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Drop The Weapon! The Argument Against Piercing Guns and Mall Piercing Kiosks

There seems to be a rite of passage for people who get their ears pierced. You go to a mall kiosk with your mom or your friend, sit in a tall chair, and carefully choose from the board of pretty studs that the piercer presents to you. The piercer assures you that it will only hurt for a few seconds, loads the gun with the front and back of the stud, places it over your earlobe, and…. Crunch! The gun contracts and forces the pretty stud into your ear. The lobe swells and throbs, but when you look into the mirror, the shining earrings glint back at you. Maybe you’ll even get more piercings with a similar gun; ear cartilage, nose, or even your belly button. However, next time, I strongly suggest you don’t use a gun. Get pierced with the utensil that mall piercers hate: needles.

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Needles, despite looking sharp, scary, and dangerous, are actually the safest option available for piercings. They have gained an incredibly bad reputation from piercing novices and the kiosks. However, the only “benefit” of piercing guns is that they tend to be faster. What’s more important though, speed or a proper piercing?

When getting a stud put through your body, sanitation is critical. No one wants to get sick–mild or otherwise–from their piercing. Unfortunately, infections and other complications are much more common with guns than needles. Quite simply, regardless of what mall piercers say, you cannot fully sterilize a gun. Some places will use an alcohol wipe to clean up, but there lies the problem: that’s cleaning, not sterilizing. There are so many nooks and crannies that bodily fluid or bacteria can get into that a wipe cannot reach. These guns are not disposable: they are reused for everyone who wants a piercing. There are newer models that come with disposable cartridges, but there still is a risk of cross contamination because they are using the same gun. Think about it: would you want to get pierced with an instrument that has gone through and been used on hundreds, if not thousands, of other people?

Needles, on the other hand, are disposable and sterile. The needles are single use and come in sterile packets. There are no reusable parts, so each needle is exclusively yours. The risk of cross contamination is very, very small, if not zero. In fact, all of the objects that will touch your body are autoclaved, and in a room that is specifically designated for safe piercings. This is especially important to consider, both from the initial pierce to the healing process.

Source: David Sedrakyan

Guns and needles pierce in very different ways. When needles are used, they are hollow and incredibly sharp. The piercer finds the perfect place to pierce and basically pokes a hole in the ear, then manipulates the stud in. In essence, the needles pokes out a very small bit of the body part, whether it be cartilage or flesh, in order to make room for the piercing. This may sound gross, but consider the alternative. Piercing guns use the actual stud to pierce, instead of a needle. The gun is loaded with a sharp stud in the front and the clasp in the back. It is lined up with the body part and when the trigger is pulled, the stud is forced through and connects with the clasp. This is basically the fancy version of getting pierced at home with a friend. Forcing the jewelry through not only creates blunt trauma, but also forces the flesh and skin to fold over itself, creating a bump around the piercing and increasing the risk of keloids. This blunt trauma is caused by the stud itself, which is actually quite dull compared to a needle. Instead of having something sharp swiftly going through, a dull metal point is being forced through, thanks to the spring loaded gun action. This action actually takes the bacteria and microorganisms that were on your skin and forces them inside with the stud, increasing the risk for an infection further down the road.

The piercing method creates a less than ideal healing process. Besides the trauma, bacteria, and risk of cross contamination, there are also long term difficulties, such as keloids, infections, irritation, or even allergies to certain metals. In fact, when using a piercing gun on cartilage, such as the upper part of the ear, there is a risk of shattering it. Cartilage does not grow back. This can also lead to something called cauliflower ear, where the ear loses blood flow, shrivels up and folds over itself. Antibiotics only help the infection, whereas surgery seems to be the only way to actually restore the ear. When gun piercings are retired, they often leave unseemly scars. While this may also occur for needle piercings, the trauma, as previously mentioned, displaces the skin and interior, and is more likely to scar. Professional piercers will tell you about these risks and offer ways to prevent them, but mall piercers do not have the same training and experience, and generally offer little productive help.

With signs at places such as Claire’s that read “100 Million Pierced Ears!” and by calling themselves the “ear piercing specialists”, it is easy to feel safe with the teenager or young adult holding the gun to your ear. However, consider that they are primarily employed to sell, stock, and serve customers. Many of the positions at these stores, save supervisors, managers, and the like, are considered entry-level positions. It may even be their first job. As a result, they are not given the training required for a proper, clean piercing. In some chain stores, they are given a training session and practice punching holes in cardboard. Professional piercers, on the other hand, work from apprentice to master, and have many hours of training and even certifications. There are associations, such as the Association of Professional Piercers (APP), who pride themselves in their high quality piercings. The lack of training with mall piercers is evident. Firstly, their accuracy with the gun is lackluster. There is a risk of uneven piercings with needles, however you may not even be able to fit your body part in the gun. Guns are a standard size, so sometimes piercers have to squish it in.

 

Source: Kaitlin Kenny

Aftercare is crucial. Any good piercer will tell you to clean with saline, rinse in the shower, and use the LITHA method: leave it the hell alone! However, gun piercers are not given these proper aftercare tips. Claire’s will even try to sell you an aftercare solution containing benzethonium chloride, a known irritant to piercings. The Claire’s website also encourages twisting the piercing, in order to “make the healing process easier”. This actually allows bacteria to enter the hole and otherwise irritates it, ultimately delaying the healing process. These piercers are also given very reckless periods in which jewelry can be changed. For earrings, they say jewelry can be changed in “as little as 3 weeks”, 8 weeks for noses and 12 weeks for cartilage piercings, so long as post and stud styles continue to be used for a year after. All of these time frames are wrong, wrong, wrong. It is imperative to remember what a piercing is: a hole punched through your body! Healing takes time. With professional needle piercings, healing can take months. Earlobe piercings can be changed sooner, as they only go through flesh, however cartilage piercings can take up to a year before you should even  consider changing the jewelry. Changing any sooner greatly increases the risk of infection and scarring.

The final piece of evidence that mall piercing locations do not know what they are doing comes from the types of jewelry used to make the initial piercing. Up to 15% of the population has an allergy to certain metals, usually nickel. While it may be rare to see a piercer of any kind using such poor quality metals as copper, zinc, or nickel to initially pierce, these mall locations seldom use ideal metals. While gold and silver jewelry does well in healed piercings, the plating tends to rub away or oxidize when it comes in contact with bodily fluids. Furthermore, gold is too soft for fresh piercings. Even in some professional piercing parlours, they use stainless and surgical steel jewelry. Though these metals are superior to the previously mentioned materials, it is still not ideal as they can also cause irritation. The two best metals for jewelry are surgical implant grade steel and titanium, with the latter being preferred. These tend to be more expensive than the ones used in mall locations, and therefore out of the advertised budget. Asking about any of the above aspects will almost certainly be met with a blank stare or an employee bumbling through an excuse as to why gun piercings with their jewelry is ideal. However, it is crucial to look past these advertisements and realize what is best for the body. This lack of knowledge and training can be incredibly serious, and could even make people seriously ill.

Source: Giphy

Even with all of the reasons why you should choose needles and high quality parlours, it can be daunting to abandon what you may have previously believed and find a new place to get pierced. Parlours, much like needles, get a bad reputation. People assume that they are dirty and full of bad biker gangs. A high quality parlour, however, will be none of the above. Yes, many have employees that have a lot of tattoos and piercings—some in places you’d never imagine, and they may even look like scary bikers, but they are all very passionate and confident in their work. A good piercer will pride themselves on the cleanliness of their shop, but also on their piercing technique and instrument (needles!) which should put anyone at ease. Here are some tips on how to find the perfect parlour:

  • Look for a place that advertises titanium or surgical implant grade steel.
  • If they use piercing guns, leave, regardless of what they say.
  • Watch the piercer wash their hands, put on gloves, and open fresh needles. If they do not, leave.
  • Feel free to ask about their sanitization process if you feel uncomfortable. Everything touching you that is reusable should be 100% sanitized, typically by an autoclave.
  • For certain piercings, typically cartilage, belly, or genitals, expect a consultation to ensure you have the correct anatomy. If a piercer will just pierce you without taking a look, leave; it may not be appropriate for your body.
  • See if you get along with the piercer. You’re trusting them with your body, so make sure you mesh well.
  • See if they are part of the APP. It isn’t necessary, but gives an idea of their quality.
  • Ask a friend or look at reviews.
  • Check out the parlour and ensure it is clean and well lit.
  • Trust your instinct. Even if the piercer is holding the needle right up to you, you can still say no if you feel uncomfortable. You are not being forced to get a piercing, and a good piercer will respect that.

Piercings are serious business. It is putting a metal instrument inside of your body. Unlike, say, wearing a bracelet, this jewellery goes through flesh and cartilage. With so many people unaware of how proper piercings are performed, it is crucial to understand exactly what is being done to your body, and the method behind it. Piercings are for life, and should be taken very seriously. While it may be scary to go into a parlour and use a needle, it is absolutely superior to the mall and gun alternative. Remember, the next time you’ve got that itch for a new shiny bobble, go for the needle, and put down that gun.

Kaitlin is a bilingual (French and English) writer originating from friendly Thunder Bay. They are in their seventh year at York University, where they study professional writing with an emphasis on journalism. They live with their partner of nine years and their cat, Tessa. They started writing with a passion and a poem that eventually won third in a contest 12 years ago, and started editing not too long after. When not at the keyboard, Kaitlin can be found reading, cooking, playing video games, or holding Tessa. Their favorite movies are scary and their favorite television genre is reality. Kaitlin's passions include copyediting, anything scary or spooky and adding to her collection of dolls, magnets and cups. Their favorite part of writing/editing is giving others a chance to share their story or achieve their dreams and offering insight on "the little things." Some of Kaitlin's favorite topics reflect on their personal life, including health/disabilities, fringe topics and social issues.
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