A Piercing Analysis
November 28, 2012 9:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I maximize my chances of having a positive ear-piercing experience?

I'm 35. I had my ears pierced in 5th grade at the mall, by a teenager with an earring gun. It hurt like hell, and i almost passed out afterwards. Every time I cleaned the studs with hydrogen peroxide, per instructions, I felt ill. The holes got crusty. My ears hurt. I finally let them grow in 6 weeks later.

It's more than 20 years later, and I am tentatively hoping to give it another try. I am a bit squeamish and not a huge fan of pain. But I love how earrings look, and I would like to be able to wear cute gold hoops or classy dangly feathers.

What can I do to make success likely this time? Less pain, no infection, bejeweled enjoyment.
posted by enzymatic to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go to a piercing studio and get it done with a needle. Ask them about their sterilization procedures. Ask the piercer how long they've been doing it. Do not be put off by the general clutteredness of many shops (most piercing places around here are tattoo/piercing shops, and tattoo shops are bewilderingly cluttered.) Make sure your piercer has a bunch of piercings him- or herself. (Alternatively, if you have tattoos, ask your tattoo artist who to get pierced by. Tattoo artists know everything.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:04 PM on November 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Go to a legit piercing salon. That's what I did when I got my ears pierced at 20. They used a needle, not a gun, and my ears healed up fine with just washing with gentle soap and water. I went with friends getting their eyebrow and nose re-pierced, and I definitely got made fun of a little. It was also more expensive than a mall place. Overall, good experience, wish I'd done it sooner, earrings are the best.
posted by MadamM at 9:06 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup. Go to a piercing salon. It'll probably be associated with a tattoo parlor. Make sure they use a needle, not a gun, and that it's either a fresh, disposable needle or else that they autoclave everything. A standard ear piercing is a cinch for a real piercer, it's a very easy procedure. Something like this Association of Professional Piercers search app might be a good starting point for finding a decent piercer, though it is by no means the end-all-be-all.

Make sure to ask about wound care for the hole. They will tell you something like don't mess with it too much, stick to stainless steel jewelry while it's healing, apply some kind of ointment, and expect a little minor crustiness during the healing process. They'll tell you how long it will take to fully, completely heal (months), what to expect during that time, and how to know if something has gone wrong. If they're any good then they'll tell you this stuff as a matter of course, but if not then be sure to ask. Or just read something like this. It's likely to be very similar to what your piercing parlor will give you.
posted by Scientist at 9:18 PM on November 28, 2012

Oh, and I'm no expert (I only have two piercings) but I do have extensive first aid training and I don't think hydrogen peroxide is the way to go for healing a piercing. Hydrogen peroxide is a good disinfectant but it is harsh enough that it will kill healthy tissue in a wound and can promote infection by providing a fertile bed of recently-killed cells for infectious bacteria to feed on. That is exactly the kind of so-wrong-as-to-be-actually-dangerous bullcrap that mall piercing shops are notorious for disseminating.
posted by Scientist at 9:22 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

You should also buy earrings that are for sensitive ears, no nickel. Stainless steel or gold posts only! I had to let my holes close up as a teenager and it turned out it was because I have a nickel allergy. I got my ears repierced a few years ago and I only buy "sensitive ear" earrings and it is great.
posted by amapolaroja at 9:59 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing go to a piercing salon. More important, go to one you click with. If you walk in and get any vibe of More Gothier Than Thou or More Industrial Than Thou or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, go somewhere else.

A good piercer will help you feel comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) and will not make you feel judged. They'll also give you aftercare advice (in print, so you can refer to it later) and ideally will encourage you to come back if you have any problem with the piercing.

While you're sitting in the piercing room and the piercer is prepping, putting on gloves, and wiping things down (at this point in my life, that smell of antiseptic gives me a warm fuzzy feeling) put your attention on taking calm, relaxed, deep breaths. No holding your breath or hyperventilating. Calm, slow, mindful breaths will help a lot physiologically.

When they're gloved up and ready, lean back against the headrest. (Speaking from experience here. You do not want your piercer having to lean forward to follow you as you recoil from the pain. Erf.)

Thinking back, the best piercers I've been to have all had a routine something like this:
*glove up*
*prep area*
*prep jewelry*
*prep client* [antiseptic swab the area to be pierced; clamp if necessary]
*pick up needle*
"Okay, we're ready to go. How are you doing?"
*gets affirmation from client that it's okay to move forward*
"Great. I'm going to get into position and then say 'OK'. I want you to take a nice, deep breath, and when you let it out I'll do the piercing. Okay?"
*gets re-affirmation*
"Great. Whenever you're ready."
*gets into position*
"Okay. When you're ready."
*client takes deep breath, then exhales*
*swift deft movement by the piercer*
*a moment or two of minor discomfort as they place the jewelry*
"Great. Great. That looks good. How are you doing?"
*initiates aftercare*
In my experience, warm salt water soaks (not too concentrated) followed by a clean warm-water rinse are quite helpful in the middle-to-later stages of healing a piercing. Keep your hands away from the piercing except when you're in the process of cleaning/adding ointment as appropriate, wash your hands before touching it, and always soak the piercing clean before twisting or rotating the jewelry.
posted by Lexica at 10:00 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

My daughter just got her ears repierced at a tattoo parlor. She had them done at the mall when she was five and they never completely healed after a year, with me cleaning them all the time. The piercing place was much cleaner thn the mall - he cleaned her ears forever, changed his gloves a zillion times, etc. Anyway, they seem to be healing very well. One thing that I think will help is that he used earrings that are shaped like bent barbells - sort of like a belly button ring. That means she can push the whole earring forward and clean behind the front and push it back and clean behind the back. The regular studs sit up against your ear and are harder to clean.
posted by artychoke at 10:09 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take a couple of ibuprofen beforehand (the wound will bleed more, but unless you have a disorder its no big deal). You can also ask your doctor for topical lidocaine solution, and one prescription fill will get you through more than a week of cleanings, by which time the stinging will have stopped. Also, yeah, go to a real piercer. The needle hurt way less than a gun. Consider too that your pain tolerance might have increased.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:17 PM on November 28, 2012

I had my ears pierced twice when I was younger and ended up with infections each time. When I had them done again five years ago I went to a piercing studio run by a friend who did the piercing herself using a needle. She used a slightly larger gauge of needle than normal, which gave more room for the inner hole to heal. She used very high quality stainless steel hoops- not posts. I cleaned them only with an organic sea salt bath and they healed quickly.
posted by Isadorady at 10:18 PM on November 28, 2012

Nthing "real piercing place". I am a moderately pierced lady, and lobe piercings will be a snap for them. They're also trained in blood-borne illnesses, etc.... needless to say, the 19 year old with the piercing gun at Claire's or Piercing Pagoda is not. My piercers have also always had a great bedside manner... they're very zen about it, which puts you at ease too. (Lexica's runthrough sounds familar to me.) Don't be shy about going to a place and just talking to a piercer (when he's not having an appointment, obviously) for a few minutes and seeing how you jive with them. A lot of places will have portfolios too, though usually filled with more complex piercing feats. They will also very likely have a handout about aftercare, though everything here is good too.

It should be nearly painless. Pinch your earlobe kinda-hard for about a half second, and that's probably going to be worse than getting them pierced will feel like.
posted by jorlyfish at 10:35 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The earrings I got when I had my ears first pierced were specially designed-- there was a longer stem, so that it was easier to clean around the ball, and a sort of extra-strong cap on the back so that I wouldn't be tempted to pull them off earlier. If at all possible I wouldn't recommend the latter-- it got stuck at the setting closest to my ear and it all got inflamed before we pried it off. But overall, I felt comfortable the whole time, which I think is important. A professional should make you feel comfortable and safe about the whole thing.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:34 AM on November 29, 2012

Nthing real piercing place. I also had a bad piercing gun experience at age 12 and at 22 got them repierced.

They used niobium for my starter earrings which was fabulous. (I can wear other metals that have nickel in them now but for my first set niobium or titanium was the way to go).
The piercing dude was great and gave me lots of good care instructions.
posted by pointystick at 5:46 AM on November 29, 2012

Just wanted to add that you shouldn't feel weird or intimidated when going to a piercing/tattoo shop for simple ear piercings. These people rightly hate gun piercing and are more than happy to take your money in exchange for a properly handled piercing. They're used to piercing very tender bits and have learned to be quick, efficient, and professional.
posted by xyzzy at 5:58 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in your exact situation -- ears pierced at a mall with a gun as a kid, let them eventually grow closed, took ages to heal. In fact even many many years later, sometimes the old holes would get irritated.

About three weeks ago I followed a friend's advice and went to a local tattoo parlor to get them re-pierced by a pro. My room mate wanted a second ear piercing so she came with.

The guy who did my piercing was so extensively pierced he jingled when he walked. He was also appalled that people still go to malls to get their ears pierced. He explained the sterilizing machinery without being asked, wore gloves for the procedure, talked to me about wound care extensively, and changed gloves three times during the whole thing. It was fairly painless. He explained that the guns basically shatter your flesh, and bunch it up inside the skin, so there's often a bump even after they close over.

You should be sure to tell your piercer that you're getting re-pierced; my guy used a different needle because he wanted to "clear out" the old scar tissue. My starter earrings are tiny stainless steel hoops, but I was offered tiny stainless steel barbells (and that's what my room mate went with.)

My wound care instructions were to buy a can of Sterile Saline Wound Wash at CVS and spray a little into the cap, then dip a Q-tip in and gently clear away any crust that forms around the hole, front and back. No other cleaning than that. No need to protect it in the shower when washing my hair or anything. He said cleaning it should be the very last thing I do at night before bed, and the last thing I do in the morning before I leave the house (so any perfume/makeup/hair product/etc. that gets into that area is washed off in the cleaning process.) I'm to keep these in for at least one, preferably two or more months and never use earrings with nickel in them.

So far, so good! It hurt at a very low level, and not at all constantly, for about a week. After about two weeks, it stopped hurting when I accidentally knocked against it putting on glasses or pushing my hair behind my ear. Now, after three weeks, I'm no longer getting any crusting at all and I've gotten really lax about using the saline wash because I keep forgetting about it.
posted by kythuen at 10:16 AM on November 29, 2012

nthing the advice to go to a professional piercer. Your profile says you are in Brooklyn - if you don't mind going into Manhattan, I can recommend either NY Adorned on 2nd Avenue or Venus by Maria Tash on Broadway and Bleecker for getting pierced. (Personally, I prefer Venus because Ashley, one of the piercers there, is a friend of a friend and she's great.) The advice above to take slow breaths and remain calm is great. You should tell the piercer that you're re-piercing old holes that never healed properly and were done with a gun, so they can check to see if there's any scar tissue.

Getting pierced with a needle hurts less, does less damage to tissue, and is easier to heal than a gun piercing. Also, they will give you aftercare instructions - hydrogen peroxide is definitely way too harsh to use on a piercing. They will likely recommend salt water soaks and very gentle cleaning. Follow their aftercare advice and you will have gorgeous happy piercings!
posted by bedhead at 11:13 AM on November 29, 2012

Yes, warm salt water and no hydrogen peroxide. And I am a great fan of titanium jewelry-- no infections, and if you have some larger piercings, as I do in one ear, it's much, much lighter than stainless.
posted by Because at 11:21 AM on November 29, 2012

Some people (me) are prone to fainting when they get pierced. It's a bodily reaction. I was NOT in pain and I apologized for being a wimp, and my piercer took me by the shoulders and made clear that it was just a biological reaction about which I could do nothing.

If he hadn't told me that, I would be scared of getting pierced again, I would think the pain was extraordinary, would think I was a wimp, etc. But I don't. It's just something about my body.

I think that it is possible your memory is saying that you fainted from the pain, whereas they might-- maybe-- be two separate things-- you might have been in manageable pain, and then your body might have had this other reaction to the piercing gun. If you faint at a good piercing studio, they will have water and glucose tabs available for you. And it's no big deal!
posted by spaceheater at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2012

To add to what I said above - it seemed way less painful. When I had extra ear piercings done, I remember the gun feeling like being punched in the ear by a tiny fist. My wimpy wimpy daughter didn't even flinch with the needle and forceps and free lidocaine the piercer used. I was watching her face and her expression didn't change. She said one hurt some and the other one didn't so much. Now, the piercer then showed her the needle he used, and she said she died, so maybe request ahead of time that the piercer not show you that if you want.
posted by artychoke at 6:56 PM on November 29, 2012

Like every one above has said, find a reputable specialist piercer.

Regarding fainting, make sure you eat something before you go! Anxiety and low blood sugar will conspire against you.
posted by Catch at 8:12 PM on December 2, 2012

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