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Infant ear piercing

Ear piercing is one of the oldest forms of body modification. It occurs when holes are created on the ear lobes or cartilage to allow the insertion of decorative ornaments, such as earrings. Ear piercing in children has been around for centuries as part of ritualistic and cultural traditions but has continued to become a worldwide mainstream fashion statement. It is widespread in Nigeria, India, Brazil, and Hispanic countries.

Due to the pain and health risks associated with baby ear piercing, critics characterize it as a form of child abuse and have called for bans on the procedure.


In the United States and the United Kingdom, whether parents and primary caregivers should consent to baby ear piercing is currently a hot debate. According to a petition-making website, 38 Degrees, Susan Ingram implores the U.K. Minister of State for Children and Families to set a minimum age requirement for ear piercing and make the practice illegal. She claims that pierced ears are equivalent to physical abuse and child cruelty for the fear and pain inflicted. To this day, to pierce or not to pierce a baby's ears, like many other aesthetic decisions, is still a parental prerogative.

Age Restrictions

Age restrictions, although not imposed, are not a result of medical evidence or physical complication but rather to protect babies from the potential risks of piercing their ears too early. Newborn infants have tiny earlobes, and there is a higher probability of misplaced piercings and infections. The immune system is also still developing; therefore, creating a wound can open up the opportunity for infections. Infants are unable to consent to the procedure. By piercing their ears, parents are taking away the child's opportunity to have such a choice. Additionally, pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) require parents to wait until their child is at least six months old to get their ears pierced. The older the child, the more likely they will take responsibility for keeping their ears clean of infection.


Medical ear piercing

Dermatologists or pediatricians offer medical ear piercing services at a fee-for-service charge. The professional ensures a truly sterile process for sanitation and follows basic safety protocols. Before piercing, the area to be punctured is thoroughly cleaned with an alcohol pad and pierced with a single-use sterile tool from its previously unopened packaging to prevent cross-contamination. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that there is little risk if the piercing is performed in a sterile environment and is cared for.

Health risks

Mental health

Piercings in children have been seen in religious and cultural ceremonies worldwide. A national study of students showed that those with a single ear piercing could symbolize a badge of identity or a sign of rebellion, leading to further body modification activities, such as more body piercings, tattoos, daring clothing, and extreme clothing hairstyles.

This causal relationship is complicated to prove, i.e., girls with piercings were two and a half times more likely than other girls to have used marijuana and smoked cigarettes in the past month. Some take this even further and state that ear piercing may lead to more body piercing, which is a marker for peer substance abuse, potential problem behavior associated with sexual intercourse, truancy, running away from home, and suicidal ideation.

Physical health


Redness, swelling, itching, pain, and/or tenderness are all signs of possible infection. The risk of an ear piercing becoming infected is the highest during warm weather and shortly after the piercing. Case studies show that typical ear piercing infections may develop into serious infections caused by Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus, reported at 10–30% rates. Although rare, there is also a theoretical risk of viral infection with hepatitis B, C, and HIV if contaminated tools pierce ears. Furthermore, infected deep soft tissue and abscesses at the site of infection have to be surgically drained, or it can lead to ear deformities.

Allergic reactions

At a recent seminar sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology, Alexander Fisher of New York University said that metal allergies are activated after trauma to the skin. Such allergies, with visible symptoms such as an itchy rash, weeping skin, pain, and in extreme cases, bleeding, and pus, are most often caused by exposure to nickel and cobalt. These are common allergens present in quality jewelry and cheap costume jewelry. A baby can quickly develop contact dermatitis from skin contact with the material they have become sensitized to. Fisher recommends that ears be pierced only with stainless steel or titanium needle to avoid metal allergies.


Keloids are raised, reddened, fibrous growths that usually occur after surgical procedures or trauma and can cause significant cosmetic deformity. The ear is one of the most common sites of keloid formation, traditionally associated with wearing earrings caused by ear piercing. The scars, which usually take the form of an inappropriately hard lump of tissue, are more significant than the initial wound. There is still no definite treatment protocol described for keloids due to an incomplete understanding of the pathogenesis of their formation. Even if it is surgically removed, the keloid recurrence rate ranges from 40–100% of the population.

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