What to do when an ear piercing goes wrong

Most usual ear piercing at salons is carried out using a piercing gun. The most common is the 'Caflon' gun, which salons can purchase, together with sealed packs of equipment and hypoallergenic ear studs, which should be non-irritant. As a matter of good practice, your salon should also provide you with aftercare information and often the standard Caflon aftercare sheet is provided.

However and in some cases, injury and cosmetic disfigurement has occurred when a piercing has been undertaken on an area of the ear not suitable for piercing with such a gun. Infection can then set in, causing pain, swelling and permanent cosmetic problems with the ear, even when the inflammation has healed.

The Caflon ear piercing training manual and guidance on this is very clear and is available online, with a diagram clearly showing which parts of the ear that are recommended for piercing with the equipment and which is not (so that for non-standard ear piercings you may be better placed to go to a body piercing specialist, who can advise on other techniques).

Any reputable salon or premises should have staff who are fully trained in the use of Caflon piercing (if this is the equipment used), who will know which parts of the ear are suitable to pierce and which parts of the ear, even if piercing is requested by their client, is simply not suitable to proceed with.

Age limits

At present in England and Wales, there is no statutory age limit for ear or body piercing. Some London boroughs do not allow body piercing if you are under 18, unless to the ears, nose or navel. Other areas will require ID or adult consent if you are between 16-18 and most reputable salons and premises will only carry out piercing for those under the age of 16, with a parent or guardian present. It is therefore worrying that determining age and likely consent is in the hands of those providing the piercing.

Current legislation

In England and Wales, ear piercing may only be carried out by a person in premises registered by the Local Authority, pursuant to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The London area has two other acts where London boroughs may regulate skin piercing and premises are advised to contact their Local Environmental Health Authority if they intend to offer ear piercing. The Local Authority does have the power to inspect both registered premises and premises where they suspect unregistered skin piercing is taking place.

What to do when an ear piercing goes wrong

  • Don’t be afraid to ask a salon or other premises to provide proof that they are registered with the local authority and for proof that the person undertaking the piercing has had appropriate training.
  • If you are concerned, don’t go ahead with the procedure, as it is far better to walk away and check out whether the premises is registered, than to have problems.
  • If you wish to have non-standard ear piercing, check with the salon or premises whether using a piercing gun would be appropriate for you, or whether in fact you might need to go to a specialist in body piercing, who can advise you of other options.
  • If you later have cause to believe that your ear was pierced in an area it should not have been, using a piercing gun, then complain to the salon or premises in question. You can also raise this with the Local Authority, since they are in charge of licencing and may wish to investigate further.
  • If you believe you have suffered injury or ill-effects as a result of a negligent piercing, seeking legal advice from a specialist in beauty therapy claims is also an option.   They can then look into this further with you, review the evidence and assess the prospects of a successful claim.

Metcalfes' personal injury team specialises in claims involving beauty therapy and hairdressing negligence. Please contact us on 0117 929 0451 to discuss your potential claim. 

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