Originally created 07/12/98

Beach town looks to regulate body piercing salons



MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- For Mandy Jennings, getting her navel pierced was about independence.

"I've been wanting to get it done for a long time," she said while sitting inside Pittbull Piercing, in an alleyway next to Ocean Boulevard. "Now, I'm at the beach, and my parents can't stop me."

For her friend Melanie Harrison, it was about coming of age. Ms. Harrison recently turned 18 and got her eyebrow pierced.

The group's other friend, Deanna Wagner said she won't have any regrets about getting her navel pierced. But she admits that part of the reason she did it was peer pressure -- all of her friends got pierced.

But for all of the teens -- Ms. Jennings, Ms. Harrison, Ms. Wagner, Courtney Cannon and Jaclyn Hamby -- getting pierced was also about a week in Myrtle Beach.

"I wanted to have something to remember the beach by," Ms. Cannon said. "It's the best kind of souvenir. I'll have it forever."

There aren't many places to get pierced in the girls' hometown of Martinsville, Va., Ms. Jennings said.

On Myrtle Beach's Ocean Boulevard, though, you can hardly walk without seeing a piercing parlor tucked around a corner or inside a T-shirt shop.

"Piercing is like the thing at the beach," Ms. Jennings said.

If a recent proposal by members of the Myrtle Beach City Council becomes a reality, getting pierced might not be so easy.

In early June, Councilman Wayne Gray proposed the city change its zoning ordinance to allow the piercing of a body part, other than the "fatty portion" of the ear, to be done only in a place such as a health-care establishment.

Several council members have said they would support such an ordinance, including Councilwoman Rachel Broadhurst. Mr. Gray said his proposal is about ensuring health and safety.

Dr. Hilton Dickson, a local dentist, said he has seen one patient who recently had her tongue pierced, and while her condition seemed good, there are some medical concerns associated with piercing.

For instance, the metal ball used in many tongue piercings is big enough to fracture teeth or damage tissue in the mouth if the tongue moves around much, Dr. Dickson said. If piercing is done improperly, there is also a risk of infection.

Still, some in the medical profession are beginning to see that body piercing is a growing lifestyle choice among many of their patients.

Casey Chosewood, an Atlanta-based doctor, said his office is in an "area of town where there are lots of piercing parlors."

Dr. Chosewood, who sees patients with body piercings, is on the Association of Professional Piercers' list of "piercing friendly" doctors, meaning he welcomes pierced patients and treats piercing accidents and injuries.

Dr. Chosewood, 34, said he is a rarity in his profession, adding that the younger a doctor is, the more open he is likely to be to body piercing and related issues.

"When it is not done properly, there is a risk of infection, bruising, scarring, mutilation of tissue and excessive bleeding," Dr. Chosewood said. "But just the location of a piercing parlor isn't enough. It's the rare piercing that's done improperly. The majority are done safely. Legislation efforts should be directed toward technique and training for piercers."

Edward Friend, owner of three Can-Am Gifts, which offer piercings, T-shirts and other products that cater to young people, also said there are health and safety issues when piercing isn't done right.

Luke Rogers, the owner of Pittbull, agreed. But Mr. Friend and Mr. Rogers said they have taken steps to make sure their businesses are clean, sterile and safe.

And other piercing parlor operators say they would welcome body-piercing standards set by the city, as long as such efforts don't aim to close them down.

"Instead of the city council finding derogatory things about certain businesses that are trendy," Boulevard piercing parlor and T-shirt shop owner Mark Patterson said, "they should find a way to set certain standards that need to be met."

Mr. Friend and Mr. Rogers said if City Council wants to help, they would regulate piercing at salons along Ocean Boulevard and throughout the city, not prohibit it.

"The people that try to run a legitimate ... business get lumped in with the ones that don't care -- the ones that hire a body piercer they've never seen before," Mr. Friend said.

The issue has gone to the city planning and zoning commission for review, but Mr. Friend has already vowed that if the city tries to shut down his piercing salon, which he said generates $100,000 a year, it will have a fight on its hands.

There are no state health standards for piercing parlors. There are no mandated guidelines or basic skills that piercers are required to have.

A bill in the Legislature ordering the state health department to adopt standards and regulate piercing parlors died in committee.