Selecting Your Piercer
Choosing who is going to pierce you is the most important decision involved in the whole process of getting a piercing. Not only do you have to find someone with the experience and knowledge to preform the piercing safely and correctly but this person needs to have the knowledge and willingness to educate you on the risks involved, how to take care of the piercing and guide you through the selection of jewelry, placement and the piercing itself. Also you want someone that has experience addressing problems that can come up during or after healing.
Now I could make this easy on everyone and suggest that you just choose me. However I think it's important that you know weather or not I'm the best choice for you. Also the site tends to draw visits from all over the world and you might not be able to come to Des Moines for a piercing and need some insight on what to look for and what makes one piercer better than the other.
I'm guessing that since you are on the internet, you are in the research phase of getting a piercing and you are new to all of this. You are my favorite type of client because you wish to make an educated choice. It's your body here and you only get one, so it needs to be done right the first time. The next step is usually polling people you know that have piercings. This can be a good source of information but just like the internet, consider the creditability of the source before making a decision.
I don't know how much to stress this but visit the studio before hand and talk to the piercer. Of course if you feel comfortable with the piercer there is no reason not to get it done but make it clear that is a consultation. It is always a good idea, especially with busier studios to call ahead and make an appointment for the consultation. This will give yourself and the piercer time to talk without the distraction of other's waiting to get pierced. Usually this shouldn't take more than 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the piercing and what questions you have. Most piercers have a standard consultation that they go through before each piercing. It should cover more than just the price and jewelry types. I go over the basics of aftercare which covers cleaning, changes in habits that maybe needed and cross contamination prevent. I will also cover any risks involved having the piercing and my best suggestions for jewelry based on the piercing, the clients body type and any sensitivity they may have to metals. Lastly, I cover the cost. Then ask there are any questions? Ask as many questions as you like, especially ones that you know the correct answer to. There are a number of examples below.
Instead of looking at the piercer as a person that you will only see once, consider that this person will be your support system that is going to not only preform the piercing but teach you how to care for your piercing and be there if there is a problem. Even if it's a simple ear lobe and you never plan on ever getting another piercing, this is a relationship with many roles. Service Provider/Client, Teacher/Student, Retailer/Consumer, etc... My approach was to provide the person with enough information to make an educated decision and then give them all the time and shape that they need to make the decision to get the piercing or not to get the piercing. As I always say, "if you are unsure about it, I'm not going anywhere." If you feel like you are being pushed into getting the piercing or being more hard sold into it, you really may want to consider a different piercer. Understand there are always time restraints, like the studio is closing or the piercer has an appointment but if this person doesn't have time for you now, are they really going to have time for you if you have a question or problem in the future.
It doesn't matter if you have been getting pierced for years or if this is your first piercing, there are some things that you four issues to consider;
- Experience and Training:
I often say that I consider education of my clients a majority of my job and the knowledge that I share has come from my experience as a piercer. It doesn't matter how many certificates they have on the wall and where from. Though piercing course can be extremely beneficial and educational, they are often 3 or 4 day courses and designed as an introduction to piercing or as a continuation of training. Nothing and I mean nothing, can replace an apprenticeship of a minimum of one year. If you are making a list of questions to ask your piercer the first should be, how long they have been piercing and where they apprenticed?
Nothing can replace real time experience. A piercer needs to be able to adapt to the vast differences in anatomy from person to person and this can only be developed with years and years of piercing. Knowing the correct placement and method of the piercing and the jewelry that will work best for the piercing all come with experience.
You should also consider that since someone with experience usually has a more polished technique then someone just starting out, the piercing will be faster and less painful. Also there will less likely be a problem during the piercing.
If a problem comes up with your piercing during the healing or after, those with more experience are going to be more proficient at dealing with infections and other problems. They are going to be more apt at figuring out the problem, pointing out the possible causes and coming up with a solution. You should also consider that if the piercer is established in a business, they are also more likely going to be there to support you if there is a problem, you have a question, need help selecting jewelry or whatever may come up.
You also should consider that a well seasoned piercer has more experience with cross contamination prevention, sterilization and taking the steps needed to insure that you leave with a piercing that is free of foreign pathogens. It takes discipline and often repeated action over and over to the point where they become second nature and habit.
Whenever I'm asked how long the piercing will take, I always say to allow 15 or 20 minutes depending on the piercing. Now you might be think, it takes 15 minutes to inject a needle and insert the jewelry? No, the pierciing itself is usually all done in roughly a minute. Even if you added paper work, payment and setup, you are only looking at maybe another 5 minutes. Which leaves another 10 minutes or so that is devoted to educating the piercee about how to heal the piercing. This is why I consider education to be a majority of my job. Plus I love sharing knowledge.
Though we live in a time where information readily available on the internet, often the information is conflicting or simply wrong. Even the best sources of information on piercing on the internet often take a neutral stance on what is correct or not correct. Often introducing unproven methods and treatments to problems with, "Some people have had luck with ,,," and let the reader decide of the information is correct or not.
You see, I don't have a problem with this because they understand that the information is unproven and that they shouldn't be the main source of information on aftercare and resolving problems. That should fall on the shoulders of the well seasoned professional piercer. It is their job not the internet to educate their clients.
I tend to drill a lot of information in to a short period of time but I also provide contact information, even more detailed aftercare instructions and my contact information. You see, I hate seeing problems. Please understand, that we are dealing with the human body and every once in a while a client will take care of a piercing perfectly but problems still come up. Also there are just some people that just don't take of the piercing or make a mistake but if the piercer doesn't take the time to educate the piercee on how to take care of the piercing then it's their fault.
When you are getting a piercing, you are paying an expert for a service and that service includes being educated on how to properly take care of your piercing. I have to say that a majority of problems I've seen over the years can be traced back to the piercer not taking the time to verbally explain how to properly take care of the piercing. Handing out a list of instruction can never replace going through an outline of what needs to be done or not done, followed by a question and answer period.
If the piercer is not willing to do this basic thing, you really should consider going elsewhere.
The act of having a piercing done is creating a path into the body and placing a foreign object into that path to keep it open. I can't stress enough how important it is for a piercer to take steps to insure that there is limited chance of foreign pathogens being introduced into the wound. This involves having a working knowledge of cross contamination prevention, proper sterilization techniques and a set of practices that are followed with each client before and after the piercing. This is not only for the safety of the piercer's clients but more importantly for the safety of the piercer themselves.
Often short of getting a piercing or watching a piercing being done, it's hard to know how safe and clean a piercer is but here is a list of questions that should shed some insight.
- How do you sterilize your equipment? - The answer should be that the items are wrapped in a package and then placed in an autoclave and sterilized.
- What is an autoclave? - There are a different makes and models on the market and all are effective but the most common is one that runs a cycle that heats up the contents to 121 degree C under 15 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. Which created a situation where a majority of pathogens can not survive. Since the items are sealed in an air tight package they are free of pathogen and sterile under the package is broken.
- How do you test your autoclaves effectiveness and how often? - Just like any piece of equipment autoclaves break down or are used in correctly. As a standard, independent spore tests are done at least monthly. The studio should have documentation of these spore test results and be willing to show them to you.
- Is everything you use brand new? - This is a yes and no question depending on the piercing and what technique is used. Both the jewelry, needle, prep items and bandages should be new and single uses. In some cases jewelry can be re-used but it should have only been in the piercee and needs to be sterilized before using.
- What items do you re-use and how are they cleaned between uses? - Some tools like needle receiving tubes, Forceps, Hemostats, and opening/closing pliers maybe needed and are re-used. Between uses it must be stressed that there should be a procedure involving disinfecting the item. cleaning the item to remove materials that may have collected on the surface of the tools, dried. then wrapped and autoclaved. Most piercers including myself, immediately after the piercing is done submerge the tools in a hospital grade hard surface cleaner to soak over night or at least 2 hours. Then the tools are cleaned, dried in an airtight container usually over over night before wrapping the items and running them through the autoclave. Wet sterilization is not a replacement on it's own.
- How do you do the piercing? - Now this might seem like a simple question but it can really give you insight into the piercer you are considering. Usually the longer the answer the more thought out the procedure will be. My long answer is go over the pre-piercing consultation, fill out paper work, wash my hands, disinfect the surface area, lay out the set up, put on a pair of fresh pair of gloves, set up, disinfect and mark the piercing area, put on a new pair of gloves, inject a needle through the area, follow the needle with the jewelry, stop any bleeding, clean up, wash my hands again, go over the aftercare and then send you on your way. If you break the steps down they are Education, piercing with the least likelihood of cross contamination and then education again.
- Is there any laws or regulations on piercing? This varies greatly from state to state and town to town and even in areas where it is regulated, the requirements vary greatly and shouldn't be an axiom that the studio is operating safely. Ask about the requirements and ask the piercer if they feel they are effective and what they would change. This can really give you insight into how educated and obsessed with safety this person is.
- Ask to see the piercing area. - The area should be clean, in good repair and offer privacy. All the equipment, tools and jewelry should be stored away. All surfaces should be covered with materials that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. There should be a Sharps Biohazard container and hot zone which is an area to place contaminated tools and other items. Keep in mind that this the area that this piercer works in and if it's not clean then they are putting their own health at risk and more than likely would think twice about risking your health.
- How do you depose of contaminated materials? - They should have a well marked bio-hazard container and a contract with a state licensed medical waste disposal company. The company will collect the container when it is full and then incinerates and deposed of the waste in accordance with the state code.
- Health Issues/Allergic Reactions - If you have health issues, you should ask how it might effect the piercing and healing period. If you have this condition you know the issue that might effect the healing or piercing. If the piercee doesn't bring this up, it usually comes up when I go through the release forms which I do verbally. This covers both the materials that someone maybe allergic to, health conditions, medications and controlled/uncontrolled substances. If you are unsure of what disinfectants, metals and other materials are being used, read the release or consent form because they should be listed there. Also if you have a health issue that prolongs healing or blood clotting or are taking medication or other substance that may cause the same effect or other problem, your piercer should either refuse to do the piercing or be able to explain risks that would be involved with getting the piercing.
- Quality and Price:
I think it is safe to say that a majority of us do not have an unlimited amount of income and for economic reasons we like to find the best deal that we can. We all do it and as humans we enjoy finding a good deal. Even in areas of the country where the industry is regulated, the regulations have minim requirements that are focused completely on health and have no set rules for experience, education or knowledge. It is a buyer beware market and you usually get what you pay for.
Like any industry the price of the product is dictated based on demand and overhead. With piercing that overhead includes insuring the safety of their clients. Things like sterilization, cross contamination prevention, using the best quality jewelry, maintaining a clean environment and having the knowledge and expertise to do the piercing correctly all takes money. The lower the piercing price the more likely they are cutting costs somewhere to give you that great deal. This is your body and your health and well being that we are talking about here. Should price really be considered?
It's easy to look at piercing as just another retail business but like any skilled trade what you are really paying for is not the parts and the tools but the expertise and knowledge of the skilled person doing the piercing. So it should go without saying that the more experienced the person is the higher the cost. It's the difference between taking your car to a shade tree mechanic or to the dealership. Both are skilled but one is a great deal more skilled and better trained in maintaining your car than the other.
In most urban areas, due in part to over saturation, the market has settled on a base price and a majority of studios will be priced within a few dollars of one another. If cost that big of an issue call a few different studios and ask for prices and you will find a common price for that piercing. Now if you come across a price that seems extremely cheap. it should be avoided. Especially if the price seems completely out of line with the other studios. Think about it this way, if the piercing is $20 and chance are they are giving up 50 to 60% of that to the studio and overhead(Jewelry/supplies/tools/etc...) why are they willing to accept $10 for their income.
Often this is a sign that the studio's focus is not on piercing and they view it more as a sideline, often to Tattooing and chances are the artist moonlights as a piercer. Now there are a number of Tattoo Artists/Piercers out there that have both the passion and expertise to not only in tattooing but in piercing but there are a number that view piercing nothing more than a source of extra income. Also, it's a common practice to require tattooist to also pierce even if they have no interest in it or the studio requires them to pierce for a set time before they are allowed to start a tattooing apprenticeship.
The other thing this points to is that the piercer is inexperienced or unskilled. If this is a price for an apprentices than ask weather the head piercer will be involved. There is nothing wrong with getting pierced by someone who is training as long it involves the watchful eyes and skills of an experience piercer. If that's not the case ask for details on the apprenticeship program they went through, where, who did they apprentice under and for how long, Most apprenticeship programs involve a standard for checking out on piercings. For example, a number of each piercings preformed correctly under supervision. Just about anyone can hang a sign up and say they are a piercer. Beware of anyone that didn't go through a formal apprenticeship. Even certificates of completion form reputable organization are not a reflection of the skills of that person. Chances are they took a 4 day course somewhere.
Then there is the old fashion bait and switch. Where you get there, get your piercing and then suddenly the price is a great deal more than you were lead to believe. Make sure that the price includes both the piercing and the jewelry. It seems like it should be a given but just like a door buster, often the price is misrepresented to drive business in the door. This should not be confused with upgrading the jewelry to a different style or jewelry that is made of better material. The studio should be up front about the cost from the start, if they are resorting to this to get business there might be other problems.
We make our own jewelry. This is not as common as it once was mainly because of the flood of jewelry manufactures and the reduced cost of jewelry. However, I'm sure there is still a few out there bending bicycle spokes around a pipe, sniping the ends with tin snipes and cleaning off the burs with a dremel tool. If someone say this to you, ask to see their workshop and certification from the ASTM. If they look blankly at you and don't have either, go elsewhere.
Good old fashion undercutting. In theory this should promote competition and benefit the consumer but we aren't talking about a good deal on socks with a set wholesale price. A large retailer will adjust profit and lost by increasing the price of other products. A piercing studio only has one product, so they can't maintain profit by increasing their markup elsewhere. Which means that they have to increase profit another way, either by cutting costs in safety and jewelry or by hoping that the increased business will make up for the loss. Keep in mind that only in rare cases do piercers get paid by the hour, a majority of them work as sub-contractors and make money based on the job. Let's say that a piercer averages $20 a piercing and the studio drops the price in half. That means he will have to do twice the number of piercings to make the same amount of money and how do you do more piercing? By increasing turning customers as quickly as possible. Meaning less time to focus on consultations, aftercare and general education and support of clients.
Now if you hadn't noticed I didn't bring up specials. Studios from time to time will promote their business with specials. Usually they are limited to a certain piercing, day of the week or other conditions. The goal is to reward returning clients, as an introduction to new customers or maybe to aid in the training of a new apprentice. I tend to offer a new special a month which can usually be found on the home page of the site. Also I post special offers on Google Places and Foursquare. The goal is to reward repeat customers and to bring in clients that base their piercer choice completely on price and the theory that getting a piercing by me will educate them to why I stand out over the cheaper places.
Ethics are often hard to gauge when you are only around the person for a short period of time. It doesn't help that ethics can often be in conflict with profits. However a means of measure is what they are unwilling to do and weather or not they volunteer information on risks and other information that might keep you from getting the piercing. For example are they unwilling to do piercings or piercings with jewelry that have a limited success rate? Does their consultation for oral piercings include information on the possible damage to teeth, gums and bones in your mouth? What is the piercer's policies on piercing minors?
I've always felt that it was unethical to hard sell a piercing and I know that it is frustrating to some people that I won't just lie a bit and tell them to get the piercing. Time and time again I've watched clients walk out the door because I was unwilling to pierce with incorrect jewelry, or because they informed me that they would have to remove the jewelry for work. The thing is though, most of the things I refuse or advise against would create problem that I would have to more than likely have to deal with later.
An ethical piercer wants the client to make an educated decision because it's their art and they want the best outcome. An unethical piercer tends to choose the quick buck over the long term and it will pollute all the aspects of their studio. From cutting cost in jewelry to cutting back on sterilization there is always another way to increase profit and without ethics there really isn't a reason to let those things get in the way of profit.
An unethical piercer will always seem pressed for time, well tell you what you want to hear, be unwilling to take time to answer questions or seem to be on the defense when answering questions. An ethical pierce will share information, take the time to insure that the client understands the risks and work involve with getting and healing the piercing. Yes it might be frustrating to watch income walk out because you were honest and didn't tell them what they wanted to hear. Mainly cause you know that there are a number of other places that would be happy to tell them what they want to hear and take their money.
With piercing the customer is not always right. It might disappoint you or anger you but what in reality you are paying for is the piercer's expertise, experience and knowledge but maybe more importantly them to have the ethics to inform that your choice is not going in your best interest.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that the relationship that I have with my clients is the main reasons that I've continued to pierce. You should consider that when you are choosing your piercer because this might be someone that you will be spending more than a few minutes with.