29 April 2011

Piercing - in fashion or infection?

Would you let someone pierce your tongue? Or your eyebrows or nipples? Many people are doing just that. But they could be taking a chance.


Body piercing and tattoos have become increasingly popular. Why do people choose to have this done? And is it dangerous in any way?

Body piercing has been practised in many cultures for many centuries. It was often associated with royalty and was intended to portray courage.

Egyptian Pharaohs pierced their navels as a rite of passage. Roman soldiers pierced their nipples to show their manhood. Mayas pierced their tongues as a spiritual ritual and Victorian royals chose nipple and/or genital piercing.

"There are different reasons why people have body piercings or tattoos," says Llieze Ellick, a trained piercer from Wild Fire Body Piercing Clinic.

"For me, piercing is part of who I am, my subculture, a fashion statement and it also enhances my sexuality. I think it's sexy and beautiful. It's like an addiction: once you start with one, you cannot stop. I had my eyebrows, nose bridge, ears, tongue and chest pierced. "The pain only takes one second and it's similar to the thrills of bungee jumping and drag racing," according to Ellick.

"My tattoos are part of my soul," she says. "Tattoos are very personal. Mostly they are influenced by one's experiences of life. They have a lot to do with commitment and self-expression."

Teens and self-piercing
Self-piercing has become more prevalent in teenagers and young adults. Although there are risks associated with this, many teens think they are invulnerable and that nothing bad can happen to them.

The thrill of risk-taking can make self-piercing seem like an acceptable adventure. It may also seem like the only alternative to teens whose parents won't give permission for a piercing.

"But only trained people should do body piercing and tattoos," says Cape Town dermatologist, Dr Ian Webster.

Dangers very real
The skin could be damaged, scarred or the wounds can become infected if someone who is not trained in that field, does the tattoo or piercing.

Severe complications can arise if the instruments that are used are not disposable or are poorly sterilised, or the venue is unhygienic.

"Transmission of serious infections like HIV and hepatitis, as well as allergic reactions to jewellery metals may occur, and many people don’t consider these dangers beforehand," said Webster.

Webster said the best way to remove a tattoo is by means of a laser treatment, which takes about eight to 10 sessions. He said some of the obvious reasons for removal might be because of religious reasons, because of new love interests, and because fashions come and go.

Piercing/tattoos not a decision to be taken lightly
If you have decided to go ahead with your body piercing or tattoo, and you are prepared to take the risks, take your time and remember there are no hard-and-fast guarantees of safety. You also need to ensure that you have good after-care with your tattoo artist or piercer after the procedure.

It might also be an idea to talk to a few people that have already had the type of piercing or tattoo you are considering. Ask them about their experiences, the costs, the pain, the healing time and anything else about which you might have questions.

One important thing you might want to know is if they had the chance to do it over again, they would?

Generally if your tattoo or piercing becomes red, hot and painful and or produces a creamy yellow or greenish discharge, chances are it is infected, go and see the doctor.

(Charmaine Quma, Health24)

Read more:
Visit Health24’s Pain Centre
Consult our Anti-ageing Expert before removing that tattoo


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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