Not a week goes by that I don't get a call, e-mail or someone stopping by the studio asking to get a piercing that I've either never heard of or is just simply not a good idea. As professional piercers we go through a continuing struggle between what we know is ethically right and the need for income. The truth is that I have the knowledge and skill to put a needle through just about every part of the human anatomy and then insert a new pierce of jewelry. However, part of my job and commitment to my clients is to create a piercing that could with the correct care, last a life time.
The internet has greatly increased the demand for piercings that are experimental and cutting edge. Not just because a great part of the public is exposed to this type of piercing but through social media, often a piercing that has been worn by one person can be found in hundreds of locations. This gives the impression that the piercing is common place. When the reality is that the reason you don't know anyone that has one is because simply they are rare. The reality is that since piercings are extremely anatomy driven, there maybe very few people that have the anatomy that can heal that piercing. So, yes you may have seem thousands of photos of that piercing on a number of different site, the reality is that only a handful of those piercings exist in the first place.
An often overlooked part of the act of piercing is the piercee's body's willingness to accept a foreign object and how it will react to this object. Healing a piercing gives one insight into the adaptability of your body. As a professional piercer you quickly begin to realize that even if the piercing done correctly with the correct placement and jewelry, no matter how will the person follows the correct aftercare, problems come up. It could be anatomy, it could be the client's habits but often for one reason or another the body decided it will not accept the jewelry regardless or will react strangely. Which points to the fact that in some cases due to health, body anatomy or some other unknown reason, regardless of best intentions that person's body will not accept and tolerate the piercing. Sometimes clients will heal out a number of piercings without issue but suddenly have issues with a piercing new area of the body. Then there are those that can't seem to do enough wrong during the piercing and the healing but still can heal out a piercing without issue. These super piercees are in a extreme minority. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Another thing with photos is often there is no description or reference to the piercing or piercer. This is quickly stripped away when the photo is shared in multiple social networks. Often the photo has been taken minutes after the piercing was done or months and months before the piercing has healed. Like family photos, people rarely take and share photos of piercing that are going through bad times. Usually the photos are the best of times when the piercing isn't infected or the body is trying to reject the piercing. This gives the misconception that the piercing is easy to heal with limited side effects and risks. I think the most common and oldest of these has to be corset piercings where two groups of piercings are done along each side of the back and then a ribbon is threaded through them to give the effect of the back of a corset. The hard reality is that these piercings are "Play Piercings" or temporary. Done for a show or photo shoot and then removed shortly afterwards but do an image search and you will get thousands of results. Most are professional photos taken right after or during the procedure but none seem to show the scaring from piercings, the rejection experienced by those that tried to heal the piercing or the other issues that would go along with any surface to surface piercing.
One should always consider how often they have seen a piercing in the person. Chances are that if you haven't seen a lot of them in your daily life there is more than likely a reason for that. That reason is that they are rare and there is only a small percentage of people that can successfully heal the piercing. One of the strongest motivating factors behind getting a piercing is individuality. To set yourself away from others by customizing your body. So the drive to have something that no else has is understandable but it is your individuality that may in fact keep you from having a piercing. The human body comes in many shapes, styles and sizes and that is soul of our individuality but also what makes some piercings impossible all together.
The danger with the misconception that these piercings are good ideas with a high success rate is that not everyone that hangs out a single stating they are a professional piercer is willing to take the time to explain to person coming in off the street, the chances of failure and the possible risks involved with the piercing. Often times it is because the piercer themselves are inexperienced and possibly uneducated to the risks and failures of these experimental piercings. To make a name for themselves or feed their own ego and bank account, they are willing to do piercings that are beyond their skill or that are simply unsafe or will not heal. I always make a point of telling anyone that contacts me about a piercing I'm unwilling to do the reasons why. Then stress that if they are able to find someone that is willing to do the piercing and doesn't volunteer the risks to move on. either that piercer is unethical, unconcerned about your health or completely clueless to the risks. If a piercer is experienced with experimental and extreme piercings they know the risks the piercing may present and knows first hand the importance that the client knows them before hand. Not only to cover their own ass when things go wrong but because they have the ethics driving them to make sure that the client makes an educated decision about getting the piercing.
Now you maybe asking yourself, what is the difference between experimental piercing and other body piercings?
- Common Piercings - A majority of the piercings that a studio offers are piercings with long track records of healing successfully with a large range of anatomy. Most of these piercings date back to the 1980s and before in some basic form. The rule was if it protrudes, pierce it. Most are through areas of the body that have two sides and are through tissue that projects from the body. The reason is that it is easy to place the piercing deep enough in the tissue to the sweet point where it is easier for the body to encase the jewelry in tissue than for the body to completely reject the jewelry. Also there is no outward stress on the tissue and the tissue hangs free from the body. Like any rule there are slight exceptions but if you begin to think about a majority of common piercings they are all through three dimensional protruding parts of the body.
- Experiment Piercings - This is piercings that are often done in areas of the body that do not protrude or have clearly defined facing sides. Think of the difference between your ear lobe and top of your forearm. However there are some that may protrude from the body and have two side but are at high risk:
- Surface to Surface Piercings - A majority of these are what is called surface to surface piercings which in can be preformed just about anywhere on the body's surface. Due to the fact that there is often a great deal of outward pressure on these piercings with limited loose tissue, the body will completely reject the jewelry. Over the years a number of difference methods and jewelry have been developed to decrease migration but the reality is with a majority of people the jewelry will reject completely in a matter of a few years.
- Pocketing and Micro Dermal Implants - Developed as an answer to the rejection problems with surface to surface piercings. An oval shaped disc is placed below the dermal layer and the body then grows a "pocket" of tissue around the disc. The problem is that due to location often on the face, chest, back or arms, contact and trauma is common leading to tearing. Combined with the trauma and contact, over time the body begins to squeeze the "pocket" in attempt to force the foreign object free of the body. So rejection within a few years is common. Other issues include the increased risk to inward traveling infection and the difficulty the jewelry is to remove in emergency situation. For more information go to my piercing blog on the subject 'Pocketing and Rejection Dermal Implants Dirty Little Secret'
- High Risk Piercings - This incudes a number of oral piercings like horizontal tongue piercings, labret piercings or cheek piercings located on the corner of the mouth, off center tongue piercings, smiley piercings, Frowny piercings, etc... All oral piercings have risks that involve damage to gums, teeth and bone structure but piercings that with increased contact with gums and teeth are asking for problems. Other piercings like piercing the Clitoris itself have a high risk of causing nerve damage. While others may cause an increased risk if an infection happens.
- Implants and Pearling - This is where a foreign object is placed below the surface of the skin. This is a high skilled act and is minor surgery. Though the internet and media has been flooded with photos over the last couple of decades there is in fact only a few people with the resources and skills needed to do this. So, research the procedure and the person that is doing it greatly.
- Scalpelling and Dermal Punches - As a way to avoid the long term period needed to stretch a piercing, either the piercing is cut to a larger size with a scalpel or a dermal punch is used to create a large hole at the time of the piercing. Also scalpels are used to enlarge piercings that have already healed. The biggest issue is that even if the piercing is abandoned it will require elective surgery to close the piercing. The main difference between scalpelling and dermal punches is that with a dermal punch a circle shaped piece of tissue is completely removed. While with schapelling the tissue is simply cut. Both will however create the same situation. Before considering either I would first like to point out that large jewelry was traditionally a sign of wisdom and standing that was earned over time. You are going to learn a great deal about your body and yourself by slowly stretching the piercing. The other thing is at some point in your life for a job or some other reason you may wish or need to abandon the piercing and this will require surgery to reconnect the tissue. I've heard of a few "piercers" that claim they can easily reconnect the tissue but lack the skill or access to medical equipment and medication to insure limited scarring.
- Play Piercings - I mentioned them briefly before and felt that I should explain them a little more in detail. Play piercings are piercings done without a goal of healing into a permanent piercing. Often they do not involve the insertion of jewelry at all and are done with only needles. To some this might seem odd or pointless but the piercings are done for the purity of the piercing experience, to make a design or for some kind of ritual experience. The main concern is cross contamination, though needles that is already sterilized can be found, having access to an autoclave, knowledge of cross contamination prevention and anatomy, and correct disposal of the needles and other contaminated items as medical waste should be considered.
I know that there will always be those that regardless of the risks and failure rate of the experimental piercing that they desire, will still want it. In the past I have done a few low risk experimental piercing but only on clients that I had already built a relationship with. This was because I had a clear understanding of how their body reacted to piercings and how will they took care of their piercings. Even then it has been rare and only done after they have a clear and complete understand of the risks that were involved. Here is a short guide and some things to consider before turning into a piercing experiment:
- Research, research, research. Read every thing you can find on the subject of the piercing. If you can locate someone that has the piercing ask them about their experience with healing to the piercing including the piercing itself, problems that came up and other issues.
- Research your piercer. Seek out reviews but take them with a grain of salt. If you know anyone that has been pierced by them ask them about their experience. Visit the studio before hand and talk to piercer about the risks, procedure and aftercare. Tour the studio and get a feel for not only the piercer but the studio. If he claims to have done the piercing in the past, ask for photos of HEALED EXAMPLES OF THE PIERCING. It is easy to make a freshly done piercing look good with a little cleaning and the right lighting but it's another thing to have photographic proof of a well healed piercing. Ask if there is anyone that has healed out that piercing that you might be able to talk to. This is a hard one but if the piercer has done a number of them, chances are there is going to be someone that is willing to talk to you.
- An ethical piercer tell you about the risks before hand. Remember you are going to a professional instead of letting you weird uncle pierce you with a leather punch. First off, the piercer has the tool and skill to do the piercing but more importantly they have the knowledge, experience and expertise. With piercing the customer is not always right and if a piercer has an ounce of ethics they will refuse to do a piercing that they know is going to reject, not heal or put the piercee at risk of infection or cause damage to their body. Regardless of what stranger that you have chatted with on the internet has told you about the piercing, a Professional Piercer has first hand knowledge of what is going to work and not work. There might be a number of reasons that a piercer will refuse to do a piercing but the most common will be risks of reject, risks to your health or they lack the experience and proper training to do the piercing correctly. Before getting an experimental piercing consider what those piercers that have refused to do the piercing have said before letting the first one to say, "Yes" do it.
- Wait and think it through. There is a misconception that piercings are not permanent but the fact is you are permanently altering your body. There will be scarring that will be with you for the rest of your life. With piercings that are prone to rejection there is often increased scarring. Consider the lasting effect that the piercing may cause to your body. Especially if it is an oral piercing. Understand that damage like the scarring will not go away. Know the risks and consider if the risks out weigh your desire for the piercing.
- Commit to the risk of losing the piercing. This is an experimental piercing which means under even the best conditions can either not heal or have to be abandoned. Are you prepared to go through the pain of the piercing, committing to the aftercare and still not get the reward of that new piercing? Now this is always a risk with any piercing that you do everything right and still for one reason or another have to abandon the piercing but with common piercings that risk is much, much, much lower.