why except that I felt so much the same at that age, I could relate.

  6. This is really interesting. I got mine pierced by a place with a gun, and my mom surprised me with it so that I wouldn’t have time to be scared, which backfired a bit because last minute stuff freaks me out. It wasn’t Claire’s but I think a place very similar. But I’ve had trouble ever since. I can’t wear even solid gold earrings without my ears getting swollen and itchy after a few minutes and oozy after not much more time. I wonder if this could be related? I just don’t wear earrings anymore…there doesn’t seem to be any point, but it’s always made me kind of sad. I wonder if I’d do better at a place like this?

    • Anne says:

      I’ve read that the piercing gun process actually causes some metal allergies, but I’m not sure if that’s true science or unbridled enthusiasm for the alternative option.

      • I’ll have to do more research on that, but it would make sense, since I can have the same metals on my neck in necklaces and they don’t cause me problems. Thanks for this research! I had no idea!

    • liz n. says:

      I’d see a dermatologist first to rule out any allergies. Nickel allergies are very common, although even with a nickel allergy you should be able to wear at least 18k gold. Do you have the same problem when you wear sterling silver? I can only wear 18k-24k gold and sterling, and had my ears re-pierced at the tattoo parlor where my son works. No problems since.

      • I do have the same problem with sterling silver, though I’ve never seen a dermatologist about it. It’s one of those things I’ve just accepted as reality, maybe a mistake. Thanks for the ideas, i’ll check into that.

    • Emily says:

      I have the same problem when I wear earrings. I have found something that works well for me and now I can wear earrings again. Before inserting the earrings I dip the posts in Neosporin (though I use the generic version). I usually only wear earrings for 3-4 hours at a time and not every day, but no more itchy ears when I do!

  7. Danae says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s nice to know there are more surgical alternatives than the mall stores.

  8. Alyssa says:

    I would recommend checking out the tattoo parlor first. I was going to take my daughter to a popular one here, but my sister warned me that there were a lot of pictures and plastic models of “private area’ piercings in the lobby.

    Both my daughters had their ears done at Claire’s with no problems. They both have nose piercings now, one got hers done in Korea when she was 18. I took the 14 year old to a tattoo place in Hawaii while on vacation- they were great with the nose piercing, but I was surprised when they said I didn’t need to sign anything.

    • Anne says:

      Oh yes! Great point about checking out the tattoo parlor first. (In my state you need to pick up a form in person in advance, so it makes it easy to scope it out early.)

  9. Anita says:

    Did you need to bring your own earrings, or did they have them there to purchase?Another benefit of taking your daughter to the tattoo parlor to have it done is that you have just removed any mystique, or coolness (sorry) from it, so if she wants a tattoo when she gets older she’ll talk to you about it because she’ll know you aren’t afraid or judgmental. It won’t be a rebellious act because her Mom goes to tattoo parlors. Minimal shock value.

    • Anne says:

      They had them to purchase. I could have brought my own, but I had more confidence in the ones they chose: I knew they’d have a good track record with those as far as the metals not causing irritation, etc.

  10. I was fourteen when I got my ears pierced, at a jewelry store referred to my mom by a friend. The piercing itself was fine — no infections or anything — but afterwards, when the woman was explaining how to clean out my ears with alcohol, I started to feel woozy. Then the next thing I remember I was staring at the carpet an inch from my face and trying to get up and people were saying to me, “No, don’t stand up yet.”

    It was the first time I had ever fainted (not, alas, the last). It turns out I have low blood pressure and a very active imagination, so the mere thought of something metal now going through my ear was enough to make me keel over. It made a great story at school the next day. I recall the piercer being sort of worried,though — she seemed to think that maybe we would think it reflected badly on her and the store. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do — just my own quirkiness!

  11. Nuri says:

    This post is interesting to me as a person with tattoos because it show and interesting subtext, that being “look the tattoo place wasn’t so scary”.

    To me, the idea of taking anyone to get pieced in the mall is insane while I guess for most it is the standard. The woman piercing your ear is a shop clerk hired to stock shelves and ring up sales. She maybe practised a few times on a piece of foam before she uses an imposable to sterilize gun to ram a blunt earing through your child’s ear. Meanwhile, a piercer in a tattoo shop has to apprentice for years, learn human anatomy, knows how to use an autoclave, and gets licensed. Why wouldn’t you want to go to them? The subtext running through this and the first post about ear piercing is, that the expectation is a tattoo shop is frightening, seedy or inappropriate for kids. That the guy who pierces a septum can’t or won’t pierce an earlobe. There seems to be a surprise that the piercing room is sterile and that the staff was professional. As someone that has spent a lot of time in tattoo shops my thought was, “of course, what do you expect!” But on second thought I don’t think that is a fair assessment. I realize that to a lot of people the image they have of a tattoo shop is probably 50 years our of date. And as most tattooed people don’t talk about their tattooing experiences with non-tattooed folks (it’s not something I bring up in play group for sure) most people will have old seedy notions of a tattoo shop, while a mall is a place they know and are comfortable. So this article is really helpful in getting folks to overcome these notions and have any piercing they choose professionally done.

    If I can just say, please don’t piece anyone’s ear in a jewelry shop or with those guns. There is a reason they are banned all over Europe. A tattoo parlor may have some brightly colored people but those folks most likely have advanced art degrees and spent years apprenticing. A tattoo parlor is cleaner their your doctor’s office and is more regulated than your doctor’s office too. Beyond government rules there are business standards that are much higher. A shop that doesn’t follow them won’t be open long. Going to any reputable tattoo shop will be better for your kid then Chair’s. If a shop won’t pierce kids under 18 its because they don’t have insurance that includes children, because so few parents seek out their services to make it viable. If you look a bit you will find a respectable shop that does. It’s also a good opportunity for your kids to interact with folks you probably don’t socialize with and can be used as a learning opportunity for respecting people’s differences.

    • Krista says:

      The first time I got a tattoo I was sure I was going into some kind of sketchy place. But I was so surprised at how clean and well-maintained it was, not to mention the great care that my artist took in how he kept his hands and arms and workspace sterilized. He moved to a different shop when I was due for a touch up and opened his own show when I got a second tattoo. All three shops were just as clean and welcoming. It forever changed my view of tattoo parlors!

  12. Lee Bowers says:

    Anne, I did not know you live in the ville. I am from Louisville and have family still living there. Will be visiting there in August.
    I love reading and love your blog. When I am in Louvillle I always make a stop at Carmichaels and the used bookstore on Westport Lane.
    Have a great summer and keep cranking out a great blog! Blessings

    • Holly says:

      I was scrolling down to comment the same thing! I’ve been reading MMD for a while now and never knew you were here in Louisville! Thanks for all your great reading suggestions–they’ve led to a lot of my placing requests for books from the LFPL in Mid City Mall :).

  13. Emily says:

    Our pediatrician’s office offers ear piercing, so I will be taking my older daughter (age 8) there to get hers done at the end of the summer. But if the doctor’s office wasn’t a local option for us, I would definitely consider the tattoo parlor. I’m so glad you had a good experience there; the placement of your daughter’s holes looks perfect! Thanks for this article.

  14. Breanne says:

    I got my nose pierced at a tattoo parlour partly because it was the only local option and partly because I had good things about going there. I was very impressed with the time they took to talk to me, clean everything (twice!) and the after-care. They were clearly professionals and not bored high school students. My girls both had traumatic experiences at Claire’s partly because I was that mum then and they were only one and partly because the employee couldn’t have cared less about what they were doing.

  15. Esther says:

    Thank you! My husband’s family is from Louisville and my 8 year old wants her ears pierced. Now I have somewhere to go that’s reputable and know that a good experience was had. I suppose I no longer have an excuse to keep putting off her request! 😉

  16. I’ve heard this too! Our daughter isn’t interested yet (turning 6 this week) but I will definitely look into this option! (we used to live near bardstown road, good memories!)

  17. Angela says:

    My mom had my ears pierced in the hospital when I was 2 days old! It’s a Filipino cultural thing to get your baby girl’s ears pierced when she’s still a baby. Anyone else know of a cultural thing like this? The only downside my sisters and I have faced is that the holes on our ears are a little higher so a few earrings don’t sit well, but everything else is fine.

  18. Kirsten says:

    I took my newly-11-year-old to a piercer with a room in a local tattoo parlor in May to have her ears pierced. My own piercing experiences at the mall were rather traumatic, and I frequently had infections, though I never thought to wonder if that was related. When a different daughter starting talking about ear piercing, I started researching. My husband has tattoos, and he was definitely in favor of that over a teenager at the mall. The experience was fantastic, much like your daughter’s. There was only one piercer (and goodness, it cost quite a bit more than yours did–what a deal!), but my daughter said it barely hurt at all and was quite calm for the second ear. We received similar care advice–saline solution, don’t turn them at all, leave them in for 3 months minimum, as well as the encouragement to come back if we have any issues or want help with swapping them out for a new pair. Actually, the biggest issue was telling her to ignore the advice of her friends’ mothers who all wanted her to twist them, “at least once a week to keep the skin from growing over them.” Their horror stories actually confirmed our decision all the more! So now we are two months out, and I have been amazed at the healing. The very first night, she was able to sleep on her side without pain. Only a little swelling that first day and some pain on day two when her hair caught in one earrring as she got dressed, but otherwise, she has had no issues at all. FWIW, we are in MD, and I didn’t have to sign a consent, though I needed a copy of her birth certificate and my ID (they wanted a school ID for her as well, but there was no issue when I explained that we homeschool). I have two other daughters as well, and if they want their ear pierced, we will definitely go the professional piercer route without hesitation.

    • Nuri says:

      Ya, that twisting business is such a prevalent old wives tale, I not sure where it came from, but that is the bit of advice everyone says isn’t it. I’m a pediatrician and I see little girls with infected earlobes all the time because of this. In case those moms ask you about the twisting you can tell them; the tunnel of scar tissue that your body is trying to create for the piercing is called a fistula. It’s trying to do something your body is not meant to do- heal around a foreign object. Anytime you twist the earring you are bruising and tearing the tissue that is trying to heal, and you’re running a pretty high risk of introducing outside contaminants into the fistula which can cause infection. Most people that have complications from an infected earring have them because of twisting. It’s actually pretty hard for the body to completely grow around a foreign body and get it stuck. I compare it to having staple to close a wound. You don’t rack your nails down your staple to keep your body from absorbing the metal. You leave them alone until it heals and 9 time our of 10 they pop out on their own because the body rejects them. Same with an earring, provided it’s not massively infected and swelling up around the jewelry. Just use saline solution to keep the area clean and rinse off any lymphatic fluid that might build up and it will heal into a perfect ring canal without any fiddling.

    • Rachel says:

      Did your price include the cost of the earings? The tattoo parlor recommended to me charged $35 (Canadian), but the cost of earings brought the total up to $80 minimum. We couldn’t bring in our own earings and they only sold gold ones – great for avoiding infections, but not so good for the wallet. My sister was quoted half that price in her city,but I don’t know if earings were included.

  19. Krystal P says:

    Thank you for including the name of the place you went. We’re looking into this for our daughter and I was curious. It’s great to have a recommendation I can go with.

  20. Kirsten says:

    Rachel, our piercer charges $65 per lobe, which does include what she calls a “basic” earring. We opted for a prettier choice, which upped the cost, though not much. So very pricey compared with the mall, but worth it for the ease and lack of pain. We are in the DC metro area, though, which may be why it was so much more. I only called one other place, so I didn’t shop around a lot for price since I was looking for nearby and quality.

  21. My daughter got her ears pierced at the mall shop and they were so infected (despite all sorts of changes we made in her earrings – 14 K gold, sterling, etc.) she got strep in her ears and then mono. I don’t know if the mono was related but I have my suspicions . . . Now that her ears have healed up if I ever did it again, I would consult my acupuncturist for help and go to a tattoo parlor. Ears in acupuncture are really significant in the body’s mental and physical health.

  22. Laura says:

    I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was in high school, and I had it done by my friend’s dad at his jewelry store. I preferred because I think getting something like that done in the window at a mall would have made me really uncomfortable! Plus I am a baby about pain. 🙂

  23. Amanda says:

    Thanks for this info! I’m definitely leaning towards using a tattoo parlor for my daughters’ ears too when the time comes. Luckily we sort of have a family tattoo parlor in our hometown where my husband and I and all his family have had stuff done 🙂 I got my nose pierced there as did my SIL, my husband got his tattoo to commemorate graduation from seminary, and his parents got 30th anniversary tattoos there, haha! So maybe my 2 year old girl will be the next to get something done there in a few years 🙂

  24. Janice says:

    Wow. I didn’t know tatoo parlors did piercings for kids. That certainly sounds like an adventure besides going to the mall at Claire’s. At the very least, your kid won’t be like everyone else who had theirs done at the mall. Right? As for me, my girls aren’t pierced. Husband won’t allow it. But for myself, had them since I was a little girl. My mom did mine. All four holes. With a regular sewing needle!!! Yup. That was when I lived in the Philippines. I’m so glad they have better techniques here in America, you know, just in case I want another pair of piercings! Haha!

  25. Judy says:

    I am so old, I had my ears pierced by my aunt with a darning needle and an ice cube. My dad wasn’t crazy about me getting them pierced, I was 13. So my mom and my aunt arranged that while I was at her house for a visit, she would pierce them for me. After she did the first one, I wasn’t so sure I wanted the second one done. I like the idea of having them both done at once. My son said that is how they got innoculated in the Marines, 2 arms at the same time.

  26. Crystal Barrett says:

    I like this. My daughter will be 6 this month and she wants her ears pierced. I don’t think there is any place in Lexington that pierces children. I may have to make a trip to Louisville. Maybe I can use this as a referral! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience!

  27. Nikki says:

    Hi! I’m definitely not a mom, but I’m a 16 year old girl with some experience on piercing 🙂

    I had my earlobes first pierced when I was an infant, so I barely recall it, and of course, I don’t feel the pain now. I do know that I have sensitive skin, though, and that I’ve had something similar to the earring backing thing happen. I’m now going to say, DO NOT GET YOUR EARS PIERCED AT CLAIRE’S. I’m not saying this because of the cleanliness of the equipment, but the fact that they use a piercing gun. It’s a blunt object being forcefully shoved through your skin in one shot, which just creates a lot of scar tissue and unnecessary pain for you. I got mine done about 3 months ago (my doubles) and I ended up having my ear swell up so badly that THE ENTIRE HEAD OF THE EARRING (THE DIAMOND PART) WAS INSIDE MY EARLOBE. LIKE, ACTUALLY INSIDE IT. I had to have surgery done later by two different people to remove it, but it was a TERRIBLE experience. I’ve got these keloids (bumps in my ear, made up of scar tissue) in my ears now in that area on both sides, and they’re absolutely AWFUL. I don’t recommend ANYBODY using a piercing gun for anything. I recently got my cartilage pierced around a week ago by a friend (yes, irresponsible, I know. But she was very careful and sanitary and methodical) and even though I was given no anesthetic, she carefully inserted a NEEDLE inside of me. This is important, because she was able to create a safe guided path for the earring, and after a day or two of initial pain, I feel nothing now. It will probably heal by September, when school starts for me. I’m going to say it to you now, don’t go to ANY establishment with a piercing gun. It’s the easy way out, and literally anybody can you use, it’s too simple. And because of this, you get piercing accidents too. Just my opinion, but go to a parlor or somewhere with actual professionals.

  28. Eli says:

    Ann. Thank you for this. My wife and I recently decided to allow my 10yr old to get her ears pierced. But getting them pierced at a retail store by a clerk, in a non medical, non sterile environment, just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So I turned to the Internet, knowing that tattoo/piercing studios require certification, apprenticeship and medically compliant procedures. Your article was informative and helpful. AND THEN you live in Louisville! Which is where we live ! (Well, the Indiana side). So you gave us a place to start. Thank you so much.

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