Content originally published on Aug. 3, 2016 and last updated Nov. 28, 2023
While it’s very common for kids to get their ears pierced, it’s not always a simple process. It’s important to make sure the procedure is done safely, with sterile equipment, and that you know how to properly care for the new piercings at home. To avoid infections, follow these ear-piercing safety tips from Dr. Alyssa Swick, a pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health.
When to undergo ear piercing
While the family’s traditions and culture may influence the timing of piercing a child’s ears, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) typically recommends that parents wait until children are able to manage and help care for the piercing on their own. Infections from ear piercings can lead to hospitalization of newborns, so physicians often recommend waiting at least a couple months.
“We recognize that many families are going to pierce their child’s ears sooner for cultural reasons, so in these cases, it’s best wait until at least two months, once the babies have their first routine set of vaccinations, to reduce the risk of infection,” Dr. Swick said.
Make sure the piercer uses sterile procedures
Some pediatricians’ offices do piercings, in which case you should feel confident the environment is sterile and safe. Dr. Swick recommends the needle piercing technique over the use of gun piercing for children because it tends to reduce the risk of infection and scarring. Needle piercings are typically offered at tattoo shops. Be sure to select a reputable place with sterile practices. If you are unsure, ask about their sterilization procedures. While regulations and licensing standards vary depending on the state, the person performing the piercing should be well trained, wear a new pair of disposable gloves and use equipment that has been thoroughly sterilized.
Choose the right metals and closure
Choose earrings made of hypoallergenic materials, such as sterling silver and 14-, 18- or 24-karat gold. These types of metals are not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Note that nickel frequently causes allergic reactions, so steer clear of nickel during the piercing process (ask the piercer if you are unsure).
“For young children, you also may want to select an earring with a screw locking mechanism that reduces the risk of the earring back coming off and becoming a choking hazard,” Dr. Swick said.
Reduce risk of infection
Ask the piercer what to expect after the piercings and how to care for the area. The skin around the piercings might be swollen, sensitive or red immediately afterward. To encourage proper healing and avoid infection, follow these recommendations:
- Avoid touching the new piercings, except when cleaning them.
- Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching the ears or earrings.
- Clean the entire area surrounding the piercings (front and back) daily with a saline solution or gentle soap. During each of these cleanings, make sure the earring backing is secure. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or soaps with strong scents or antibacterial components, as these may damage the skin healing around the piercing.
- Your piercer may recommend rotating the earring daily. Follow the instructions based on the type of earring you are using.
- Be careful not to pull or push on the piercings when brushing hair, talking on the phone or wearing headphones. This will prevent a tear.
- Have your child avoid swimming in pools, hot tubs, lakes and oceans while the piercings are healing because this could increase the risk of infection.
Keep earrings in for four to six weeks
Do not remove or change the earrings for at least four to six weeks. Continue regular cleanings during this period to reduce the risk of infection.
“This is a great opportunity to teach older kids responsibility in caring for their piercings, but you’ll still want to check on their ears to make sure that it’s healing properly,” Dr. Swick said. “Don’t leave this responsibility entirely up to them.”
It can take several months for piercings to fully heal. Once you’re able to change the earrings, you’ll likely need to use only post earrings for six months after the piercing to prevent the holes from closing.
Monitor for piercing problems
One of the biggest issues with piercings in young children is that they can yank out the piercing and rip the earlobe, preventing it from healing. A doctor may administer topical or oral antibiotics to heal the tear.
“About 35% of ear piercings result in a complication of some kind, so it’s likely you’ll need some sort of medical intervention,” Dr. Swick said. “Sometimes the back of earring can get stuck or embedded in the skin of the ear, which could also become a problem.”
If you notice an embedded earring back, pain, redness, puss or swelling that lasts longer than 24 hours after the piercing, contact your physician for an exam and treatment.