You asked, “What should I know before getting pierced?” and Nurse Gail Ingram answered. Here’s how to pick the best piercers, studios, and avoid complications.
So you want to get a piercing without the hassle of infection or other complications? Be prepared to do a little investigating and some meticulous aftercare.
To start with, don’t pick a studio or body artist on a whim. Check to see if the individual is licensed (individual piercers are licensed, not businesses) with the Department of Health. Using a licensed piercer gives you some recourse in the event there are complications. The only time piercing and tattoo studios are inspected is when a complaint is registered with the state. The Health Department does not regularly check to make sure that shops are clean and safe. That is your job.
You might also check to see if the piercing artist is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers [APP]. Members of the association tend to be more committed to their work and continue their education through regular APP sponsored workshops and conferences. There is also an extensive application process to join.
Before getting pierced, you’ll need to decide if you would like to be punctured with a gun or a needle. The decision is personal and needs to be made in advance because artists tend to choose one method or the other. The downside to the gun is that there is no way to sterilize it between customers. It can be wiped down but it cannot go into the autoclave (sterilizing machine) after each use. Every shop should have an autoclave and you can ask to see it. The cleanest and safest studios usually keep a service log for their autoclave that is updated every 30 days and you can ask to see that, too.
When you look around the studio, check to see if the staff is wearing gloves. Piercers should never answer the phone or reach into someone else’s work station without changing gloves. When this happens, gloves only protect the artist, not the customer, and it is a sign of an unclean studio. You should see staff wiping down chairs with disinfectant between clients.
It is very important to prevent infection by properly preparing the skin at the site of the piercing. Skin is a barrier that protects us from germs—germs on everyday objects, germs that float around in the air, and germs that live on the surface of our skin. When the skin is broken as a result of a cut, scrape, or piercing, bacteria on our skin can enter the body and cause an infection. So the skin needs to be really clean when the piercing is made and remain clean until the skin closes and heals around the stud.
At the time of the piercing, the skin should be scrubbed with alcohol, chlorhexidine, or povidone-iodine for at least 30 seconds and allowed 30 seconds to dry. After the skin is prepped, pre-packaged studs and disposable needles should be opened in front of you.
You should be sent home with written aftercare instructions. Please ask to go over these before you get pierced, because if the studio doesn’t have printed instructions for you, then you might want to take your business elsewhere. Instructions are an industry standard and an indicator of professionalism.
Another sign of a good practice includes keeping a record of each piercing. The information will help protect you in case an infectious problem occurs and the studio needs to inform you. Asking for ID to verify age and making sure customers aren’t intoxicated are also signs of a professional establishment. Conscientious piercers might also suggest you come back another time if you’ve taken aspirin or ibuprofen within 24 hours since aspirin can cause unnecessary bleeding.
The aftercare instructions should advise you to wash your hands with soap and hot water for at least 30 seconds before handling the piercing. Use a mild liquid antibacterial soap with hot water to wash the piercing twice a day and when needed. Do not use hydrogen peroxide because it will kill new healing cell growth. In the shower, let the soap suds and water run over the piercing—don’t blast it with the shower head. Avoid swimming or baths until fully healed.
A little bit of bleeding and maybe a little bruising are normal. So is a little swelling, a little discomfort, a little white or clear drainage, and scabbing. Redness, increased pain or throbbing, warmth radiating from the area, green or yellow drainage, odor, and/or fever is not normal. These are signs of infection and you should be assessed by a primary care provider right away because you may need antibiotics.
You should consult with a medical provider before being pierced if you have cardiac valve issues, history of heart infection, diabetes, hemophelia, lupus, HIV, or other immune disorders. Also before getting pierced, see a dermatologist if the area to be pierced has any kind of a rash.
Remember, it is OK to leave the studio if you feel uneasy about any part of your piercing experience. Get out of there. Listen to your gut and take care of yourself.