AAP Issues Guidelines for Body Modifications on Young Adults

By Vivian El-Salawy on September 29, 2017

With the rise in the popularization of body modifications, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released its first-ever clinical guidelines to members regarding tattooing, piercing, and scarification in adolescents and young adults.

Many representatives of the fashion industry claim that fashion’s latest canvas is your own skin, with tattoos and piercings trending more in young adults than they ever have, both as symbols of meaning and icons of art. While body modification has become a form of self-expression for many young people, AAP reports that there are also a variety of consequences and risks associated with said modifications that are encouraged to be brought up for discussion.

Image via the Grant Halliburton Foundation

According to the Science Daily, AAP’s most recent publication on the topic, “Adolescent and Young Adult Tattooing, Piercing and Scarification” will be published in their October 2017 issue of Pediatrics; however, it has been available online as of September 18.

An article released on AAP News regarding the report states that “… body modifications have become a mainstream trend, they still may be associated with medical complications and, among adolescents, may also co-occur with high-risk behaviors.”

Dr. Breuner, lead author of the clinical report and chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence, also touched on the fact that the new report analyzes societal acceptance of body modifications and how they may affect the future of young adults in terms of their education or careers.

In a 2014 survey presented by AAP News, 76 percent of 2,700 people interviewed believed that tattoos and piercings had hurt their own chances at getting a job. Dr. Breuner does acknowledge the fact that over the past 15 to 20 years, society has become much more accepting of tattoos and piercings, however many work environments remain skeptical and unaccepting of these practices.

Image via ICBI

The report offers advice for pediatricians on how to handle tattoos and henna, piercings and stretching, and scarification.

AAP suggests that for tattoos and henna, pediatricians are advised to cover topics such as the removal process, sanitary and hygiene practices, effects of tattoos/henna on patients with specific medical issues, and their potential effects on employment and education if tattoos are visible.

For piercings and stretching, pediatricians are advised to cover antibiotic agents, rinsing with oral cleansers, incidences of tooth chipping, the role of piercings during contact sports, and their potential implications in work environments and educational settings.

Lastly, in terms of scarification, pediatricians are advised to discuss the risks involved with scarification and infections that may result from scarification, along with how to treat those infections.

All in all, to some young adults with piercings and tattoos, these seem to be reasonable guidelines, as tattoos are permanently engraved onto your skin. While many younger teens and adults view them to be body art and more of a form of fashion, they tend to forget that they are also body modifications that do come with many risks if not properly received or healed.

Image via Ink Done Right

The aesthetically pleasing aspect of tattoos, whether worn by many as a symbol of significance or as a fashion statement, does cover up the potential risks.

Bonner Buckner, a student at Florida State University, has a tattoo on his forearm that matches those of his family member’s tattoos. He believes that these guidelines are important for young adults to be able to make a well-informed decision about their own body art.

“I think pediatricians should do this because it, at the very least, raises awareness to their patients,” Buckner said. “I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable or be annoyed or anything because it’s just a reminder that there are cons to these types of things and patients should understand that pediatricians aren’t trying to sway their decisions, they just want you to know all the details before making any bad decisions.”

At the same time, other young adults are discouraged with the negative implications that are affiliated with tattoos and piercings.

“I don’t think that people should jump to conclusions just because of someone’s piercings or tattoos,” said Ali Pearson, a student at Florida State University. “I happen to get them because they make me feel confident and happy, not because I want to have people notice me in a certain way.”

It appears as though the largest controversy with this guideline isn’t in the aspect of discussion over potential physical health risks, but rather discussion over social implications affiliated with body art or body modification. The guidelines regarding scarification are strictly about physical and mental health risks; however, when discussing tattoos and piercings, many young adults and teenagers feel as though it is not appropriate for their doctors to bring up the potential risks in future work or school environments.

The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes that the purpose of these clinical guidelines is not to discourage young adults from making decisions about body modifications or body art, but rather inform young adults about potentially permanent decisions that they are making. Dr. Breuner stated to Science Daily that when counseling teens, she tells them to do some research about where they are getting tattoos from, the placement of the tattoos that they want to get, and why it is important to get these tattoos from a reliable source.

Whether or not you are one for body piercings and tattoos, it is important to consider that these fashion icons are just as much of body modifications as they are body art. Teenagers and young adults should be informed and educated on what it means to acquire these forms of body art, the amount of care that goes into them post-procedure, and potential health risks. AAP’s ability to distinguish these through a clear, clinical guideline may have opened the gates to open conversations between health professionals and young adults for one of the fastest rising trends in youth fashion.

Vivian El-Salawy is a graduate of Florida State University with a B.A. in Editing, Writing, and Media with minors in Slavic (Russian) Studies and Communications. Alongside writing for Uloop News, WVFS Tallahassee 89.7 FM, and editing for the Good Life Community magazine, she is heavily involved with a Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary sorority that promotes women in the band profession.

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