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