Despite their ever-growing popularity, many people still don’t seem to know much about piercings or the aftercare for them. In fact, there are oodles of things your piercer wishes you knew before heading in for an appointment, especially when it comes to less-usual places, like those stylin’ septum piercings celebs have been rocking. Getting a piercing can seem like a simple, spur-of-the-moment decision to accessorize yourself in a non-traditional way. I myself remember desperately wanting them for years when I was younger, which lead me to pierce my own lip (and then freak out). If you don't spend time doing research, you fall victim of a lot of inaccurate facts and tidbits about piercings, which could end in earring disaster.
I spoke with Matt Ronin and Owen Beane, both licensed professional piercers, to clear up some details and hear them out on ghinbx they wished people knew before stepping into their studios. Matt Ronin pierces at Ancient Arts Body Piercing and Adornment and has been body piercing for more than 25 years. He has also trained in other forms of body modification and is a licensed paramedic. Owen Beane pierces at Chameleon Tattoo & Body Piercing and has been piercing since 1995. He was the first licensed piercer in Cambridge, MA, and is certified in first aid, CPR and blood-borne pathogens.
Here's what they really want you to know.
1. Steer clear of piercing guns.
If you’ve ever walked around the mall, I’m sure you’ve seen people sitting by Claire’s getting their ears pierced, as I did for my second holes. But as Ronin and Beane shared, piercing guns are absolutely horrible (or, as Beane calls them, “the evil empire”). They are unregulated, aren’t as precise, and “should never be used to get pierced,” says Ronin. If you think about it, getting pierced with a gun is kind of the same technique as what farmers do to tag cows. I’m not sure about you, but that doesn’t sound pleasant — and it isn’t.
Beane explains that, unlike getting pierced with a hollow needle, the stud is what is used to pierce you when you use the gun method. The stud is not as sharp, and it actually displaces your tissue, making it more likely for your piercing to develop scar tissue and almost impossible to avoid damage. When a hollow needle is used, it removes a piece of flesh with precision because a hand is in control and able to guide it more steadily. On top of that, guns are harder to sterilize between uses, which can expose you to some nasty bacteria.
2. Forget whatever you heard about aftercare.
I don’t mean to imply that everything people have said is wrong, but if a piercer tells you how to take care of your new piercing and it is the opposite of what a Claire’s employee or online forum suggests, go with what the piercer says. Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation is passed along which can work against you. Beane suggests that, if you have gotten a piercing with a gun, avoid following their aftercare instructions and go see a professional piercer for advice. He views them as worse than the gun itself; the aftercare instructions that one may receive from these places suggest people touching their new piercing and moving it around. Doing this makes a piercing more likely to get infected or embedded (not stuck) into the skin.
3. Metal jewelry cannot get stuck to skin.
The difference between embedding and sticking can easily be confused. When it comes to piercings, embedding usually means the skin has begun to heal over the jewelry. Sticking means that the jewelry is adhering to the metal. To save you the trouble of thinking your jewelry is sticking and you have to move it around (which can reopen the piercing and cause it to get irritated), Ronin and Beane assure me that it is impossible for metal to stick to skin. If you think it is getting "stuck," you may need a longer or bigger piece of jewelry to accommodate the swelling (since everyone’s body swells differently after trauma) or for it to be looked at by your piercer.
4. Don’t use the word “infection” loosely.
It is so easy to assume that your piercing is infected if it is hurting, oozing some gunk, or seemingly sinking into your skin. In actuality, it's probably only irritated. Ronin explains that so many people quickly jump to the conclusion that their piercing is infected. Beane also explains that sometimes, if the piercing is extremely irritated, the symptoms showing up might mimic those of an infection, with cartilage piercings being the most likely place to be affected (because you sleep on them). However, both piercers make it clear that infections are rarer than you think.
In order for your piercing to get an infection, it must be an open wound. This means that you can only get an infection within the first two to three weeks of your piercing (except for special circumstances). An infection would also require a lot of missteps in the aftercare process, as well as hurt immensely. Before assuming that you have an infection, call your piercer and schedule a time to come in so they can take a look at it and let you know what you should do.
5. Don’t see a doctor for your piercing unless a piercer advises it.
If your piercing is acting up or hurting, you should first see your piercer! They will know how to help you, or let you know if it is an infection and when to see a doctor. Unfortunately, Ronin and Beane admit that most doctors don’t know much about piercings and can possibly make it worse. Both piercers have countless times heard clients explain that their doctor ruled it an infection, removed the piercing, and put them on antibiotics.
As said before, the chance of it being an infection is not that high, so the antibiotics would only weaken your immune system for nothing. On top of that, if it was an infection, you do not want to remove the jewelry. Contrary to what you may have heard, leaving in the jewelry will actually help your piercing recover, because it will help facilitate drainage (since it is a hole). If and when you do want the jewelry removed, the piercer can also do this correctly, so as to not hurt you even more (which is something a doctor may not know how to do).
6. The prices are what they are.
Getting a piercing from a respectable, professional shop means shelling out some dough. Piercing shops charge what they do because doing something right isn’t cheap. Not only are they piercing you with sterilized equipment and using medical grade jewelry made of the right metals, but they are also doing it in a safe and clean environment with professionals trained in this field. All of these things cost money. They are not trying to rip you off.
Sometimes, people assume that piercing shops are overcharging, so they head to places with lower prices. These places can actually put you at risk for getting an infection or a misaligned piercing because they may use lower-quality jewelry, not know how to properly pierce, and/or not have sterilized equipment. Beane explains that an earlobe piercing couldn’t be less than $40 to $45 if done at a right place, so keep that in mind.
7. Communication is key.
As with anything in life, communication is crucial for making your piercing experience go smoothly. Both Ronin and Beane stress the importance of being open and ready to chat with your piercer. Ronin expresses that honesty is all for the benefit of the client: “We aren’t here to judge you,” he assures. He prefers that his clients feel willing to ask questions or share their concerns instead of staying quiet. If they talk with him, he can better help them, and it may save everyone a lot of time and trouble.
Likewise, Beane says that coming to professional piercers with troubles, or “messes” (like piercing yourself), is totally OK. He says, “People pierce themselves all the time. It’s never not going to happen … we’ve all done it.” Having pierced my own lip when I was 16, I can attest that professional piercers will definitely take the time to assist you in these situations. It was actually Beane who looked at my lip after I realized with horror what I had done.
8. Heed their advice!
With that said, it is safe to say that people wanting piercings should listen to their piercers. They are professionals who follow regulations, have studied their craft, and have trained as apprentices for years. Do not go into shops demanding to get something even if the piercer says it may not work out, or will not be a good, long-term piercing. Ronin explains that people who do this do not make it pleasant to work with them, and they do not realize that the piercer is thinking of the longevity of the piercing (not making money).
People should be willing to have an open dialogue with their piercers, and acknowledge that they probably know what is best when it comes to placement, jewelry size, and aftercare. “This job is rewarding to us,” says Ronin, “we do it because we love it.”