Why do piercings become infected

Accident Fund Saxony-Anhalt

Piercing and tattooing are particularly popular with young people. Neither are new forms of body jewelry. They have a long tradition in various geographical areas and have become a fad here too. However, only a few are aware of the health dangers and significant other risks. However, this information is necessary in order not to expose yourself to unnecessary dangers.

Piercing is defined as the piercing of body parts such as earlobes, tongue, lips, etc. with pieces of jewelry. Tattooing involves the introduction of dyes into the dermis using needles. Both procedures are not always as harmless as they are sometimes portrayed. Piercing, in particular, is an operation in which a foreign body is introduced into the skin and the underlying tissue while damaging the intact skin and is intended to remain there. There are gradations from the relatively harmless piercing of the earlobe to risky body piercings. This increased risk also exists with the exotic descendants of piercing such as stapling, branding or the implantation of foreign material under the skin or mucous membrane.

Both the piercing process itself and the presence of a foreign metal body in the tissue or poor sterility can result in complications. When the skin is injured by needles, entry portals are created for pathogens that may remain open for a longer period of time. Then there is a risk of infection from particularly dangerous pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV viruses. There is a particular risk if the piercing is not performed under the strictest sterile conditions. In the case of a large number of tattoo and piercing studios, this seems at least questionable. Corresponding offers in the vicinity of any trade fairs, in backyards, in discos or the like cannot guarantee this under any circumstances.

In addition, piercing and tattoo studios are partly run by people who have little or no medical knowledge. A trade license is basically sufficient for operation. Health authorities sometimes check the cleanliness, but not the quality of the piercers. The "endlessly long catalog of complications? Of localized infections, inflammatory granulomas, nerve paralysis and irreversible scarring, in addition to the dangerous infections already mentioned, is probably largely unknown. Ear piercing seems to be particularly complicated, and navel piercing also often involves local infections, some of which are caused by the A study in the USA found that tattooed people were nine times more likely to be infected with the hepatitis C virus than people who did not wear these decorations. The larger and more colorful the tattoos are, the higher the risk of liver inflammation.The cause of infection is the frequently poor hygiene in the tattoo studios.

Normally, piercing would have to be done under hygienic conditions that correspond to those of outpatient surgery. The standard in tattooing shouldn't be much lower. The following measures are recognizable signs of a reduction in hygiene problems:

  • all devices and instruments used on the skin or mucous membrane were sterilized
  • Skin and mucous membrane surfaces are disinfected before the procedure
  • During the procedure, sterile disposable gloves are worn consistently
  • Storage areas are disinfected before and after the procedure
  • Waste (e.g. hollow needles) is disposed of properly

After observing such basic hygiene rules, you should inform yourself beforehand, if necessary also inspect the work area beforehand.

A mostly clear indication of a responsible piercer is the detailed advice of the customer in advance, with all information about the risks and consequences of the planned procedure. This basically also includes questions about previous and still existing infectious diseases, allergies and other pre-existing diseases that may be relevant for the procedure. The advice should cover the risk of infection, implant materials, possible physical consequences such as chronic inflammation, functional disorders and follow-up care measures.

The owner of a piercing studio must make his customers aware of the possible consequences of his work. If he fails to do this and complications arise, he will have to pay compensation for pain and suffering, the district court of Neubrandenburg ruled (AZ: 18 C 160/00).

The materials and implants themselves must be sterile and compatible and must not be sensitizing. Often, allergic skin diseases are triggered by wearing costume jewelry. There may be an increasing sensitization to nickel, resulting in a nickel allergy, up to and including nickel eczema. Such hazards must also be taken into account in advance, especially when selecting the pieces of jewelry to be used.

Both the piercing and the tattoo require strict aftercare and care until the wounds have healed completely. This includes professional cleaning, disinfection and wound care. With the use of suitable ointments, the wounds of small tattoos are often completely healed after a week. With piercing, the healing process usually takes much longer and is more painful. Purulent inflammation can be avoided by regularly disinfecting the jewelry used and the puncture canal. But even after healing, these areas require constant care and attention. In the event of complications that do not go away in a very short time, a visit to the doctor should neither be avoided nor delayed unnecessarily long.

The German-speaking working group for hospital hygiene has passed a recommendation "Hygiene requirements for tattooing and piercing" (www.hygiene-klinik-praxis.de). It contains information on training, advice, spatial requirements, the preparation of the customer, the person performing the procedure, the necessities after the procedure, disinfection, sterilization, clothing, disposal and the hygiene plan.

(from "Security Forum" 4-2002)