Which Is Better: Piercing Ears With a Needle or a Piercing Gun?
In September, I had my right helix pierced and had 2 new holes added to my earlobes here at The Studio at Painful Pleasures. While our resident piercing artist, Jason Coale, prepared to pierce my ears, I talked to him about the pros and cons of being pierced with a needle vs. a piercing gun. I later brought up the subject with piercing artist Jeremy Smith after he joined our team. My conversations with Jason and Jeremy, supported by the information I found on the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) website, taught me that there are a few key advantages to having your ears pierced by a professional piercer rather than by a piercing gun operator:
Professional piercers are better educated and more experienced than piercing gun operators. Professional piercers have done apprenticeships and generally received more extensive piercing educations than those who operate piercing guns. According to the APP, “Although gun piercing establishments usually train their operators, this training is not standardized and may amount to merely viewing a video, reading an instruction booklet, and/or practicing on cosmetic sponges or other employees.”*
Piercing guns can’t be sterilized to the same degree professional piercing equipment is. Ear piercing guns can’t be properly cleaned in an autoclave; at best, they’re wiped with alcohol or other antiseptic wipes in between uses. At a professional piercer’s studio, you should find that all tools and jewelry have been autoclaved before your piercing’s done, that needles are pre-sterilized and disposed of after one use, and that your piercer wears sterile gloves during the procedure. This reduces the likelihood of “transmitting bloodborne disease-causing microorganisms”* like the Hepatitis virus, which can live on inanimate objects like piercing guns for weeks at a time.
A professional piercer has more control over the placement of your piercings. A blocky piercing gun can make it hard for an operator to pierce your ears evenly. A piercer using a needle will have better visibility and can accurately pierce through markings that have been placed exactly where you want the holes to go. If you’re looking to have multiple earlobe piercings done, a piercer can better ensure that your piercings are added in a nice line that follows the curve of your ear with equal spacing between holes.
It’s less traumatic to be pierced with a needle than a gun. A needle pierces a clean hole, causes less pain, and typically results in less swelling. Piercing guns, on the other hand, can cause significant tissue damage, particularly when used on cartilage, which can shatter when a rather blunt stud is forced through it. Worse yet, piercing guns malfunction from time to time, and in those instances, the operator has to either remove the stud and try again or force it the rest of the way through the ear manually, further traumatizing the tissue and putting the client at greater risk for contamination and infection.*
In addition to physical trauma, piercing guns can be mentally more traumatic, particularly for young children. The word “gun” and the sound a piercing gun makes can be more upsetting to a child than the actual piercing. Below you can see photos of one of our young clients having her ears pierced with a needle by resident artist Jeremy Smith. She was actually giggling through most of the procedure! This is a perfect example of how comfortable a child can be with a professional piercing her ears.
Professional piercers use better starter jewelry than piercing gun operators. Piercers typically insert implant-grade stainless steel or titanium starter jewelry in a new piercing—jewelry that’s sized to allow for swelling so that no undue pressure will be put on the healing piercing—whereas piercing gun operators insert mixed-metal studs. According to the APP, “the length and design of gun studs is inappropriate for healing piercings.”* A stud that’s too short prevents air from getting to the piercing, restricts blood circulation, doesn’t allow for swelling, and makes it harder to clean the new piercing adequately. These issues can lead to a prolonged healing process and increase the likelihood of infection developing. Additionally, such studs are more likely to have high nickel content that can be irritating to those with more sensitive skin.
Bottom Line: Professional piercers use a more modern approach to piercing that’s less traumatic, more sterile, and more likely to result in a smooth healing process. Also, you’re more likely to be pleased with the placement of your piercings if you have a professional do them for you.
A Note on Aftercare: Wherever you have your ears pierced, remember that you’re always better off leaving your piercings alone as much as possible during the 4-6 week healing process. You might spray them a few times a day with something like Nature’s Pure Defense, which is a soothing, all-natural, sterile aftercare spray. You can also do sea salt soaks by applying cotton balls dipped in a mixture of ¼ teaspoon sea salt stirred into 1 cup of warm water to your ears a couple times a day. It’s also good to let warm water run over your piercings in the shower every morning. Just be sure not to use soap on your new piercings, since it can be drying, and avoid turning your jewelry as you could turn bacteria into the healing fistula. Also, don’t apply things like triple antibiotic ointment or vitamin E oil, which can cause the outside of your piercing to heal more quickly than the inside and trap bacteria inside. Don’t be surprised if you develop “crusties” around your new piercings; that’s perfectly normal. Just soften them with warm water in the shower or something like Nature’s Pure Defense, and then leave them be. Before you know it, you’ll be picking out a fun new pair of earrings to replace your starter jewelry!