What makes a good piercer? Doing good piercings seems like the simple answer, and in truth, it is that simple. Good piercers do good piercings, Good tattoo artists do good tattoos, good hairstylists do good haircuts. But as many know, what makes a “good” piercing or “good” haircut is a multitude of factors, often much more complicated than people realize at face value. For a long time in professional forums the idea of what makes a good piercer gets watered down into a few simple things- good jewelry, good piercings, pretty pictures on the internet. To clients, any piercer who can earn their trust and seems to know what they are doing can be a good piercer. It goes so much further than that however, and there’s so much more to being a truly good, proficient, skilled piercer. Let’s look.
Good Piercings Start with Good Jewelry
One of the first steps to being pierced correctly is getting proper jewelry. I’ve written endless articles about jewelry that can be found on my blog further down. Essentially, jewelry must be a material that is safe and biocompatible to be worn in a healing piercing, which is often implant grade titanium, implant grade steel, or solid 14 and 18k gold to name a few. Jewelry should be made with a mirror finish, meaning the polish on the jewelry should be perfect. There shouldn’t be any nicks, scratches, or imperfections on the jewelry, or stamps for the material. Jewelry should be hardware set without glues, so it holds up overtime to wear and tear. Because it’s easy to misrepresent what things are made of, you should be purchasing from a piercer and studio you trust that uses brands that you trust. Piercers, you should know and understand why material matters, how it interacts with a healing wound and how it contributes to a piercing healing correctly. You should know about the gems and materials you carry, who makes them, how they are made, how they work. What actually makes threadless jewelry engage, why is internal threading better than external, how can you apply that knowledge to know what jewelry to select for what piercings.
Beyond that, the sizing of the jewelry is as important as the quality. Pieces should have appropriate room for swelling and healing on initial piercings. Jewelry should be neither too large nor too small for healing, and should be a design and style suitable for the piercing at hand. For example, curved barbells should not be used for surface piercings. Doesn’t matter how high quality they are, its the wrong style for that piercing.
A good giveaway for clients in threading. If jewelry is externally threaded, so the screws are on the bar, that’s low quality Jewlery and you don’t want this person to pierce you. You can learn more about threading in my article here. Clients, ask to see the Jewlery! If it’s internally threaded or threadless, ask what company it’s from! Anatometal, Neometal, Industrial Strength, Leroi, Peoples, Jewelry this Way, all make great quality titanium basics. Invictius, metal mafia, painful pleasures, and body vibe are all low quality brands you want to stay away from.
Behind the scenes- Supply Quality Matters
It’s not just quality of jewelry that matters. It’s also the quality of other supplies a piercer uses too. Is their autoclave one that meets minimum safe standards? Is it a statim that can run things right before piercing, or if it’s not, are they storing packaged jewelry properly? What surface cleaner is being used- how strong is it, what’s the kill time for bacteria, and is it being used correctly? Is it an environmentally friendly surface cleaner? What skin prep is being used- and does it meet minimum industry standards to safely and cleanly prep the skin before piercing? Piercers should know how their skin prep works, how their autoclave and ultrasonic work. How, exactly, their surface disinfectant works and how to use it properly.
Needle quality makes a huge difference- cheap needles can often be poorly made, and can produce drag and cause more painful piercings. Top of the line needles are more expensive, but they absolutely create a more comfortable experience for your client, and an easier experience for a piercer. Why does bevel theory matter, how do needles effect the quality of your piercing and service. The same extends to tools should you use them, and techniques for working tool-less should that be the path you take. It’s not enough to just use a tool or technique and say ‘this works”. Why does it work? How does it work? You should know all of this too. And no, “because I’ve always done it this way” or “because I was taught this way” doesn’t count as an answer.
Clients, asking to watch a piercer setup, asking to see the autoclave, see spore test information, and asking if needles are single use are great questions for your piercer. It's a red flag if they become defensive or annoyed. A good piercer understands you deserve to know exactly what is happening to your body.
Again, before we ever get to the piercing, a good piercer is assessing anatomy. Not only that, but they are doing so correctly, with years of experience and training backing things up. A good piercer understands the anatomy of every piercing they offer, then understand how anatomy can change or limit the jewelry the use. They understand what anatomy is or isn’t suited for what piercings or placements. They can also explain these concepts to their clients in a way that is easy to understand, and help the client know what is possible for them.
Piercers should be confident working within a range of anatomy- from traditional navels to floating navels, industrials, bent industrials, and industrial projects. Assessing how many forward helix piercings a client can fit, and how they will need to be spaced. Knowing that makes an ear suitable or not for certain piercings, and knowing when to say no. Finding the sweet spot and placing a septum accordingly. And, a good piercer understands when they are out of their depth. They are willing to refer a client to another piercer they work with or in the area who is more knowledgeable then them on this piercing or anatomy to assist the client. Knowing your limits and being honest about them is crucial. I unfortunately see many piercers who lack this training, and just set up and pierce clients willy nilly without doing any assessments or checks first, or who don't understand what to actually look for during these checks. If you aren’t properly checking anatomy and understanding exactly what and how you’ll be piercing, you are setting yourself and your client up for failure before you even start.
Clients, piercings like navel piercings, septum, industrial, forward helix, and any surface or genital work require an anatomy check first. If a piercer just takes you back and goes to pierce your navel or industrial without looking at it first and assessing it, that’s a red flag.
A good piercer should make you feel comfortable, safe, and taken care of. They will take all the time in the world with their clients to ensure a good, positive experience being pierced is had. Clients are often nervous, scared, or stressed when they come in, and it’s our job as piercers to help comfort and calm them, and guide them through their piercing so they have the best experience possible. A good piercer is patient, and willing to work with their client through the process.
A good piercer is also an educator. After all, clients often don’t know anything about piercing! It may be someone first or second time ever stepping foot in a studio, and they may not know a single thing about…well a single thing! We are here to share education and our knowledge and expertise with out clients, as we guide them on their journey of safe piercing. You can educate clients without making them feel belittled or small. Theres never any stupid questions. My boss, Ian, often says “You may have answered this question 100 times this week, but to this client, it’s their first time ever asking it.” It’s so important to make sure you are a safe, understanding person that your clients can trust to come to with their questions and needs. I am so proud of myself and my staff that clients are willing to tell us when they did something wrong or make a mistake. They know we won’t judge them, and won’t belittle them. They might get the signature Mom Lynn side eye and finger waggle, but they will also get the help and advice the need, without being made to feel ashamed.
Finally, the actual piercing. It should be straight! This seems like it should be an obvious one but alas, it is not. Piercings must be done correctly! Once you’ve assessed anatomy, chosen appropriate jewelry, and properly sterilized everything and prepped the skin- you need to do the piercing right too! It doesn’t matter how much gold or how many genuine diamonds you've put in there if your septums are crooked or your helix piercings kick downward. Execution is essential, and crooked or off piercings simply won’t heal. You need to be making sure each piercing you do is sitting properly. And if it's not, you should have the integrity to fix it. I have an entire article here about handling things when they go wrong in the piercing room, because it happens to us all. The important thing is not letting bad or improper work leave.
Doing the Piercing is only Half the Battle
Excuse me as I drag out this soap box over here…
Doing the piercing is simply the first step in doing a good piercing! That thing needs to heal and it’s likely going to have mishaps along the way! I’m talking about the wonderful, lost art of troubleshooting. I spent months in my apprenticeship learning to troubleshoot. Learning the different things that could go wrong with piercings, how to identify them, and how to help clients recover from them. What questions to ask, what signs to look for. How the location of a bump could tell me if it came from being slept on, from being snagged, from products. How the texture of a bump could tell me just as much. I meet so many piercers who don't have this knowledge or treat piercing irritations very one size fits all and it's heartbreaking. Part of being a good piercer isn’t just doing the piercing, its knowing what needs to be done, in any circumstance, to get it to heal. This is why you can’t just learn about many piercings online and start offering them without inperson mentorship. Because it’s not enough to just do a piercing and do it straight. What issues may crop up doing healing, how would you get them to recover, do you understand throughly what this piercing may encounter and how to solve and issues it may have? If you don’t know all of that, you aren’t ready to offer these piercings. And much of this knowledge is gained hands on, being able to not only see. But feel what is going on to assess it.
This becomes twice as important for advanced piercings. Large gauge piercings, piercing through surgical scars or after plastic surgery, clients with skin and health conditions. Unique piercings like custom industrials or daring surface projects. I will see piercers do these things, then post online “my clients having this issue, what do I do?" If you don’t know how to troubleshoot work or what issues may arise, you should not offer that piercing.
Clients, your piercer should be accessible to you during healing. Not 24/7, because we do have lives. But if you have a problem, have a question, or need help, they should be able to communicate with you to help you with whatever is going on. It’s a red flag if your piercer just pierces you and sends you out the door, and offers no further help with healing.
Stay Humble, Stay Hardworking
A good piercer is humble- they are the first to admit when they have made mistakes, or don’t know something. They are honest with themselves, their clients, and others about their limitations or when something goes wrong. They are willing to learn, always, and are open to input and critique from other piercers. A good piercer is not above anyone- some of the best feedback I get in my day to day is from my front of house team. They keep me on my toes and tell me everything and anything I missed or could do better. A good piercer accepts that they will always be learning, always growing, and they will never know everything. They continue to try to expand their knowledge, by going to conferences and events. By being on forums to share education and knowledge. By seeking critique from friends and coworkers, and generally staying up to date on where things are in the industry. This is a ton of work to keep up with, but it’s worth it to stay current.
There is so much that goes into being a good piercer and doing good piercings. Much of this knowledge needs to be gotten in person- one on one with a mentor. There is no replacement for a proper apprenticeship and proper training. When becoming a piercer you owe it to your clients to be able to offer them comprehensive services with the knowledge and backing to it. And clients, you deserve a piercer who can offer you all of this and more- and you should settle for nothing less. You, and your body, are worth it.
For Further Reading-