When I turned 10, my mother took me to Claire’s to get my ears pierced like all the other girls in my grade did. I sat in a chair, had a purple X drawn on my lobe, and the next thing I knew, a sparkly crystal was implanted in the middle of my ear. Unfortunately, that sales associate at Claire’s was far from an expert; now, 10 years later, I never wear earrings because of how uncomfortable it feels. Knowing that this pain isn't normal, I did a little digging and talked to some of the best in the piercing business and received an everything-you-need-to-know guide to getting pierced.
First off, every professional with whom I spoke told me, well duh, that I experience such discomfort because I was pierced with a gun. Piercing guns are quick and cheap, hence the appeal, but as Adrian Castillo of New York Adorned says, “Any professional piercer who suggests a gun is probably not a professional piercer." Guns break the skin instead of creating a strategic hole. The trauma a customer experiences from that can be damaging, sometimes even leading to scar tissue, which is what causes my own high level of irritation.
Needles are sharp and hollow, so they can cleanly move through cartilage and skin, explains West 4 piercer Rob Milian, and they can also be fully sterilized. No matter how much you clean a gun, the plastic parts on them cannot be properly sterilized, leaving you at risk for infection.
Although a gun may seem quicker, a professional piercer will use a needle just as swiftly and with far more accuracy. In fact, guns are not only not precise, but they can also be more painful than a needle. Of course, pain is relative and varies from person to person. While your best friend might feel an inordinate amount of pain, you might feel nothing but a pinch. Castillo says, "If you're mentally prepared and mentally ready to accept pain, it's nothing." You have to be in control and trust your piercer.
Trust and patience are two key components to getting a piercing, says J. Colby Smith, professional piercer with studios in both L.A. and Brooklyn, New York. You have to trust your piercer knows what he’s talking about, take his advice if he doesn’t think an idea will work for you, and have patience for the hole to heal.
The healing process is so vital for preserving your piercing, especially for those in the nose, cartilage, or belly button, which can take longer to heal than an ear lobe. The most important two rules: Do not touch it and do not sleep on it.
“I’m a realist, and I don't think most people clean their piercings. You definitely should, but sleeping on it is the main thing that messes your piercing up,” says Colby. He suggests using a neck pillow for a while because its hole allows you to lay on your newly pierced side without irritating it. To clean your piercing, you should use soap, which is easy to do every time you're in the shower, or saline solution, the preferred method. Keeping it clean cuts down on irritation and risk of infection.
Oftentimes, people think they have an infection, but they're actually pretty rare when you've gone to a professional piercer. In fact, it’s probably simple irritation, says TJ Cantwell, owner and piercer at Studio 28 Tattoos NYC. The telltale signs of an infection would be intense heat on your piercing, incredible pain, and green discharge. Although somewhat gross, white or yellow discharge and a small bump, technically called hypertrophic scarring, is typical. Your body wants to adjust to this new hole by making it more comfortable, so you have to be patient and don’t jump to conclusions.
If you do experience irritation, go see your piercer, Cantwell suggests; there’s usually a simple solution that doesn’t often involve your doctor. You should feel comfortable enough to come back with questions because it’s all part of the experience.
The aesthetic of a new piercing might be cool and even your end goal, but laying the proper foundation for it is essential. Get to know your piercer, because believe it or not they actually want to know about you. You should always feel comfortable and open around whoever piercers you, because if not, you’ll relate that piercing to a bad experience, says Castillo. Always go with your gut instinct and initial vibe. Even if you like their work, you should connect before they quite literally stick a sharp object into your body.
The best way to get that initial vibe-reading is by researching the studio and artist beforehand. "A lot of people come in here and they just want to get pierced, but they don't really take the time to look at the person's work and the quality of their work. They think it's just making a hole,” says Milian.
Rather, a piercing is similar to a tattoo, you want to know what you’re paying for, and you should always save your money for a reputable piercer because they’re more likely to give you exactly what you want. Although gold jewelry might be out of your price range, implant-grade titanium and steel are safe and affordable options, especially at the kind of place where you truly want to be.
Now that you have all the information you might need, click through below to find a few top-rated places in major cities that will give you the perfect piercing experience.