When it comes to piercing, perhaps the most important tool and the most misunderstood is the needle. For decades needles have been the preferred, suggested tool for use in body piercing and with good reason. Needles allow for precise creation of piercing channels, and are less harmful and damaging than piercing guns. They allow us more control over angle and placement, and more choices for jewelry. But despite all of these pros, many clients find themselves scared or intimidated by needles. A natural response- most of our experiences especially as children and young adults with needles is medical in nature, and can often be intimidating or painful. Piercing needles however are decidedly different than medical needles, and have their own uses and benefits. Today let’s take a closer look at the piercing needle, dispel some myths, and hopefully help remove some fears.
The Anatomy of the Needle
To start, let’s discuss what actually makes up a piercing needle. Needles are made from hollow tubes called needle blanks. From these tubes a machine grinds down the sharp ends of the needle that are what creates the piercing channel, called the bevels. Modern piercing needles have 3 bevels. The first, the point, is a small, fine bevel at the tip of the needle. This is considered the piercing bevel, and it’s the first part of the needle that enters the skin. The second longer bevel in the mid section of the needle, considered the cutting bevel, which creates a crescent shaped cut through the skin. And the third, the heel of the bevel or the stretching bevel, which takes that crescent cut and stretches it up into a round channel.
This design of piercing needle is called the tri bevel needle, and is arguably the most popular needle for body piercing in America. Designed in the 80s, this model was based off of medical hypodermic needles, specific hypodermic A and B configurations. A large amount of research and development was done to determine the exact proportion of bevels that would be best for piercing. Folks even experimented with different configurations like 2 bevel and 4 bevel needles, and after many years of studying and testing, this configuration was found to make the cleanest, least traumatic wounds, and to be the least painful for clients. To learn more about the history and creation of the modern needle check out this article.
Do Piercing Needles Remove Skin?
This brings us to the most frequently asked question when it comes to piercing needles- do they remove skin? And the answer is no- they don’t!
I understand why some folks may assume they do, given that they are hollow. It’s easy to imagine some stray piece of skin ending up in the needle post piercing. After all, if they are hollow how is it possible that they don’t remove skin? Well, it comes down to that bevel configuration we talked about earlier. Remember piercing needles have 3 bevels, a piercing bevel, a cutting bevel, and a stretching bevel. This allows us to create piercing channels that don’t remove skin when piercing but rather displace it. The piercing bevel creates the initial super small puncture in the skin, and the cutting bevel follows right behind creating a C shaped cut. Then, the key to this, the third bevel stretches that C shape into an O- it displaces the tissue up and around the needle.
This is beneficial for a few reasons. Not removing any tissue allows us to preserve any and all tissue in the area. Especially if someone may end up stretching their piercing, this is very important. By not removing any skin we create a less traumatic wound. And as we discovered when researching needle shapes and designs for piercing, needles designed to remove tissue often caused issues with flaps of skin being left behind that caused issues healing, more bleeding, skin pulling back from wounds which can also cause issues, and generally more uncomfortable piercing experiences. So the modern tribevel needles was born, designed to not remove tissue and to be more comfortable to pierce with.
If they don’t remove skin, why are they hollow?
Often the followup is folks wondering why have a hollow needle then if it isn’t going to remove any skin. And the answer is actually your comfort. If we had a solid piece of metal sharpened on one end, we would be somewhat limited in how sharp we could get it, and how it would feel going through the skin. Hollow needles allow each bevel of the needle to become small, precise blades. It’s like the difference in cutting something with a dull knife vs a sharp one. A sharp knife cuts far better and more comfortably. The hollow design of the needle allows for expert precision on those bevels and a sharp, smooth piercing sensation that limits damage to the surrounding tissue.
This is also what makes piercing needles a better choice then piercing guns. Piercing guns use the blunt force of the sharpened end of an earring to try to pierce an ear rather then the smooth puncture of the needle. This gif helps explain it all.
So are all piercing needles better?
Nope! Not all piercing needles are created equally. Just like there’s a range of jewelry quality out there, there’s a range of needle quality as well. Some companies make cheaper needles, and they can often have different bevel proportions that aren’t as comfortable for the client during piercing. Better quality needles have very low tolerances when they are machined- meaning that they have to be made nearly identical every time, and the cut and shape of the bevel has to be perfect. Better quality needles also go through a process called passivation, making the metal less effected or corroded by the environment. This means their needles stay pristine and safe longer, and can be more easily shipped and sent to piercers everywhere.
Modern piercing needles often also have a coating on them. This coating can be silicone or teflon based and is a body safe medical coating that allows the needle to more comfortably slide through the tissue as we pierce. Modern coated needles have nearly eliminated the need for lubrication because they are so slick and so sharp! These factors allow them to make piercing even more comfortable and less painful for the client. There are some other factors in needle quality, which you can learn more about in my history of the needle article for Sacred Debris.
What about those needles with the plastic tubes?
Those are cannula or catheter needles. These needles have cannula tubing attached to the back and are designed for IV’s and blood draws. Like we talked about earlier, modern body piercing needles were modified from medical needles. Medical needles were not designed to pierce all the way through the skin and often caused extra trauma for piercings. The same is true of cannula needles which still have a shorter bevel proportion not ideal for piercing.
Beyond these shorter bevels which can cause unnecessary trauma and damage to the skin, cannula needles leave behind a plastic cannula in the piercing. Jewelry is then pushed into the cannula and inserted into the piercing. But the area of the cannula over the jewelry often ends up being wider then the wound just created. This means the transfer with a cannula needle can often cause tearing and trauma to the piercing. Not only can this make the transfer process more painful, but it can cause irritation and issues with initial healing if it tears or damages the piercing channel.
Unfortunately for many years in some countries cannulas were all piercers had access to. More recently tribevel needles are becoming accessible world wide, and piercers can use needles actually designed for their job to give their clients the safest, most comfortable piercing process possible. As these become more accessible we can see an increase in comfort and precision for piercer and client.
I hope this article helps explain a little about piercing needles and how they work. I know for me I was very scared of needles as a child. It wasn’t until I became a piercer and learned more about how they worked and understood them that I was able to overcome some of my fears and anxieties. Knowing this doesn’t change the momentary discomfort of getting a piercing or an IV- but for me it totally helps! You can go into your next piercing experience knowing your piercer is using an incredibly made tool that’s designed not only to be safe but also to be as comfortable as possible for you. That’s pretty awesome! Happy healing.