Proper technique, sterility, piercing placement, aftercare, jewelry material, and style are among the many important factors that go into a successful piercing. First, let’s look at the technique itself. Piercing guns use pressure to force a pointed object, the jewelry, through the skin. While these mechanisms may seem like a quick, easy, and convenient way of creating holes, they can have major drawbacks in terms of tissue damage, inappropriate jewelry designs, and sterility. These concerns have been documented in medical literature over the years and provide proof of these concerns.
Due to the dull nature of the jewelry used in piercing guns, more damage is caused to the tissue when compared to piercings done with quality piercing needles. The effects are similar to a blunt force trauma including significant pain, swelling, scarring, and an increased potential for complications. The gun then pinches the back of the jewelry in place snugly against the skin, allowing no way for the new wound to breathe and heal properly. The customer is often told to turn the jewelry, which only further pushes growing bacteria into the wound, increasing the risk of infection and delaying the healing process considerably.
Additionally, it has not been documented how often piercing guns malfunction. Some operators report that the earring adapter that holds the jewelry often will not release the earring, requiring its removal with pliers. These pliers, which contact contaminated jewelry immediately after it has passed through the client’s tissue, may be reused on multiple customers without full sterilization. Few, if any, gun piercing establishments possess the expensive sterilization equipment necessary for such a process. Occasionally the intense pressure and speed of the gun’s spring-loaded mechanism is not sufficient to force the blunt jewelry through the flesh. In these cases, the earring stud may become lodged part way through the client’s ear. The gun operator, who may not be trained to deal with this possibility, has two options. S/he can remove the jewelry and repierce the ear, risking contamination of the gun and surrounding environment by blood flow from the original wound. Alternately, the operator can attempt to manually force the stud through the client’s flesh, causing excessive trauma to the client and risking a needlestick-type injury for the operator.
There may also be a greater likelihood of more serious complications when cartilage or structural tissue such as noses are pierced using a piercing gun. This type of tissue (cartilage) has less blood supply than earlobe tissue and therefore a correspondingly longer healing time; this means that infection in this area can be more likely and more destructive.
Another common concern is sterilization and asepsis. Any kind of procedure which involves contact with blood or bodily fluids requires strict adherence to cross contamination prevention.
As is now well known, the hepatitis virus can live for extended periods of time on inanimate surfaces, and could be harbored within a reusable piercing gun for several weeks or more. Hepatitis and common staph infections, which could be found on such surfaces, constitute a serious public health threat if they are introduced into even one reusable piercing gun. Considering the dozens of clients whose initial piercings may have direct contact with a single gun in one day, this is a cause for serious concern. Babies, young children, and others with immature or compromised immune systems may be at a higher risk.
Some will argue that the piercing gun never comes in contact directly with a customer’s skin, or is sterilized or disposed of after a single use. This might be true, but the gun operator’s hands do—if they touch the customer’s skin and then touch the gun, the gun is now contaminated. When the gun drives the stud through the flesh— whether or not the skin starts to bleed – there is no way of knowing whether or not tiny particles of blood have been dispersed into the air contaminating everything around it. Piercing guns are usually made with plastic and cannot be adequately cleaned and sterilized for reuse. A quick wipe with an antiseptic pad is not effective in removing disease-carrying blood. Although many manufacturers now make disposable options, these do not negate concerns regarding possible damage to tissue, jewelry quality, or inadequate staff training.
The Association of Professional Piercers does not support the use of piercing guns because the reusable versions can’t be sterilized using APP approved equipment, such as an autoclave. Without proper sterilization, the risk of spreading diseases such as Hepatitis and staph infections increase.
The Bottom Line: Professional piercers use a more modern approach to piercing that’s less traumatic, cleaner, and more likely to result in a smooth healing process.