So you've decided to get a new piercing? Congratulations! Who's piercing you? How will you act when you get to the studio? How should you act? Is there special piercing etiquette? Don't fret! We have the answers to your pre-piercing questions.
Finding a Piercer
First things first, you need to figure out where you're going to get your new piercing. There are a few ways to go about this. Talk to your friends and see if anyone recommends a specific piercer or tattoo and piercing shop in your area. You can also look up some of the shops closest to you and read about them online, look for reviews, and see if one in particular stands out above the others. Once you find a shop that interests you, look to see if they have a website. If their piercer's portfolio isn't online, stop by the shop to see his/her work.
If you aren't able to find a piercer one of those ways or just want some additional recommendations before making a decision, you can also ask around our forum to find out if any of our online community members can suggest a professional piercer in your vicinity. Additionally, you can see if there's a piercer in your area listed on the Association of Professional Piercers' website. Many great piercers aren't APP certified, so just use the APP as a reference and not the final word on experienced piercers in your area.
Proper Piercing Etiquette
There's no Emily Post's Etiquette book specifically for piercing that's filled with rules detailing how you and your piercer should act during the piercing process, so try to be common-sense courteous and keep general etiquette rules in mind when you get pierced. Be polite. Put your cell phone away. Extend a hand when you meet your piercer. Don't pick your nose... You know, basic etiquette. You should also keep these more specific piercing etiquette tips in mind when working with a piercer:
Should you make an appointment to get pierced? The answer really depends on the type of piercing you want and how much of a planner you are. If you decide you want a simple standard belly button piercing or a lip, ear, eyebrow, or other basic piercing, it should be fine for you to just drop in. If you're interested in getting a genital piercing or another more complex piercing, it's a good idea to at least call before you drive over to the shop.
Making an appointment just ensures that your piercer will be there when you come in and have time blocked out to see you. It's also helpful if you have special needs or want an unusual piercing that may require a consultation. For instance, if you have a metal allergy and can only wear jewelry made of a specific material like BioPlast, calling ahead gives your piercer a chance to order what you need if s/he doesn't already have it. (Most piercers will have hypo-allergenic jewelry options on hand, though.) As for consultations, they can usually be done immediately before you're pierced. For example, if you want a VCH piercing, your piercer will need to do a Q-tip test first to make sure you have the right anatomy for it.
The Day of Your Piercing
When your piercing date finally rolls around, be sure to take a shower, put on clean clothes, and make yourself presentable. You're about to have another person in your personal space, and we're sure s/he will greatly appreciate it if you're tidy. Would you enjoy the stench of morning breath wafting towards you as you stand inches from someone's mouth and pull their tongue out to pierce it? Yuck! Clean yourself up, a'ight?
Eat something before you leave. You need to get your blood sugar up so you don't pass out cold on your piercer. Hydrate, too--but NOT with alcohol! Drinking alcoholic beverages isn't a suitable way to hydrate anyway, but more importantly, alcohol and piercings don't mix. There's too much risk of your blood thinning and you bleeding out when you get pierced. Alcohol + Piercing = Disaster Waiting to Happen. If you don't follow this advice and your piercer smells alcohol on you, s/he should tell you to get lost. No professional piercer worth their salt will pierce someone they know is intoxicated.
If you're freaked out or just want company, it's fine to take a friend with you. Don't roll in with your entire posse, though--unless they all have appointments right after yours, that is. If that's the case, your piercer would likely welcome your entire high school basketball team at once. However, under normal circumstances, it's best to take just one wing man with you to help you remember to breathe while you're getting pierced... or just to be the first person to tell you your new piercing looks freakin' awesome!
When You Arrive
We were totally serious about the cell phone thing. PUT YOUR CELL PHONE AWAY before you even walk in the door! There's nothing more maddening than standing behind a counter with a customer in front of you who's idly chatting on their phone and holding up their index finger in a "wait" gesture--or worse yet, telling you to keep helping them and just ignore the fact that they're being incredibly rude to you. Silence it, put it in your pocket or purse, or better yet, leave it in the car!
If you absolutely have to use your cell phone while in a piercing and tattoo shop, politely apologize to your piercer and ask if s/he can excuse you for a moment while you take an important call. It better be truly important, though. Remember that your piercer's losing money while s/he waits for you when s/he could be piercing someone who actually wants to be pierced and doesn't have a cell phone glued to their head.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about what comes next. After walking into the shop, with your cell phone put away, approach the front counter or nearest clerk and tell them you're there for an appointment with [piercer's name]. They'll likely guide you to a seating area and ask you to wait. Until your piercer comes out, be courteous of those around you. You know, no farting, burping, or stretching out across the only 3 seats in the waiting room for a quick siesta to calm your nerves before getting pierced. Sit quietly in a chair and wait patiently, or peruse the merchandise in the shop. This is the only time we'll give you permission to pull out your cell phone to play a game, send texts or do whatever else you can do with it that doesn't involve talking to anyone. Just be sure to put it down immediately when you're called back for your appointment; your piercer doesn't want to wait while you launch one last angry bird at an ugly pig.
Meeting Your Piercer
This is another moment when standard rules of etiquette apply. When your piercer comes out, introduce yourself, shake his/her hand, make a little idle chitchat for a minute if you want ('isn't it just a lovely day?', 'I wouldn't know, I've been stuck in this cave all day' blah blah), and then start talking business. If you've brought a friend with you, be sure to introduce him/her, too, so your piercer doesn't call security on the lingerer who's gone mute after being left out of introductions and is now trailing a few feet behind you like a creepy stalker.
You should be guided back to a private area or room where your piercing will take place. Before you set down anything you brought with you, ask your piercer where the appropriate place is to set your personal belongings. Your piercer will then ask you to sit, stand or lay down, depending on what you're having pierced, and get down to business. If you've brought a friend with you, ask where s/he can stand or sit and hold your hand while staying out of your piercer's way. Those squeezy stress ball things are pretty awesome for nerves, too, if you can't bring along a hand to crush in your moment of ecstatic agony.
Your piercer's finished setting up a sterile field and has all his tools before him, you're in the prone position, and the time has come for you to get pierced. No matter how scared you are--and you really shouldn't be scared, because it's a moment of pain for a lifetime of enjoyment--try not to flinch when your piercer comes towards you with the needle. Flinching at the wrong moment can be devastating with some piercings. The septum's a great example, because the sweet spot is rather small on most people, and if your piercer goes a little high because you jerked your head back at the wrong moment, you will be in absolute agony, and you'll have to get re-pierced in the proper spot later. So yeah, no flinching! It's also best to suppress your urge to scream when the needle goes through. You could scare someone else sitting in the waiting room... or just be that annoying client who screamed like a baby getting vaccinations. If you're a screamer, bite a pillow or something. In other words, stuff it.
If your consoler decides it'd be fun to snap pics of you while you make faces and squirm in pain, ask your piercer if it's okay with him/her first. If the camera/phone flashes at the wrong moment, it could cause your piercer to make a wrong move and the needle s/he's wielding to go somewhere you don't want it to go. A flash could be a health hazard, so just make sure your piercer's cool before the photo shoot starts.
Once your jewelry's in, you're all cleaned up, you've had a chance to ooh and ahh at your new piercing, and you've gushingly thanked your piercer for a job well done, ask what the damage is. Your piercer will likely take you back up front to pay, at which point it's time to think about...
Piercers are kind of like waiters at a restaurant. Unless they're piercing you in their own shop, they're likely getting a small percentage of the meager amount you pay for your piercing. That's why tipping is really important.
"TIPS" is said to be an acronym for "To Insure Prompt Service", which is why people in old movies are usually seen tipping the maître de before getting a table or a valet before he runs to get the tipper's car. That said, these days people typically tip based on the level of service they received. If your piercer did a good job, show your appreciation with a healthy tip. A minimum of 20% is typically expected nowadays (inflation sucks, but it is what it is), and more if your piercer did an exceptional job. That said, only you know how much you can afford to tip and what your piercer deserves based on your personal experience. Just don't be a jerk and walk out without tipping at all unless your piercer did something really unprofessional. Here's a rare example of a situation when it'd be perfectly okay not to tip:
When I was in college, I had my tongue pierced. I didn't know anything about gauges or proper piercing etiquette back then, and I made the mistake of trying to swap out my starter 14g barbell for a new 12g one by myself exactly 6 weeks after getting pierced. It turned into a hopeless situation fast. The bottom half of my tongue started to close, so I grabbed my keys and ran to the nearest piercing shop. Apparently by then it was too late, but the piercer didn't tell me that nicely. He stood close to me, leaned in until he was inches from my face, and screamed at me. He told me I was "a f*****g idiot" and that, sure, he could "ram the barbell through my tongue" if I really wanted him to, but he wouldn't re-pierce me until I'd fully healed. Whoa. I backed out of that shop as quickly as I could, then turned and ran away. That guy had no business working in a professional piercing shop. And he definitely didn't deserve a tip for his wonderful assistance during my piercing crisis.
While that one random piercer I turned to for help was a jerk to me, all of my piercings were done by amazing pro piercers who earned every penny of the tips I gave them and then some. They were courteous, they educated me, they got me to laugh when I was nervous, they did their best to protect me from germs and bacteria during the piercing process... they were just all-around awesome, as most piercers are. Reward your piercer for awesomeness. 'Nough said.
Other Miscellaneous Stuff to Remember
- If you take jewelry in with you when you get pierced and you've worn it before, take it in a sealed container or zipper baggie. You don't want to spread any bacteria clinging to it around the piercing shop.
- Don't change your jewelry yourself, and especially not in the bathroom (ew, G-E-R-M-S!). Ask your piercer to put sterilized jewelry in for you.
- Don't touch any of your piercer's tools or other sterile supplies during the piercing process. Your piercer's wearing gloves, you're not. Don't mess things up by putting your dirty hands on something you have no business touching.
- Don't play with your new piercing. The only good reason for touching it is if there's a problem or you're cleaning it, and in either case, you should be wearing gloves or have just washed your hands with antibacterial soap at minimum.
Your piercer should be every bit as courteous to you as you are to him or her and then some. After all, you're the client--the one paying for a service--and part of being served is being treated politely. If you end up with a jerk like that guy who was going to ram my tongue ring through my half-closed tongue piercing, RUN and don't look back. Seriously. You deserve better. If you get a really nice guy or gal, but then s/he starts doing suspect stuff like touching tools with bare hands or trying to use a needle that didn't just come out of sterile packaging, that's another reason to hit the road. Infections are scary and dangerous; don't risk one just because you're dying to get pierced right now. You'll live, I promise--particularly because you left rather than let someone stick a suspect needle through your flesh and introduce an army of germs into your bloodstream.
Last thing: Your piercer should give you some aftercare instructions and hopefully a product like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray or H2Ocean before you leave the shop. If s/he's remiss, don't leave without asking about aftercare. You can also check out our Body Piercing Aftercare article for tips on how to care for your new piercing.
If you have questions about your new piercing, share them in our forum, or just read about other people's experiences and review the feedback the community gave them. Most likely, someone else has had the same question or problem at some point in the past, our online community's come to their aid, and the whole thing's in a thread somewhere just waiting for you to search for the magic phrase that helps you find it.