“I’m certain I have a good piercing! I know I went to a good piercer because they worked in a studio- so how can you tell me my piercing is wrong?” I have this interaction often. Clients who feel like they did everything right- they found the most popular place in their town with great yelp reviews, and went and saw a piercer in a studio! Not Claire's, and not someone piercing out of their home. It was someone in a studio, licensed in their state, and who even had good reviews or looked good online. They have an instagram and a portfolio and everything! So, why! Why did they still get a bad piercing?
Perhaps one of the largest factors is very lax laws surrounding body piercing in many states. Some states have literally no laws on the books regarding piercing. If you have the money to get a lease on a space you can open a studio and start piercing people right now if you want- no forma training, no education, no understanding of what goes into safe piercing. And these states often have no inspections- no one is checking to make sure that they are cleaning things correctly or not reusing needles. I’ve worked in a state with no laws like this and it is truly the wild west. Anyone can and does just start piercing. And studios in need of a piercer often hire anyone willing to give it a shot. I have seen people do two week long crash courses and start offering everything- including nipple and genital piercings, billed as a fully trained full service piercer. Worth noting that a proper apprenticeship takes 2-4 years.
Even in states with some good laws, they often fall short of anything meaningful. Florida for example requires sterile gloves and suggests titanium for piercing which is great! They actually require certification to be a body piercer and a mandatory class must be taken! Awesome, right? The class is about 2 hours long and mostly covers how to correctly don sterile gloves, and biomedical waste processes. It covers nothing about anatomy, proper piercing technique, or even good skin prep or aftercare. And after 2 hours you are certified and free to start piercing people. It’s more than states with nothing, but still not enough. And when it comes to health inspections, they spend more time looking through our paperwork (which carries a higher fine) than looking at our autoclave or needles.
There are some states with decent laws on the books regarding body piercings, but across the board most are a mix of few good laws, many bad laws, and often no laws at all. I often compare it to the fact that cigarettes used to be advertised as a health benefit! We could sell them to virtually anyone and they were often even marketed to younger folks. The laws have never been on the consumers side- always the companies side and the corporations. While piercing is a smaller industry, it makes no difference. Limited, loose regulations rarely exist in the clients interest.
Profit over People
At the end of the day a studio is a business- it needs to make money, pay bills, and pay employees. And in that vein most studios prioritize profit and the business over clients health and safety. Studios can buy low quality pieces like nose bones for 2-4 cents each, and sell them to clients for 20$ and it seems like a great deal. Where as high quality jewelry costs a lot to manufacture and make, the base materials are more, and the companies pay their employees a living wage on top of that! Beyond that, the extra supplies and materials used in doing a piercing as safely and cleanly as possible all add to the cost and overhead of the studio. Many places aren’t interested in paying that, and instead cut corners anywhere they can to save a few bucks here and there. And often the excuse is “well, the clients don’t know any different.” Or “What’s the worst that can happen.” They are gambling with their clients health and safety over a few dollars here and there on each piercing procedure. And as awful as that sounds, it’s the reality.
And, clients often don’t know or understand the difference. Again- most folks operate under the assumption that to be a licensed piercer or studio there are minimum safety standards. You assume someone is making sure they use safe materials, don’t share needles, clean up properly. So when one studio charges 60$ for a nostril piercing and the other charges 20$, it seems so smart to get the better deal! But there often isn’t those regulations or requirements- so where are they cutting corners to offer 20$ and 30$ piercings? Is it low quality jewelry? Is it cheap needles? Is it improper sterilization and sanitization? Usually, it’s all of the above.
Many Studios Don’t Care
This isn’t the answer anyone wants, but its also largely the truth- many studios literally don’t care. They know they use outdated techniques, low quality jewelry, or poor practices. And they literally don’t care at all. The amount of times I’ve spoken with other studios or piercers about areas they could improve for their clients and been told “It doesn’t matter, once it leaves it’s the clients problem” is astounding. This ties into the above point of profit. They know there are better ways to do things out there and safer standards, and they literally don’t care to do better. So often I hear “well, we’ve always done it this way, so what’s the problem.”
The issue is industries like ours are always changing and growing. As new technology, new science, and new studies become known we learn how to do our jobs better! Almost every industry has been revolutionized by technology and piercing is no exception. The concept of a sterilizer was foreign in the 70s and 80s and now even clients know jewelry needs to be sterile. There was a time where people didn’t wear gloves to pierce- we didn’t know you needed to. Piercing is a constantly evolving industry and to be a great piercer you need to take the time to keep up with these changes. Sadly, I would say the majority of studios you could walk into aren’t- and don’t care to. They are happy to do things exactly the way they have been for the last 15 or 20 years, regardless of how unsafe we now know that is.
It’s not enough to just see any piercer in a studio- you also want to make sure you are seeing a good piercer and going to good studio. Somewhere that will prioritize your safety and health over a quick cheap piercing or making a buck. Research needs to be more then just reading reviews- make sure they are using proper sterilization and sanitization, ask about jewelry quality, and check portfolios. At the end of the day it is unfair that the responsibility to be safely pierced falls on the client and the research they do, but that is alas the world we live in. So for the sake of your body and your piercings, don’t assume any piercer in studio is good or safe! Do research and ask good questions!