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A Body Piercing Etiquette Guide

I figured I'd take a short break in my blog series, Beating Every Piercing To Death and focus on something that came up during a piercing I did last week. The client was talking about her last piercing experience and the rudeness of the piercer. This included a number of references to her bad breath and other insults. Also he gave the impression that he really didn't enjoy what he was doing and had more pressing matters to deal with. 

Now we all have bad days, frustrating clients, personal or family problems, the studio is extremely busy, etc.. can cause one to not be at their best. However, I believe that when you  put that title "Professional" in your job title you should act professionally. The body art industry tends to attracts individuals that have tried to avoid the mainstream 9-5 job but that doesn't mean anyone should put up or consider rudeness a normality.

In my 20 odd years around the industry I've encountered a number of very talented narcissistic cocky assholes that when met outside of their profession, I wouldn't have even considered having a short beer with. However a majority of them know how to shut off their cock of the walk attitude and treat their clients better than their own children. This is because they were professional. They understood that their clients were under a great deal of stress and being a full on jerk was only going to make the situation worst.

The reality is that even the most seasoned body art collector, has to over come a range of normal fears when getting a piercing, tattoo or other modification. We all fear pain. It is a survival instinct that is tied into our instinctive of flight . It is the underlining reason why a majority of us do not involve ourselves in dangerous activities, mainly because it might kill you. A professional understands this and had developed the patience and understanding to guide a client through their fears to reach the goal they have set for themselves. Not only will it make the clients experience better but allow the professional to preform in a less stressful and safe mater. I usually do this through a combination of conversations about the clients life, jokes and providing the client with a great deal of information about myself, my skills and the procedure. One of the best part of my working day is meeting new and interesting people from a large number of different walks of life. Oh, and this is Body Piercing, it should be a good time. It should be fun.

Though a lot of this I've covered in the past, I think it might be helpful for those selecting a piercer or seeking into what the piercing experience should be like. A lot of this translates into choosing a tattoo artist or any service professional for that matter. 

The Consultation: 

I've never really understand why a lot of artists skip this stage in the piercing experience. I'm lazy by nature and have found that the more educated my client is the less issue the client will have and thus the better the results in the long run. The consultation is the introduction of what will be required of the client to heal the piercing. Most piercers have a set presentation for each piercing that covers healing time, daily cleaning, cross contamination prevention, jewelry, changes needed in diet or habits, and long term and short term risks that might be involved in getting the piercing and prolong wearing of the piercings. This little speak is designed to cover a majority of the most common questions asked by clients. Even if you have a number of piercings, there maybe conditions, needs and risk that are special to the piercing you are considering, so pay attention. Turn off the mobile phone, listen carefully and try to avoid focusing on questions you are going to ask. 

Part of the reason that I find consultations so importation is that it gives the client information that allows them to make an educated decision about whether the piercing or the timing of the piercing is right for them. For example if you are planning on going to an ocean resort in a few weeks, the piercing will prevent you from swimming. So, getting the piercing after vacation maybe a better option. Another example maybe that your job would put you at a high risk for cross contamination. Over the years a number of piercers have stated that the main reason they do not give consultations is because they fear they will loss business by scarring the client off. Which is one more reason to avoid piercers that are unwilling to consult before hand. Chances are if they lead you start to the piercing area without a consult, they are more concerned with their bottom line then your health, safety or the outcome of the piercing. The reality is that I've found not only do clients either choose piercings better suited to them but often they come back for more, mainly because I took the time to explain the risks and what was needed to heal the piercing before hand.

A little about experimental piercings like implants, micro dermals, surface to surface piercings, etc... The piercer should be forthcoming about risks and their own success with the piercings. These should include the high risk of rejection, scarring, infection or the piercing not healing at all. Too often I find myself removing jewelry from upset client that wasn't informed that it was highly possible the piercing would present this outcome. 

The Consultation should cover the following:

  • Average healing time
  • Cleaning
  • Cross Contamination
  • Changes needed in diet or habits
  • Jewelry choices
  • Price

After the basic consultation, the piercer should ask if you have any questions and be very open with information. Do not be afraid of asking questions about sterilization, metal reactions, medical conditions, and other subjects that weren't covered in the consultation. We are all unique and there maybe a situation that is special case.  As piercers we often answer the same questions over and over and the answer should be thorough. If you feel that the answer is a basic rehearsed answer, dig deeper. Ask about their past experience on the subject. A professional should be able to expand on the subject or be willing to admit they have no additional information. This will often come up with medical conditions and often the correct answer is what you should expect and if you are concerned to consult your doctor before getting the piercing. 

If the piercing is of a private nature or in an area that needs to be evaluated before hand, the piercer should instinctively guide you to an area of the studio that is more private or completely private. If you don't feel comfortable talking about the piercing with other customers around, asking to speak somewhere private shouldn't be a problem. The piercing area should allow for privacy anyway. 

Also understand that just because the piercer has gone to the trouble of talking to you about the piercing, it doesn't mean that you have to get the piercing at that moment. If you are unsure or need to think about it, a professional will give you the time and space you need to make the decision. You shouldn't feel like you are being pushed into getting the piercing and a professional will know when it is best to let you step away and think about it. Usually I will give the client as much information as I can give them and if they are unsure, I will ask if they need some time to think about. If they say they do, I'll ask if they mind if I move on to another client or return to what I was doing when they came in. Then I will check back with them when I'm done. I always stress that I'm not going anywhere and the piercing can be done right now or two months from now and what is important is that they get the piercing when they are completely sure.

Jewelry Selection:

The piercer should guide you through the jewelry selection and make clear suggestions on what they feel will work best for you. They should also ask about concerns you may have about the jewelry's material. Often with selecting jewelry, it is more about the correct jewelry for the piercing than what is in fashion. Often the less popular option is the better option. The piercer should openly share their knowledge on what will work best. This is yet another ethical struggle with a lot of piercers, who out of the fear of losing a sale, will pierce with incorrect jewelry to make the client happy. A professional will stick to their guns about the best option and have a well thought out explanation of the reason. I can't even begin to count the number of well preformed and well care for piercings I've seen over the years that have become problematic because the jewelry was incorrect. 99.99% of the time when I asked the client who choose the jewelry, they said they just picked something out of the case with no input from the piercer at all.

Release Form:

In a lot of ways this is part of the consultation and may bring up some subjects I already covered. A lot of studios will hand the sheet to you and ask you to read it before signing. I found early on in my piercing career that a majority of us don't read forms before jumping and just filling the form out. I have to admit I just as bad as everyone else. With piercings and tattooing, release forms are just as much a release from liability as much as a questioner. It's why I choice a long time ago to outline the form verbally after handing the form to the client. The consultation is to educate the client about the piercing and risks and the release form is to educate the piercer about the client and what risks there maybe in doing the piercing and may impair the clients ability to heal the piercing. 

The verbal outline that I give for the release form covers the following:

  • That the client is of legal age or has the consent of a legal guardian to be pierced
  • That the client understands the length of the average healing time and agrees to follow my aftercare instructions until the piercing is healed
  • That the client is not allergic to any of the items that will be used by me during the procedure including the jewelry material. 
  • That the client has no medical conditions that may effect the procedure or the healing of the piercing
  • That the client is not under the influence of medications, controlled or uncontrolled substances that may impair their judgment or effect the procedure or healing of the piercing. 

Often the verbal explanation of the release form is skipped either because studio fills they are too busy or the major points are covered during the consultation. Another reason is that the piercer feels that it scares off clients and they will loose business. This is a huge red flag. You are putting your health and well being in their hands and they can only insure that if they have information regarding the above. They are passing that responsibility off to you and you should read the form carefully before filling out and signing it. You should also ask questions about the subjects on the form if they are relevant to you.

The Set Up, Procedure and Bed Side Manner:

Bed side manner is something that is learned and developed over time. Silence tends to increase anxiety, so the key is conversation. If you have brought moral support they maybe the main source of the conversation and a good piercer will figure this out and take a back seat. However, often the conversation is driven by the piercer. I've found that asking questions drives the conversation. Starting with first off asking the client if they have any questions about the piercing or the procedure. If this doesn't spark a conversation then I'll move on to basic topics like work/school, children, pets, hobbies, motivation for the piercing, family, hometown,  etc... than expand from their.  The key is to get the person talking about themselves or even better their main passion in a relaxed manner. Often the conversation sparks on a subject and continues through the whole procedure. I don't know how many times I've had a client surprised that the piercing was over because the conversation was so engaging. The conversation should be light and I often pepper it with a number of old jokes that I've been telling for years. I will also walk the client through the piercing and keep them updated on what I'm doing.  

From time to time, a clients fears will get the best of them and they will begin to delay the piercing. If piercing thousands and thousands of people each year has taught me is that if someone is delaying a piercing due to anxiety, that anxiety will only grow as the client focuses more and more on their fear of the piercing. In other words putting it off is only going to make it worst. The key is to be patient and adapt to the needs of the client. Often they need to get into the proper "Head Space" for the piercing but often they need to be nudged lightly. Explaining that way that their fear will only increase with more time and possibly make the experience worst is often the right approach. Also, being honest about what they will more than likely experience and slowly walking them through it will reduce their fears. First I will asks point blank, "Do you still want the piercing?". If they say yes then I will walk them through it. For example, I'm just going to put the forceps now. Now I'm going to line up the needle. OK, now just breath for me. It might seems like a jerk mood but then I just do the piercing. At first the client may feel a little betrayed by me tricking them but in the end they are happy that I took that choice out of their hands. The reality is that one of the keys to being a good piercer knowing how to caught the client off guard. It usually means the piercing will be less painful and less stressful. 

Now the wrong way to approach this would be to force the client into the piercing or make threats. From time to time I may nudge the client by making a reference to the time or that I have clients waiting but the piercer should never become angry, insulting, threatening or condescending. They should keep their head and try to guide you past your fears which are much greater than the reality of getting a piercing. With just a little patience a majority of clients will with time calm down and get the piercing. Also a professional will know when the client isn't going to claim down enough to safely do the piercing and will suggest not doing the piercing at all. Understand that this doesn't mean that you do not have to pay for the piercing. The fact is that the jewelry is no longer new and all the supplies used in the piercing are waste. Not to mention the time the piercer has invested.


I'm not talking just about the instructions on how to take care of the piercing during the healing period but how the client is treated after the piercing is done. Everyone reacts differently to the roller coaster experience of getting a piercing. The piercer should ask questions and study your mental and physical state after the piercing is done. They should be concerned about the client being light headed or not feeling well. Often light headiness, nausea and/or passing out will not become apparent until a few minutes after the piercing is done. Understand that this is not normally caused by the pain of the piercing experience but by the fear and anxiety of it. Sometimes it can be triggered by the thought of what just happened or even the sight of a small amount of blood. Emotional triggers are different for everyone and until you are safely on your way, your well being is the responsibility of your piercer. 

The fact is that light headiness. nausea and losing consciousness after piercing is not as common as most think. Usually it is caused by the client's emotional state causing a drop in blood pressure and decreased supply of oxygen to the brain. This is often acerbated by an increase of adrenal and endorphins produced during the piercing experience. The clients anxiety causes the body to prepare for a traumatic event and then in the piercing aftermath it can cause a dilation of the blood vessels thus reducing fast drop in blood pressure. 

One of the reasons that I ask my clients to stay seated during the aftercare instructions is often a sympathetic syncopal episodes may not take place immediately after the piercing has been completed. Sometimes it seems to take a few minutes for it to sink in or the clients emotional will change for one reason or another. Your piercer should be able to read your condition by keeping tabs on your skin color, metal awareness, body posture, etc... They should also verbally check with you on your condition. One of the reasons I have my clients stay seated is often standing too quickly can trigger a reaction but also that it is easy to void you causing harm to yourself if your are seated. At the point the person expresses or shows signs of light headiness, I will recline them, offer water/soda/juice and candy. Often raising one's blood sugar will reduce the effect and make the person feel better but more so it will take the body time to return to a normal state.

What your piercer shouldn't do is rush you out the door as soon as the piercing is done and they should take the time out of their day to stay with you until you are feeling better regardless of how many clients they have waiting. Also if your drove, they should suggest that you have someone else drive or offer to have you stay in the studio until you are 100%.  If it takes 20 minutes till you feel OK, then it takes 20 minutes, your piercer should be focused on you and making sure you are healthy. Though not usually life threatening, there is a risk that fainting and light headiness maybe signs of a more serious health condition and someone needs to be with you the whole time until it passes in case you may need medical treatment.

Things you shouldn't experience:

  • Rude, lewd or other conversation that make you uncomfortable.
  • Insults about yourself, body or anything directed toward you. 
  • Insulting you for your fears, anxiety or reaction to the piercing experience.
  • Racist comments
  • Complaints about other customers
  • Sexual advancements
  • Being rushed or hurried through piercing.
  • Demonstrative comments about the piercer's competition.

The last one is a big one. As often clients will ask about others in the industry and what my opinion of their skills is. It is often tempting to unleash an endless rant of all the mistakes and mishaps that I've encountered in their work. However, if you consider in a majority of their work I've seen is problematic at best and not a large representation of their work, it isn't fair or right for me to comment on their skills. The fact is that I may know them socially but haven't spent a single minute in their studio. Also as the industry has expanded over the last 20 years, I often have no clue or have never met the person. So, I know nothing of their character, skills, training or ethics. 

It has always been my belief that the only motivation to complain about one's competition to a client is to try and build your own reputation. I would much rather let my work speak for itself and let my stratified clients build my reputation. This can't be done by trying to undermine someone else's business and work. Also it is common for clients to ask about other studios that offer the same services. Often I feel this is more about carrying on a conversation about the industry than anything but as I stated above, in most cases I don't really know a thing about that studio and the artists that work there. There was a time when everyone working in the industry knew just about everyone else, that time is long gone and though often a studio may refer another studio, it isn't the norm unless it is a service that they don't provide. It's also kind of rude to ask for a referral to another studio. 

In conclusion, Professional Body Piercing is a service. As a piercer you should provide that service in a professional manner with a focus on education and patience to spare. If you are willing to provide those, find a different career. As a client understand one important part of the piercing experience, the customer is not always right.  What you are paying for is the expertise, knowledge and experience of your chosen piercer. Keep an open mind to their suggestions and advice because though it might not be what you want to hear, you are going to be a great deal happier with the results.