News flesh: piercing age may drop

By Martin Johnston

The popularity of piercing has forced Auckland City leaders to rethink restrictions on the age at which teens can get their first studs and sleepers.

Under the city council's current bylaw, youngsters need a parent's consent for body piercing and tattooing until they turn 18 - with the exception that those aged 16 and 17 can have ears pierced without parental approval.

The proposed replacement bylaw puts piercing of the belly button and nose in the same age category as ear piercing.

"Basically the reason for the relaxation is a recognition of the need for a more realistic approach to the subject, since nose and navel piercing are now so common," council spokesman John Evans said yesterday.

The practice of piercing has spread all over the human body, with studs and rings found in places as diverse as the lips, tongue and genitals.

Ear-lobe "stretching" has also gained some popularity, with people wearing metal "flesh tunnels" in holes up to 30mm wide.

A council commentary on the proposed bylaw says the age-of-consent change for navel and nose piercing is "consistent with the current school-leaving age of 16. Many schools will not allow pupils to have piercings other than pierced ears while they are at school".

Paul Peachey, owner of ArtRageous Tattoo & Body Piercing studio in Dominion Rd, said it was hard to state an appropriate age for nose and ear piercing, because some cultural groups encouraged them for children.

"Any other body piercing - navel, tongue - you should be 18."

New piercings were at risk of infection if not looked after properly, Mr Peachey said, and 16- and 17-year-olds were at greater risk than older people.

"They are not grown-up enough to look after themselves, let alone look after a piercing."

Infection is not the only risk.

Otago University Dental School senior lecturer Dr Jonathan Leichter said jewellery in the tongue posed a high risk of fractured back teeth and people with pierced lips had a high prevalence of gum and bone damage around the adjacent teeth.

Regardless of these findings in formal studies, he has not called for prohibition of tongue and lip piercing, nor does he object to the proposed Auckland reduction of the age of consent for certain piercings.

"People have a free will," Dr Leichter said. "If they are going to embark on this, they should be made aware of the risks and the risks should be managed by ensuring the service is provided in a safe, healthy and monitored environment where instruments are sterilised properly and the [operator] has the knowledge to identify problems and has a strategy for dealing with ... [them]."

* Written submissions to the council on the proposed changes to the skin piercing bylaw and several other bylaws can be made until April 11.

- NZ Herald

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