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Are Piercing Guns Safe?

Six Reasons to Avoid Piercing Guns

By

African American woman putting on earrings
Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

What Are Piercing Guns?

If you've walked through a mall, you've seen the signs: free ear piercing with the purchase of earrings. Retail locations offering that incentive use piercing guns to get the job done, and although the guns have been around for a very long time, there are good reasons to avoid them.

A piercing gun looks like handgun, but with a piercing apparatus at the end of its barrel. The front of the apparatus holds a stud earring and the back holds a clasp, usually a butterfly clip. The piercer places your earlobe into a slot between the two areas and pulls the trigger, pushing the shaft of the earring through your ear and into its clasp.

The piercing areas of older guns (with 100-percent reusable parts) were (hopefully) disinfected after each use, but plastic components made it impossible to insert the guns into an autoclave, the process that's required for sterilization (the highest level of decontamination). Contemporary guns have disposable piercing inserts, but even one-use pods don't eliminate all of the problems that can be caused by guns.

Six Reasons Not to Be Pierced with a Piercing Gun

1. Risk of Infection and Disease Transmission

Disease transmission is possible, even with disposable cartridges, when the parts are used incorrectly or when the operator doesn't understand or follow standard hygiene practices. Body fluids from one client, or common bacteria that's only a problem when it enters a cut, could potentially become deposited onto any area of the piercing gun, and then later transferred to a new client.

2. We Don't All Have "Standard" Size Earlobes

Piercing guns use post earrings of a standard length. People with thick earlobes may find that their new earrings are tight when lobes swell after piercing, and that they have little to no post length to use for expansion to relieve the pressure.

A professional body piercer has access to many styles of initial jewelry that won't inhibit comfort or the healing process.

3. Piercing Guns Cause Blunt Force Trauma to Earlobes

Most guns force regular, blunt-ended studs through the tissue of your ears, a painful process that can cause damage. The shock isn't typically a huge issue for the lobes, but why risk it? A piercing professional will pierce you with razor-sharp, hollow needles that slice through areas quickly without damaging the surrounding tissue (a process that's usually less painful than gun piercing).

Piercing guns should never be used to pierce any area of the body except an earlobe -- not the harder cartilage of the ear (which can be shattered by guns) and not another body part. Many states have enacted laws to prevent inappropriate use of piercing guns, but be alert -- if you opt for a gun piercing and the operator says it's okay to pierce other areas, run... do not walk, to the door.

4. Possible Lack of Piercer Training

People who have worked in retail establishments that use piercing guns often report they began to pierce after just a short amount of training, sometimes only a few hours. With that little training, how can piercers be aware of the sanitary precautions that must be followed to prevent contamination? Or how to instruct for proper aftercare?

5. Poor Quality Jewelry

Your first earrings should be made from a high quality material that's suitable for new piercings. Some jewelry used in piercing guns doesn't make the cut, and can create irritation that leads to infection when exposed to the fluids that result from a piercing.

Most retailers in the business of piercing many ears will probably use studs that are either stainless steel or stainless steel plated with nickel-free 24K gold. But gun supplies are sold (cheaply) all over the internet to anyone who wants to buy them, and not all stud contents are labeled. Read Best Materials for New Body Piercings, and if you must be pierced with a piercing gun, verify that materials are safe.

Butterfly backs are standard piercing gun fare. Their many crevices and folds are perfect spots for fluids to accumulate and dry to a crusty mess -- keep them clean. Remember that plain ball earrings are easier to keep clean than fussy designs.

6. Uneven Piercings

A professional body piercer is far more likely to give you even lobe holes than a person holding a piercing gun. Pros have the experience required to get it right, while guns aren't designed for top-notch accuracy, even in experienced hands.

Talk to a Professional Piercer

"Free" piercings can quickly become an expense if you become sick or if the site becomes infected. There are no guarantees you won't have problems after any piercing, but a professional body piercer is trained to follow standard safety precautions and help you choose the best jewelry for your new look.

A pro's procedure might cost you a little more, but prices are usually not prohibitive. Talk to a professional piercer before you make the decision to use a piercing gun.

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