How to Get a Piercing (the Right Way!)

Here is another post on answering a bunch of FAQs when it comes to piercing. This is more for people who haven’t gotten any yet (or, have not gone to a place that isn’t in a mall) and want to know what to expect.

Once again, I am not a doctor or a medical professional or a piercer. I’m just someone who’s gotten a number of piercings and has a decent understanding of anatomy. If you have questions, ask your piercer OR your doctor! Not people on the Internet!

DON’T DO IT YOURSELF

This should be in big flashing lights, but that is not very accessible. So you shall get this in all caps instead.

There are many, many reasons why it is really stupid to pierce yourself (or having your buddy do it):

  • You are never going to have sterile tools and jewelry. You don’t have an autoclave. Alcohol or heating the metal does not cut it. You’re making a hole, and that is the best way to get something nasty deep inside you and cause a horrible infection. The damage this will cause can make the location unsuitable for a future piercing or for stretching, not to mention the chance you’ll have to get medical attention. That is WAY more expensive than seeing a professional!
  • You do not have the proper tools. Everyone’s body is different, and different anatomy (like the shape/size of your ear) will require different equipment. So even if you buy the “right” thing on Amazon, there is no guarantee it will be the right thing in YOUR situation. Most people who pierce at home will be using whatever they have around, which can cause undue damage, making the piercing heal poorly.
  • You do not have the proper jewelry. What you wear in a new piercing is not the same as what you’d wear in a healed piercing. This includes size, style, material, and how the pieces are connected together. You need the right jewelry to let your body heal correctly.
  • You can’t see what you’re doing. Most piercings are in locations you yourself cannot see. Do you really want to be craning your neck or doing this in a mirror?
  • You’re going to mess up your movements because of the pain (or anticipation thereof). You want someone with a steady hand doing this.
  • You have no idea what you’re doing. Do you actually know the best place to put a septum? Do you know the situations where it’s preferable to use a ring in initial jewelry over a straight bar? Do you know what anatomy is unstable for a specific piercing? Or are you just doing what you think looks the coolest?

Yes, going to a professional takes time and money. But body modification is permanent. Isn’t it worth it to save up and have it done once correctly instead of risking something going very poorly? Or, are you too young to get the piercing you want? You can wait a few years, trust me! If it’s something you really want, you’ll still want it in a year or two.

Guns are Bad

Piercing gun, specifically. [Here is one on Amazon], for example. It even includes this handy diagram as to how it works!

As you can see, it takes the initial jewelry and shoves it through your flesh. What real piercers use are needles. Needles are designed to go through skin/flesh as easily as possible and to be sterile. If you’ve done lots of sewing, you know how difficult it is to push a dull needle through fabric compared to a fresh, sharp needle. The jewelry used in a piercing gun is much duller than a needle, so it needs more force to go through you.

There is the false belief that piercing guns hurt less than needles. You are creating a crushing wound with a blunt object, doesn’t that sound like it’ll hurt more than something designed to go through you smoothly? People who use piercing guns tend to be young folx working at a mall who do not have a lot of training, and definitely not blood pathogen training. Do you think they are less likely to mess up than someone who does this for a living and has years of practice?

A real risk from piercing with a gun is scar tissue. Scar tissue is less flexible than normal tissue, which can limit how much you can stretch your piercing. My first two sets of ear lobe piercings were done with a gun, because I was a minor and didn’t know better, and it started causing problems with stretching almost immediately. This never would have been an issue if I had gone somewhere reputable.

The one “benefit” to the piercing gun is that you can have two people pierce both ears at once. But unless you are literally a baby, you can deal with being poked twice.

How to Find a Real Piercer

Like most things, referrals are great! Friends, family, Facebook, or Nextdoor. Ask a lot of questions, were they happy with the piercer? Did they seem like a professional? Did anything go wrong, and how did the piercer handle it? Did they give information on aftercare? Were they trying to upsell you or were they more concerned about giving you what works best for your body?

Yelp is good, too. People will post pictures of the inside of the shop and share their experiences. Try to look for reviews where a person had questions or issues and reached out for help. Even in the best-case scenarios, you might get an infection or a piercing that rejects. How your piercer reacts in these situations is important.

I also highly recommend looking up local shops through [the Association of Professional Piercers]. That’s how I found my shop! (Industrial Tattoo and Piercing in Berkeley, California. I’ve gotten 7 there and I can’t recommend them enough!)

When you go, look around the shop and ask lots of questions. If the vibes are off or you don’t feel like you’ll be taken care of, leave! It’s okay! You’re trusting someone to make a permanent change to your body, so you should be getting the best person you can!

One question you should ALWAYS ask is if they use needles or piercing guns. If they won’t tell you, or try to use words to dance around the subject (like how Claire’s says it has a “system”), don’t give them your business.

Initial Piercing Jewelry

This is what is put into you right after the hole is made. This will be in contact with your insides (blood and other gross stuff), so you want something that is clean and won’t make your body upset (it already is because there is now a hole it has to fix, but the wrong jewelry can make things worse, which prolongs healing).

The exact jewelry depends on the location of the piercing and your body. There are different sizes and thicknesses (the “gauge”) and different locations need different types of jewelry, like straight barbells, curved barbells, labrets (posts), and rings. Your piercer will pick what is best for your unique situation.

Jewelry will usually be longer than what you’d wear in a healed piercing. Part of the healing process is swelling. You do not want jewelry that is too short, because your body can swell up and over it. To fix that, it needs to be cut out. You don’t want to deal with that!

Most jewelry is made of 2 parts. How the parts are connected matters for initial jewelry, as you don’t want something that will accidentally come apart, but also to not irritate your piercing. This will either be internally threaded (the “top” has a screw that goes into the post) or “threadless” (the “top” has a pin that is bent and put into the post). Externally threaded (the “top” has a hole and the post is threaded at the end) can even make “healed” piercings bleed, so you definitely don’t want them when you’re healing. “Seamless” rings and clicker rings have seams that can irritate, too. Anything that is dangly can catch on things. You want to minimize hurting yourself as much as possible!

All of this means that there aren’t as many styles for initial piercings. Whatever it is, your piercer will have to autoclave it, and it has to be in stock at the store. So it might not be as cute or cool as you’d like! But it’s temporary, you’ll be able to change it soon enough.

Finally, you want the piercing to be made out of the right material. You don’t want your body to see the jewelry as a threat. It needs to be autoclaved and not contain surfaces for bacteria to hide in (i.e. not be porous). When alcohol says it kills 99.9% of germs, the ones that escape are in scratches or holes in a surface, not that they are immune to alcohol.

Available materials:

  • Surgical steel. There are a lot of steels out there and crappy brands might SAY they are, but aren’t. A reputable store will carry true surgical steel.
  • Titanium. My personal favorite, it’s super lightweight and is used in joint replacements, so it’s well-documented to be body-safe. It can be anodized in lots of different colors.
  • Niobium. Can be lots of pretty colors. Not as common as other materials
  • Gold. Has to be 14 karats or higher and not contain certain metals (like nickel). It is very expensive and must be done in a certain way to not have the gold flake off. Honestly, you are better off not picking this for initial jewelry. Invest in gold for final jewelry.
  • Platinum. Like titanium, but heavy and very expensive.
  • Glass. These are short, chunky pieces and not hollow, so you have to try very, very hard to break them. They can come in lots of cool colors and patterns. I like using these for “initial piercings” when I stretch my ears.

As for materials you don’t want to use: Acrylic is a type of plastic, so it can’t be autoclaved. Silicone can be, but you want something rigid for an initial piercing. Natural materials like stone, bone, wood etc, while used for thousands of years as initial piercings, are porous and can’t be autoclaved. You’ve probably heard stories of cheap earrings turning your ears green. Really cheap jewelry (like what you’ll find at Claire’s and Hot Topic) have who-knows-what in them and, if you have sensitive skin, can cause issues.

Once your piercing is healed, you can wear whatever you want. However, you still want to pick jewelry that you can clean and won’t irritate you.

The Piercing Process

  1. Show up! Maybe you have to make an appointment, maybe there are walk-ins. Either way, you are at the location, you know what you want to get, you’ve had something to eat in the last few hours, and you’re not sick or intoxicated. You also are following whatever shop rules there are for age, ID, proof of vaccination, etc.
  2. Pick out jewelry! Any ends can be plain (like a round ball) or have gems or other decorations. Don’t feel like you have to splurge.
  3. Have a conversation with your piercer! Tell them what you want (it’s okay if you don’t know the exact name!) and point out the location on your body. Or show a picture, if you have one. Ask any questions you might have. If there are other piercings you want to get in the future, mention them. There might be a specific location that would work better to allow for more stuff later. Mention if you want to stretch the piercing.
  4. Get comfy! You’ll be arranged on the table/chair in a way that is comfortable for you and allows the piercer access to whatever part of your body. If you have any relaxation techniques, this is a good time to start using them!
  5. Get marked up! Your piercer will clean the area and mark it with a special marker. You can then check yourself out (probably with a mirror) and see if you like the location. It might take more than one time to get it right, but this is the time to figure that out!
  6. Final preparations! Your piercer will be getting everything together for the coming moment. You do your best to relax!
  7. Get pierced! It’ll be over before you know it.
  8. Get jewelery’d! Your piercer puts in the jewelry. If it’s threadless, you might hear what sounds like a crunch, but that’s just the jewelry! It’s normal!
  9. Get yourself a snack! You were very brave 🙂 so you deserve a lollypop, or something.
  10. Follow aftercare! Hey, [I wrote a post on that!] But your piercer should give you some, too.

Write down the date you got the piercing and when to come back to get your jewelry downsized. Or at least the date when it might be healed. Each type of piercing has a different range of healing. This can be anywhere from a month to a year or more, so it’s good to know how long it should take.

And give your piercer a tip 🙂 And tell all your friends! And be patient waiting for them to heal before you stretch them or get more, that’s the hardest part!

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