Middle-Aged Piercing

When you are young and you want your nails done, you’ll go any old place, as long as it’s cheap. When you get to a certain age, you can afford a spa that caters to your middle-aged sensibilities.

There is no such special place if you want to get your ears pierced.

I’d stopped wearing earrings for so many years that a badly angled piercing from my youth had mostly closed up. Inserting delicate hooked earrings had become a painful fishing expedition that usually led me to toss the earrings aside and add another bracelet instead. My jewelry box was cluttered with adorable earrings it was time to use or sell.

It was time to get my ears re-done.

Imagine my surprise when my choices were Claire’s – the teenybopper hangout of my youth – or a mysterious place with the intimidating name of “Museum of Living Arts.” Better to get pierced by fresh bubblegum youth, or tatted and studded youth?

I decide to get one lobe pierced at each place to compare.

First stop: Claire’s, Citadel Mall.

I select 4 mm silver studs, thinking they’ll go with anything I might wear. Store manager Brenda Modica has me fill out some paperwork, then points me to a chair. A chair outside of the store, in the public area of the mall.

Chatting cheerfully, Brenda tells me she that, since she started at Claire’s in July, she’s done eight piercings a day – 12 on Saturdays. I’m not the oldest to get pierced. She’s pierced an 84-year-old woman. The youngest was six weeks old. Brenda herself has 13 piercings in various places. She easily upsells me on the extra $12 “super fast” healing after-care treatment that will supposedly make my ears heal more quickly – three weeks vs. six weeks. A later examination shows the magic formula is basically purified water, chlorine and oxygen.

Not to worry about the uneven original piercing, Brenda says, she’ll hold the gun level at the front of my lobe and straighten that hole right out.

By now, I have an audience of enraptured little mall girls who are quickly dragged away by their mothers (apparently watching someone my age get shot in the earlobe is potentially traumatizing for young ones. Side note: being watched while you are shot in the earlobe is fairly traumatizing for someone my age, too.).

One loud THUNK and a tiny pinch later and the lobe is done. I’m told to use the cleanser two to three times a day and to turn my earring in its hole.

Cost: $40.13

Second Stop: Museum of Living Arts, West Ashley

I am expecting some kind of dark piercing parlor inside the squat magenta building. Instead, I walk into what looks like a brightly-lit doctor’s office, with a small waiting room, a jewelry display area behind the counter, and private offices ringing the jewelry area.

I am the oldest person in the building by at least 30 years.

During a brief wait, I overhear sales manager Janelle Love telling the young woman ahead of me that, unlike Claire’s, this place is regulated by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and DHEC (South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control).

Later research reveals that Claire’s isn’t regulated because all it does is use a gun for a single-use stud in the earlobe, and DHEC doesn’t need to regulate that.

But Janelle is saying that the regulations allow the Museum of Living Arts to pierce just about any body part. I’m not tempted to expand my piercings.

When it’s my turn, Janelle shows me their implant-grade titanium jewelry, the same stuff of pacemakers. I never have to take them out, because they’re made to be inside the human body.

The Museum of Living Arts offers nothing remotely close to my silver stud from Claire’s, and the museum’s jewelry is inserted from the back, unlike my Claire’s stud. The titanium stud resembles a hollow barbell that the earring front slides into. The hollow backs can stay in your ear, and different fronts can be inserted for different looks. What if I want to insert my own earrings later? Janelle tells me I can always come back and they can help me re-insert their jewelry later.

“It is hard to insert from the back when you can’t see what you’re doing,” Janelle admits.

I select a 4 mm purple opal stud. If it’s not going to match anyway, why not?

The good news is that the old piercing in the second ear is still viable; it just needs to be stretched with a taper. The bad news is that they use a needle rather than a gun.

“But it’s much more precise,” Janelle assures me.

Once I’m in the private office, piercer Jeff Haskin widens my piercing. It is not fun, but nor is it unbearable. Since Jeff tells me he’s been pierced 93 times (most just for practice), I don’t complain.

Jeff looks mournfully at my Claire’s piercing.

“Stainless steel…it just won’t heal as fast. It’s not good to have that in your ear…”

One more up-sale for the day.

I have him put the matching purple opal in the Claire’s ear.

Jeff notes that the Claire’s piercing had simply re-pierced the original hole at the same problematic angle.

“The original hole was probably the path of least resistance,” he explains.

No fixing it now.

Unlike Claire’s, the Museum of Living Arts cautions against using an alcohol-based cleanser and says not to turn the earrings at all so as not to irritate the ear.

Total cost: $125.50

One Week Later

My ears are fine despite a bit of initial tenderness. I alternate between using the Claire’s cleanser and turning the earrings, and just letting them be. I’m not even sure if I had my ears pierced or if the original holes were just refined a bit and, if so, what aftercare they need.

To be safe, I’m just going to leave the purple opals in my ears as though they’ve been pierced, and then try out the cute hoop earrings in my jewelry box once the 10-week healing recommended by Living Arts for piercings has passed.

And, if I still can’t make them work, I’m going to have the mother of all jewelry sales.

Meanwhile – anyone want to start a business? If you’re my age and you want to get your ears pierced, it might be nice to feel pampered instead of just old.

Helen Mitternight is a former AP reporter and current freelancer living in downtown Charleston. She headed up public relations for the Humane Society of the...

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