Stabby, Stabby

This post is going to have a lot of the same information that the “How to find a good tattoo artist” post has, so if some information is repeated verbatim, don’t worry about it. Many of the same important points to look for in a tattoo artist are the same when looking for a good piercer.

Body piercing has a lot of the same colorful history that tattooing does. It’s been done for tens of thousands of years, for many different reasons. Body piercing is even recorded in the Bible, in Genesis 24:22 Abraham requested his oldest servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant found Rebekah, and one of the gifts he gave her was a “golden earring”. The original Hebrew word used was Shanf, which also translates as “nose-ring”. Even today in many Middle Eastern countries a husband gives his wife a golden nose ring, the larger the ring, the wealthier the family is. In India, the left side of the nose is pierced because it is the spot associated with female fertility in Indian medicine.

Ear piercing has been done for even longer, the oldest mummy ever found, dated to over 5,000 years ago, had his ears pierced, and actually stretched to about 11 millimeters. Primitive tribes would pierce the ears to keep demons and evil spirits away from the body, believing that metal repelled them. Sailors would wear gold earrings so if their bodies were lost at sea, they would be able to pay for a proper Christian burial when they washed up on shore. Only the Western culture seems to deem ear piercings effeminate, when no other cultures have such affiliations.

Lip piercings have been performed all over the world, for various purposes. The large lip plates that parts of Africa are so famous for are symbols of beauty, status, and age in the tribe. It’s also been said that one of the reasons these large lip plates were implemented was to discourage the slave trade; slavers wouldn’t take people with these large plates because they were seen as “deformed”, or unfit for transport.

Nipple piercings have been documented as far back as the Roman age. They wore leather breastplates shaped to fit the body with rings placed where the nipples would be, to secure capes to. This led some people to believe that the men would also pierce their actual nipples to secure capes with, but I could never imagine something like that being even remotely comfortable.

In the 1890’s what was known as the “Bosom Ring” came into high fashion for a short time. Some women even wore a small delicate chain connecting the rings. The women enjoyed the constantly excited nipples they received after the piercing, and believed that the piercings made the breast at least appear fuller and rounder. Some doctors in the Victorian age even suggested piercing the nipples because it enlarged them, making breastfeeding easier.

A piercing, in the context of body modification, is the process of puncturing or creating a hole in the body for jewelry to be worn in. The tunnel of scar tissue that a piercing really is is called a fistula.

There are several ways to have a piercing performed. The best way to have a piercing performed is with a hollow piercing needle, in the hands of a professional, in a clean piercing studio. This is the most common type of needle used in the US. Some of these needles are straight, while others are curved to perform piercings where a straight needle would not work. They come in various gauge sizes and lengths, and the piercer will help you decide what size needle would be best for your piercing. On average, 16 gauge, or ga, through about 12ga is standard for most body piercings. That’s 1.2 millimeters through about 2mm for my non-American readers.

This is a close up, enlarged picture of what the hollow piercing needle looks like:

How the needle works is by creating a crescent shaped cut in the flesh and then it pushes that flesh aside as the needle moves through. It doesn’t actually punch through the skin or cut out a bit of flesh. It slices through it cleanly and sharply.

The piercer will push the needle through the area to be pierced, either by hand or sometimes with the aid of a needle pusher or holder. Sometimes a cork will be placed on the exit side to catch the end of the needle and keep it from pricking the piercer or another part of your body. Clamps may sometimes be held in the piercers other hand to secure the area to be pierced. Not using clamps is called free-hand piercing. Some piercers choose to not use clamps at all, while some use them occasionally, depending on what piercing they’re performing. Choosing to use or not use them is usually no reflection on the piercer’s skill or technique. Sometimes it’s just a comfort thing for them.

Once the needle is in, the jewelry will be inserted into the hollow, non-pointed end of the needle, so that when the needle is pushed out and removed completely, the jewelry follows and is left behind with no break in the transfer.

In the UK, you’re more likely to see a needle containing a cannula (or catheter), which is a hollow plastic tube placed at the end of the needle. This is because some countries consider the US’s straight hollow needle to be a medical device and is illegal for body piercers to use them.

The cannula piercing needle:

The piercing will be performed in the same way as described above, but once the piercing is done, the needle will be slid out the back of the cannula, leaving the plastic tube behind in the new piercing. The jewelry will then be inserted into the end of this plastic tubing, and as the tube is removed, the jewelry will be left behind. Again, it’s very similar to the US’s piercing technique.

The next tool is the dermal punch, sometimes also called a biopsy punch. This is used to core out a cylinder of flesh for jewelry to be placed into. It’s most commonly done for implantation piercings, like microdermals, transdermals, subdermal silicone implants, etc. Though it has also been used to create large gauge cartilage piercings, in conches, helixes, lips, earlobes, etc. Dermal punches can also be used as a “head start” on the stretching process, by getting pierced at a larger size, you don’t have to bother stretching up from smaller sizes. They come in various sizes and diameters, and sometimes even shapes like hearts and stars.

The dermal punch:

Piercing guns should NEVER EVER be used to pierce human flesh. These machines were originally designed to tag livestock, not put earrings in the human body. I’ve already covered the dangers and horrors of the piercing gun in a previous post, so I won’t repeat myself here. You are more than welcome to check that post out later if you’d like to know more.

While many modifications are to be considered permanent, piercings fall in the very small gray area in between permanent and temporary. While a piercing can be removed at any time, sometimes the fistula doesn’t fully close, or doesn’t close at all, and a scar could be left behind if it does close. So while the piercing may be gone, there is a scar that can remain and will probably fade over the years. Over the counter treatments such as Bio Oil can help reduce the look of these scars, but most are permanent.

One very important thing to remember about piercings is that they are considered a very invasive surgical procedure. You are putting a very deep, very intense puncture wound into your body, frequently completely through parts of the body. Puncture wounds are very dangerous even under the best of circumstances, so it’s VERY important that you know what to expect while getting pierced, and afterward.

Many, many people have suffered infections, and even died, from being improperly pierced, piercing themselves, or not taking proper care of their piercings after the procedure. I’m going to say this loud and clear:

Piercings can, and have, killed people.

They are not accessories to be taken lightly. They’re not a necklace you can pull on and off as you please, I cannot stress enough how dangerous piercings can be. Basic infections are very common if you don’t take care of your piercing or choose a bad or irresponsible piercer, the terrible infection MRSA is a big risk, rejection, migration, among other complications.

Here’s one story of a poor boy who suffered from the very serious MRSA infection from getting pierced:

Another boy, this time from the UK, died of blood poisoning after piercing his lip:

The first story in this article is about a girl from the UK who ended up totally 100% paralyzed from a piercing.

Here’s a more graphic story, so be warned before viewing. This poor girl had the cartilage in her ear liquefy after suffering an infection from a piercing.

These are not all that uncommon stories; these are not one in a million, just unlucky folks. These are very real risks you take while getting pierced. You can be permanently disfigured, suffer lasting health problems, even die from these piercing procedures. Think of that before you head down to the local mall to get your nose pierced with the same piercing gun that’s been used on a few hundred people before you and they can’t be cleaned. Think of that before you hit up the local piercing shop that smells bad, that has dirty surfaces, and is willing to pierce anyone who will lay down the money, underage or not. Remember that before you decide to ignore a professional’s advice and cleaning instruction and just do whatever you want.

Here’s where a lot of the repeated information will come in. Many of the same important points addressed in finding a good tattoo artist are the same for finding a good piercing artist.

One of the best places to start searching is by using the APP website, the Association of Professional Piercers. They are the leading authority on body piercing in the US. Their regulations and guidelines are law in many states. Unfortunately, their website search function only works for piercers in the US. You can use this page to start your search. If you can’t find a piercer in your specific city, try searching neighboring cities as well and expanding the search radius.

The APP’s website:

The “Locate a member” search function:

First and foremost, a good professional piercer will NEVER EVER use a piercing gun. Period, end of story, no arguments. NO self respecting professional piercer will ever use a piercing gun on any part of the body, or will even advocate the use of one. If you walk in somewhere and the piercer reaches for a gun or comes at you with one, get up and walk out and never go back.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, what SHOULD you look for in a good piercer? One of the best credentials a piercer can have is an APP membership. This means they’re up to date on laws, regulations, the newest innovations in the field, health and safety laws, etc. But it can be expensive to maintain, so if a piercer isn’t a member that does not make them a hack in any way. As with the tattooist, ask for any other licenses, certificates, memberships, or awards the piercer may have. Demand to see autoclave records. Ask for the piercer’s portfolio. Ask them where they took their apprenticeship, for how long, and who their mentor was.

Professional piercers will never pierce out of their or someone else’s home, their car, a basement, or anywhere other than the designated clean room in their piercing shop. They will fully and completely answer any questions you may have. Don’t ever be afraid that your question is dumb or silly, because a professional will answer any question you have.

And again, trust your gut. If you don’t like anything about the shop, the employees, or anything else, just leave and find a new shop. Remember, was with the tattoo artist, this person is performing a service for you, and could potentially put your life at risk if they perform that service improperly, so it is very important that you are perfectly happy with what they have to say and how they present themselves and their shop.

So, you have decided to get pierced at this beautiful shop with the friendliest and most knowledgeable piercers you can find. Now what? How do you know what to get?

Starting off, the basics. Yes, it WILL hurt. There is no way around this, at all. How MUCH it hurts depends on several factors: the skill of your piercer, the particular piercing you want, the method of piercing the artist will use, your own personal pain threshold, and how you take care of your piercing and your body in the days to follow.

I cannot tell you what you SHOULD get, what would look good on you, or anything like that. DO NOT leave comments asking me those questions. Piercings are one hundred percent relative, based entirely on personal aesthetics. I will never tell someone what they SHOULD get, because that is not my decision to make, it is YOURS and yours alone. If you want to ask your friends and family what they think would look good on you, those are the opinions and thoughts that matter. NOT strangers on the internet who don’t care about you, who don’t know you, and will never see you. Ultimately, get what YOU want, what YOU think you’ll look good with. Get what you’re willing to take care of and what you’re willing to see in the mirror every day.

No, you will not be given any sort of numbing agent at all. It is illegal for piercers to use injectable numbing agents like lidocaine or anything else, since these can only be administered by licensed medical professionals. Most piercers are not licensed MEDICAL professionals; therefore, they cannot use those anesthetics. I have heard that some piercers will actually take the necessary education, classes, and schooling to become medical professionals enough to use these anesthetics, but those are incredibly rare individuals. And besides, most piercings aren’t nearly painful enough, or last long enough, to warrant the use of these anesthetics.

Once you understand that, think long and hard about what piercing you want to get. Stand in front of the mirror and imagine what you would look like with the piercing. Fake it for a while by wearing a fake ring or gluing or sticking on a gem to replicate the look of a stud. Think about potential complications you might have. Like say, if you wear glasses, then a bridge piercing might not be a good idea. If you wear metal and wire braces, a lip ring probably isn’t a good idea right now. Know the risks associated with specific piercings and piercing locations. Think about what you’re going to be doing in the near future that might affect the healing of your piercing. If you’re going camping in two days, getting pierced today isn’t a good idea. If you’re planning on swimming a lot now that summer’s hit, then getting a new piercing now isn’t a good idea, wait until summer is over. These are ALL things you really need to consider before going back to the shop to get pierced.

But say you have decided to get pierced, you know what you want and know all the inherent risks involved. What can you expect to happen when you go in for it? Ideally, you should have made an appointment and you’re coming back on that day. Some shops allow walk-ins, or they may be slow enough in the shop to get you in right away. Either way, when you walk in, someone should greet you at the counter. Explain why you’re there and the piercer should be called over. From there, discuss with the piercer what you’d like to do. The piercer then should allow you to choose what jewelry you’d like to start with. Not all options will be available to you right away, but they should allow you to pick what you’d like from the available starter jewelry.

Once that’s been decided, the piercer will lead you into the designated piercing room. This is usually at the back of the shop, in a completely separate room. It should have a real door, no windows and NOTHING should be made of cloth. Every surface should be non-porous so it can be fully sterilized and cleaned properly.

The piercer will then sit you down, or sometimes even lay you down, and will clean the area to be pierced. The area will then be marked and you will be asked for your approval. Once the placement has been decided, then the piercing will begin.

Watch the piercer’s every move. They should be washing their hands CONSTANTLY with soap and water. They should be changing their gloves CONSTANTLY. Everything should be opened in front of you from fully sealed sterile packages. Most will have a small rolling metal table that doctors and dentists sometimes use, and it will have everything needed on it. Once everything is ready the piercer will lay you down or have you recline, you shouldn’t be sitting fully up under your own power since many people have been known to pass out or faint while getting pierced and reclining or lying down can greatly reduce this.

As was stated above, how the actual piercing will be performed depends a lot on what it is you’re getting, who is performing it, and your location in the world. But either way, the piercer will line up the needle and clamps, if clamps are needed, get all set and ready to go, then they will have you take a large deep breath in, hold it for just a second, then have you release the breath. As you release, that is when the needle will be inserted and the piercing performed. Make sure you breathe slowly and deeply the entire time just before and following the piercing, don’t hold your breath or forget to breathe, make a conscious effort to keep breathing slowly and deeply. The pain should only be momentary and then a dull soreness may follow. Once the piercing is performed, the jewelry will be inserted and you’re done!

You are now officially pierced.

In the next entry, we’ll discuss the aftercare of your particular piercing, what you should and shouldn’t do to it and with it, what happens if you notice something wrong it or if you have any concerns or complications. We’ll discuss the difference between infection and irritation, which is VERY important that you learn to recognize. So stay tuned!


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