This guide was provided by the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) to help you choose the best piercer to do your first, or next, piercing. To learn more about the APP, visit www.safepiercing.org.
APP Tips for Choosing a Piercing Artist
You have decided to have your body pierced and you are asking yourself, "I want it done now, so where do I go?" In this era of bloodborne diseases you MUST be very careful who you have perform your piercing! This guide is brought to you by the The Association of Professional Piercers to assist you in making a better-informed decision regarding your piercing because IT'S YOUR CHOICE! This is meant to be a guideline and to aid you in having a safe piercing experience.
An autoclave is a device that sterilizes the jewelry, tools and equipment necessary to perform your piercing/s by eliminating bacteria and its spores. The most effective units available to studios use a combination of steam and pressure. (”Dry Heat” is NOT considered appropriate for sterilization.) Absolutely no studio should be in operation without this vital piece of equipment!
Spore Test Results
A spore test (biological indicator) is the only way to know that an autoclave is working properly. Biological indicators actually test the autoclave’s ability to kill even the most dangerous & resistant organisms such as HIV, Hepatitis, etc. The studio should keep recent results on file and be willing to show them to you.
Ask if you can watch them setup for a piercing and be in the room when they setup for yours. The piercer should first wash and glove their hands. The equipment should be sealed in individual sterilized packages and placed on a tray. The piercer should change gloves if they touch anything in the room other than you and the sterile equipment. All needles should be in individual sterile packages and should be opened while you are present. NEVER let a piercer use a needle on you that was soaked in a liquid. All needles should be disposed of in a sharps container (usually a small red box marked "biohazard") after they have been used on a single client.
Note: The image above shows an example of a piece of jewelry in sterile packaging. The needles your piercer uses should be packaged in a similar way. To order your own pre-sterilized starter jewelry to take with you when you get pierced, add one "Sterilize My Jewelry" option to cart for each piece of body jewelry you're purchasing that you want sterilized.
The aftercare for your piercing should be explained to you and provided in writing. Read this sheet BEFORE you have the piercing done! If it tells you to treat your piercing with harsh soap, ointment, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide, the studio is not keeping up with industry standards. Sea salt solutions like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray are the best option for keeping your new piercing clean.
Don't be misled into believing piercing is easy. It takes time and dedication to acquire the ability to correctly place and skillfully perform piercings. Piercers either serve an apprenticeship or are self-taught. Apprenticeships will generally last from 6 months to two years. Those who are self-taught will ideally have sought guidance from others in the field. Continued education is the hallmark of any conscientious piercer. It is perfectly acceptable and advisable to inquire about how long your piercer has been piercing, how they learned to pierce, and what they have done to keep their knowledge base current, i.e., courses on Anatomy, Aftercare, Aseptic Technique, etc.
Is the Studio Well-Kept and Clean?
Are the walls washed and the carpet vacuumed? Is the staff bathed and neat? Is the restroom kept clean and tidy? Ideally, studios should have 5 separate areas: the counter, waiting room, piercing room(s), bathroom, and a separate sterilization room.
Does the studio have a license to operate?
In most cases a license to operate means that the studio meets minimum requirements and has passed some sort of inspection. To find out if your area has established standards and inspections, call your local Health Department. If a studio is operating unlicensed in an area where licenses are required, report them to your local health department or city business license division.
Look at their piercing photo portfolio. Are piercings placed to accent the anatomy or do they look awkward and poorly matched to the individual? If the portfolio features unusual looking placements, are there pictures of healed piercings, showing the actual viability of the placement?
Regardless of any local legislation being more lenient, the following is an appropriate minimum standards policy on piercing minors: For any piercing of a minor, a parent or legal guardian must be present to sign a consent form. Proof positive, state issued photo identification is required from the legal guardian, and a bona fide form of identification from the minor. In the event the parent has a different last name and/or address from the child, court documentation is needed to prove the relationship, i.e., divorce papers, or a remarriage certificate. Under no circumstances is it acceptable or appropriate for a piercer to perform piercing on the nipples or genitals of an individual under 18 years of age.
A number of states have made it illegal to use a gun on body piercings and with good reason. Most ear guns can't be sterilized in an autoclave and therefore don’t meet the criteria for APP piercers' use of sterile disposable equipment. True professional piercers exclusively use body piercing needles, not piercing guns.
Use Your Instincts
If you don't feel comfortable with the studio or the piercer you should leave. "I should have listened to my gut feeling" is something you should never have to say.
Use Your Head
Don’t act impulsively or be swayed by a low price. You generally get what you pay for (but some unskilled piercers charge plenty). Get referrals on a piercing shop/piercer from knowledgeable friends and/or the local health department.
All APP Members will have a certificate that should be hanging on the studio's wall. The certificate has an expiration date on it; make sure it is current.
Although individual studio requirements vary, most will expect you to:
- Bring valid photo identification
- Be completely sober
- Be bathed with hair trimmed or tied back (where applicable)
- Have eaten within 4 hours
- If you are getting a genital or nipple piercing wear suitable, clean underwear/garments/bras
- If possible, avoid Aspirin or other blood thinners
- Have considered any potential health issues i.e. individual who require antibiotics prior to dental work should see their doctor prior to being pierced.
At the Counter:
- Don’t handle your piercings (even if they are healed) as you may spread bacteria to the studio’s common areas thereby endangering both staff and fellow patrons.
- Bring worn jewelry in a baggie or other sealed container.
- Never place worn jewelry on the counter or display.
In the Restroom:
- Don’t handle your piercings (see above).
- It is never appropriate to change your jewelry in the restroom or other locations in the studio.
- If you want your jewelry changed at the studio, it should be done by one of the piercers, in the piercing room.
In the Piercing Room:
- Allow your piercer to direct you to an area where personal belongings may be placed BEFORE setting anything down.
- Camera flashes can be very distracting during the performance of a piercing.
- Check with your piercer before taking pictures.
- Turn off your cell phone.
When referring to size of jewelry there are two measurements. One is either length or diameter, depending on whether you're talking about barbells or rings. The other is the thickness of the jewelry, which is the "gauge." The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the jewelry. For example, standard French hook earrings are roughly 20g, but the standard starting size for a belly ring is a thicker 14g, like the barbell shown to the right.
Generally speaking it is advisable to purchase body jewelry at the time of the piercing. Your piercer will need to select the jewelry best suited to your anatomy. Many studios will not insert jewelry purchased elsewhere in either a fresh or healed piercing as quality can not be verified. If the piercer insists on a certain style or size because that is the only item they have in stock, consider being pierced in a studio with a larger inventory. Alternatively, you can ask for a consultation while you're there, see what the piercer thinks would be the ideal size jewelry for you, and ask if you can order it online and come back later for your piercing. If the piercer agrees and you purchase jewelry from Painful Pleasures, you can have your jewelry sterilized so you don't have to wait for your piercer to autoclave it and potentially pay a higher fee for that service.
Taking Care of Your Piercing
The best aftercare will depend on various factors. Each body is unique and every piercing is different. There are a number of things you can do to help your body to heal your piercing. Some of them are:
- Keep your hands off the piercing! Dirty (unwashed) hands are the worst enemy for piercings. During the course of a day your hands become covered with germs. If you touch the piercing, even just near the area, you will deposit bacteria at the piercing site, possibly causing an infection.
- Eating Correctly: It is a proven fact that if you eat a healthful, balanced diet your body functions better and heals faster. In most cases, taking vitamin C and zinc will promote healing.
- Sea Salt: Applying a very mild, warm sea salt water soak (saline) to your piercing can help your body to heal your piercing. It may also reduce the risk of an infection by helping remove bacteria from the area.
- Liquid Soap: It is widely accepted that a mild liquid soap used to gently wash the piercing followed by thorough rinsing is suitable for most piercings. Ask your piercer for suggestions on products that are available in your area. Usually once or twice a day works best; don’t overclean the piercing. Also, don’t use multiple cleaners at the same time. (Soap plus sea salt water is ok.)
NEVER use the following:
- Hydrogen Peroxide or Alcohol: Over the years piercing industry professionals have learned that these products are far too strong and cause more problems than they help.
- Antibiotic ointments, gels and creams: These products trap dirt and germs inside a piercing and prevent oxygen from reaching the wound. They may work well for cuts and scrapes but are not good for piercings.
For additional aftercare tips, read our Body Piercing Aftercare article.