Originally created 09/06/00

State regulates body piercing

AIKEN - When Damian Blevins moved to Aiken from California six weeks ago, his mother paid him $180 to remove a barbell ornament that ran through his upper ear halfway to the lobe.

"She thought people here would look at me different," said the 15-year-old sophomore, whose father back in Chino Hills had insisted an ornament through his tongue had to go.

"He said he could live with my ears pierced, but he thought a pierced tongue was for freaks. He just didn't understand. Piercing is getting big. I didn't feel right without mine. I wanted them back."

So Damian is impressing classmates at South Aiken High School with a variety of new piercings he did by himself in front of the mirror at home with a large sewing needle.

He has 8-gauge studs in his earlobes and a new barbell in his tongue that he's willing to show a stranger. One learns about the rings in both nipples from his friends, who are in awe. Some are trying to work up the nerve to let Damian pierce them somewhere, he said.

At age 15, it's going to sound like a bummer, but piercing someone else's body won't fly in South Carolina - not without some baggage. A new law requires people in the body-piercing business to register with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control by Oct. 1. They also have to pay a state fee. And piercers must pass courses in cardiopulmonary resuscitation - in case their piercees pass out - and in infection control so their punctured body parts won't turn green.

Piercers and the places where they do their piercing can get permits from the state only after the requirements are met. And failure to comply could mean a fine up to $2,500 and a year in prison.

Lest there be any doubt, the new law spells out exactly what body piercing is:

"The creation of an opening in the body of a human being so as to create a permanent hole for the purpose of inserting jewelry or any other decoration." The law covers every pierceable body part except the earlobe - the jiggly part of the bottom of the ear that contains no cartilage.

It's not clear how many businesses the law affects. With the possible exception of places that do multiple ear piercings that get into the tough part of the ears, there aren't many piercers in South Carolina, and most people with professionally done piercings got them across state lines. For example, Georgia and North Carolina piercing studios advertise in South Carolina telephone directories.

Daniel Clark, a walking advertisement for Tribal Urge on Broad Street in Augusta, said the studio gets plenty of patrons from South Carolina and maintains a waiting list for some of his services.

"I don't really think that will change," he said. "People go where they know they can get what they want."

And South Carolina's regulations don't exactly make people want to stand in line for the chance to fall under them. Mr. Clark said he doesn't anticipate losing business because of the change.

This is the first time the state has tried to regulate body piercing, which so far has been widely available only at beaches, where people sometimes do things they wouldn't do at home. That's what sends a lot of parents into a tizzy - when their teen-agers come home with rings in nostrils, eyebrows, upper lips and other places, said Mark Kreua, public information officer for the city of Myrtle Beach.

"The first thing we did was make it illegal to perform body piercing on a person under the age of 18 without in-person consent of a parent or guardian," Mr. Kreua said. "That didn't work."

It did not work because some people make a living at the beach by going to hotels and beach houses to do tattoos, illegal in South Carolina, and body piercing.

In 1998, the city tried a new approach - zoning body-piercing places out of business. Now it's legal only as an accessory use of a health care establishment, which does not include gyms, health clubs or veterinary offices. It's not legal as the principal activity in any business.

"The new ordinance held up in court in spite of a claim that it violated people's right of expression," Mr. Kreua said. "I couldn't believe it was challenged on First Amendment issues. I wasn't aware it was a constitutionally guaranteed right to poke holes in somebody's body for money."

The new state law lets DHEC decide how body piercing will be regulated, but it's likely the new regulations will echo the principle features of the Myrtle Beach ordinance because it passed court muster, agency representative Jan Easterling said.

DHEC will have a meeting to discuss the new law and suggested standards at 10 a.m., Tuesday in the second floor conference room of the Heritage Building, 1777 St. Julian Place, off Forest Drive in the Middleburg Plaza area of Columbia.

Ms. Easterling said DHEC will consider input from participants in developing the regulations.

Those who will be subject to the new law must contact DHEC's Division of Health Licensing to obtain a registration form, which must be returned by Oct. 1. The telephone number is (803) 737-7370.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.


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