Getting a new piercing is a very exciting time, particularly for minors. Piercings have a level of agency that’s new and empowering. For many, its one of the first times they are making big choices like this for their body and appearance- its simultaneously a first taste of the agency of adulthood and also an experience heavily dictated by the adults in their life- namely their parents and guardians, and the lawmakers in their area. See, in America, in order for a minor to get a piercing they need parental consent. This seems fair enough- we don’t want a 16 year old walking into a studio and getting 11 facial piercings that could potentially leave them with permanent facial scarring down the road. And till you are 18 you need parental consent for most things- school field trips, medical procedures, even seeing certain movies. Piercings aren’t any different.
However, piercings often require a more strict set of information and identification. After all we are permanently modifying your body in a way that can have serious consequences. Piercings can limit employment and sports potential, they can leave permanent scars where they were done, and during the healing process you risk infection and irritation. Those are serious things to sign up for as a minor, and thus we need to confirm that you have permission to get these things done. But for many parents and minors, ID needs and policies can be confusing or difficult to understand. So today’s blog is to help address and hopefully explain some of these policies, what’s needed, and why they exist.
Please note this is a general blog post with general information and explanations. This is not a state or federal specific post. I will be explaining general concepts surrounding minor identification for piercing and common requirements and questions but these may vary state to state, studio to studio, and situation to situation. Always check your local laws and check your local studios policies first.
What sort of Identification do you need?
As we discussed above, minors need their parents permission to get a piercing done. But we can’t just have any adult walk in with any child and say “They want their nose pierced. I say it’s ok. Let's do it”. If that were the case there would be a ton of issues with minors getting piercings they don’t have permission for or shouldn’t be getting at the time. So, many laws and insurance policies require identification to prove that the adult and child in the studio are who they say they are, and this adult has the ability to give consent to these procedures. This identification can be broke down into two categories.
Identifying who you are- like providing your passport at the airport to show you are who you say you are, we need to make sure that who we are piercing is who they say they are. Government issued photo identification is the best way to do that. We have a photograph we can compare to the person in front of us and identify them. Drivers licenses, State ID’s, passports, and military ID’s are all examples of this. While there are other forms of identification (social security cards, health insurance cards) those don’t have any photograph. So I can’t prove that the person in front of me is the person on the card. Anyone could swipe a card from a found wallet and claim to be that person. So most studios will ask for photo identification.
For minors, this can vary. Some states require photo identification at any age- they want to make sure the child you bring in is who you say they are. That way you can’t bring in your neighbors kid. For minors, this often is a state ID, military ID, or passport. Some states are more lenient, and will accept a school ID coupled with other documentation to prove relationship. School ID’s aren’t inherently government issued but they are a good way to identify a minor. And some states have no laws about this and leave this choice in studio hands. I would be wary of any studio who doesn’t want any form of identification for a minor to be pierced- this leaves a very high risk of minors getting unsafe piercings or being in unsafe situations.
Identifying your relationship- Once we’ve seen some photo identification, we know that the person in front of us is who they say they are. But how do we know that this adult has actual legal ability to consent to this minor being pierced? We need to identify and confirm the relationship. A birth certificate is the most common form of identification to do this. It will list the parents and minor, and is a legally recognized document. But families come in all shapes and sizes and forms- not every parent may be on a birth certificate. In that case, we need legal guardianship documentation. A legal guardian is a person who has been appointed by a court to have the legal authority to care for another person.
This means if your step parent or foster parent wants to take you to be pierced, the need to be your legal guardian. This is important- just because two people marry, it doesn’t automatically make someone a legal guardian over a minor. Not every step parent automatically wants to assume legal guardianship- this can effect taxes, income, insurance, and other legal matters. The same goes for grandparents, aunts, and siblings who may be caretakers. They may want to caretake without the legal commitment of guardianship. And biological parents have a say in who can make legal choices for their child. This would infringe on parental rights otherwise- so a court has to find someone able to be a legal guardian. This is important for piercings because in most states the adult consenting for a minor to be pierced, legally, has to be their guardian. This means that you’re cool older sister or aunt or uncle can’t take you behind your parents back to get piercings. It also means that just because your step dad is married to your mom, doesn’t inherently make them your guardian. This can be a hassle for some families which is very unfortunate, but without this policy many minors could get any family member to take them for piercings- even if their guardians or parents didn’t actually consent.
Will you take photos of these documents?
The second most common followup once people realize what documentation they will need is if we can accept a photo of it. And more and more we are seeing states where we can not take photos. Photo manipulation is very very easy these days. A savvy teen can spend 5 minutes on their phone and edit their mom’s name on their birth certificate to say their sisters name. Or edit their name onto a photo of their sisters ID. We see doctored and falsified photos of identification often in this line of work. To prevent that, many studios require the original documentation to be brought in. This is very similar to the DMV, certain medical programs and procedures, and court filings. We have to make sure you are who you say you are- and that means knowing for sure your documentation isn’t fake.
What About X piece of documentation?
The following is a quick rundown of other forms of identification I get asked to take often- and why it does’t work. And yes, these are all forms of identification I regularly get asked to accept.
Social Security Card- no photograph to prove you are the person listed
Health Insurance Card- no photograph to prove you are the person listed, also minors may be listed under other family members plans or listed differently based on the plan format
Work ID- does not legally prove identification
Tax documents- not legal form of identification
School Yearbooks- very easy to be doctored of falsified, in many states not legal form of identification
Facebook- does not actually show legal identification or relationship
Family photos- does not actually legally prove identification or relationship
A note from a parent- not legal form of identification or consent
“We look alike”- not legal form of identification
This seems too strict- do these policies actually protect minors?
Yes! In general, some minors will always try to skirt around rules and laws to do things behind their parents backs. Be it going to a party, sneaking out, or even drinking and drug use. These policies are nearly identical to identification policies around alcohol or cigarettes- and just like those policies help keep minors safe, so do these. Beyond the general issues with minors sneaking around, these policies also help in more complicated matters as well. The following are some first hand examples of how these policies keep minors safe.
I, sadly, have seen many parents who are separated end up weaponizing their children during the separation. I once worked in a state with lax laws about these things and we had an issue where the fathers girlfriend brought a little girl in for her first earlobe piercings. This was before stricter policies were in place so my boss pierced her. Not only did the mother loose out on the experience of being there for her daughters first ear piercings, but the reason it was an argument was the daughter was starting swim lessons. It wasn’t safe for her to have her ears pierced currently. The girlfriend went behind the mothers back in order to be “the cool parent” even though this choice wasn’t the safest for the child. Better policy at the time could have prevented this.
While working in Florida we had a group come in looking to get piercings. They were with their Au pair while their parents were out of the country. The Au pair did not have legal guardianship to pierce the kids so we refused service. A week later the mother called and thanked us- her teenage daughter was on accutaine, a popular but serious acne medication. Though she had been begging to get her nose pierced it was incredibly unsafe to do so while on this medication and her doctor has explicitly told her she needed to wait. She wanted to go behind her parents back while they were away. Had we done it anyway it could have caused severe scarring and damage to her face.
And perhaps the most chilling two stories comes from one of my former health inspectors in florida. Florida has some of the strictest laws for identification for minors, requiring the above documentation and a notarized consent form for any minor to be pierced. This is thanks to a number of unique cases. One, their was a kidnapping case of a young girl by her father in a custody dispute. In efforts to hide her identity from bystanders the father cut her hair and got her ears pierced while he was on the run. While she was eventually safely returned home, the piercings were absolutely used to help disguise her. The other case was a senator’s daughter convincing her aunt to take her to get piercings. Since they had the same last names, the studio permitted it, despite her expressly not having permission or consent from her parents to be pierced. These two issues directly led to the now very strict laws that exist in Florida for minor piercings.
These are just a handful of cases but I routinely see these requirements effectively keep minors safe and make sure that we are doing these piercings only on folks who are able to safely and legally get these done, with the consent of their parents or legal guardians.
But I’m the parent, isn’t that enough?
It is! We just need to prove you are the parent. I promise if your child came home with 11 new piercings and a face tattoo because their cool aunt or uncle took them to get it done, you would be furious with the studio who did it. These policies keep your children safe.
But ID’s aren’t always easy to get. This is classist.
This take is partially correct- identification is often needlessly difficult to obtain and can be expensive in America. The DMV is notoriously awful, and many parents may not have the time, resources, or funds to get a passport or state ID for their minors. It’s honestly pretty unacceptable how difficult we make it to get certain forms of identification in America. And it’s even worse for trans, non binary, and disabled folks who have to deal with discrimination during the identification process.
However, this is a fault with state and national government. It is not a fault of body piercers and jewelry stylists who offer these services and simply want to do so in a manner that keeps all clients, but especially minor clients, safe and healthy. These requirements exist to protect and keep minors safe, and also to legally protect artists and their licenses and careers.
Fortunately there are many non profits and local outreach organizations who can help navigate the process of obtaining identification. Some states even offer free state ID’s to folks who qualify in certain income brackets. And if the lack of accessibility of identification is something you feel passionate about I encourage you to contact ID and voter organizations in your area- many of whom are working to improve access to identification around the country!
So…how do I best prepare to get a piercing as a minor?
Sit down with your parent and read the studio website. Most studios ID policies are clearly listed online. About 2-3 weeks before you plan to be pierced I suggest doing this to ensure you have time to get everything needed ready. If you have any questions about appropriate identification, don’t hesitate to call, email, and ask! The day of, make a reminder list of the identification you need and double check it before you leave. There is nothing worse then walking into the studio and realizing you forgot something. Some parents make a whole folder just to keep these documents organized and in one space and that’s very smart.
I hope this helps explain some of the policies surrounding identification for minors, why they exist, and why they matter. Happy healing!