Whitney Sharp
The Other Press

New Westminster (CUP) — When you Google or YouTube “How to pierce your ____,” the search results are disturbing and alarming. Evidently, there’s no shortage of teenagers and young adults who are willing to detail their experiences poking safety pins through their own flesh. Some even go so far as to say, “make sure to wash your hands and use clean towels,” or “run the pin through a lighter to sanitize it.” Um, thanks for the advice?

This notion of self-inflicted body modification doesn’t end with piercings. Tattoos done with sewing needles and Bic pens are trending around the internet, too. Wasn’t this something people did in prison? When did the idea of “stick and poke” homemade tattoos become okay?

I have been told I overpaid for my body modification services, and I always disagree. I would rather overpay and be completely satisfied with the work than cheap out and have splotchy tattoos or scars from rejected piercings. In spite of the fact that my frugal friends “know a guy” who could have done the tattoo or piercing for much less, I have always felt confident in my studio selections. After all, I always chose a piercer or tattoo artist with decades of experience.

Travis LaCroix, a body piercer at NEXT! piercing and tattoo in Vancouver, enlightened me on the subject; clients frequently want to know how long their piercer has been piercing, but that’s surprisingly irrelevant.

“The main thing is that a piercing is not permanent—if a piercing is done wrong, it can always be redone,” LaCroix says. “What does matter is if the employee is educated in matters regarding sterilization and cross contamination. A piercing can be fixed; contracting a disease like hepatitis cannot.”

What about going to stores like Claire’s and Ardene to get a piercing? It might be a step up from a sewing needle in the bathroom, but it’s still a bad idea.

“[Parents want] their child’s ears pierced, and they’re shocked at the cost, because they can go down the road to Claire’s and get them done for $20,” LaCroix says.

Your typical, run-of-the-mill earlobe piercing (one in each ear) can be $120 at NEXT!, so why should you opt for a proper piercing studio and not a store full of plastic bracelets and costume jewellery?

Generally speaking, those doing the piercing at jewellery and accessory stores have experience in sales and inventory, not body piercings and sterility, like those working in a proper piercing studio do.

For LaCroix, credentials include an apprenticeship under another piercer and training seminars in blood-borne pathogens, First Aid, CPR, and sterilization. In addition, he’s taken a course in central sterile processing—the same course that hospital technicians working in sterile processing take.

The jewellery used in each situation is different. An accessory store offers stud earrings that are usually plastic or occasionally low carat gold. A reputable piercing studio carries a wide selection of jewelry made from titanium or implant grade surgical steel.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the method of piercing itself. A formal piercing studio performs body piercings with a needle. LaCroix notes that needles are “single-use,” and “even if one client is getting two piercings, we use two needles.”

Stores like Claire’s and Ardene use a piercing gun. That’s exactly what it sounds like—a spring-loaded gun with a stud earring in it. Piercing guns contain plastic pieces that cannot be sanitized by the same means as their metal counterparts. As a result, Claire’s has faced legal action for ear-piercings that resulted in serious infections and/or disfigurement.

The body modification industry in North America has “literally no regulations,” as LaCroix puts it. Unlike chartered accountants or notary publics, a piercer or tattoo artist is not required to get any formal credentials, making it increasingly important for clients to know what they’re getting themselves into.

So what should you ask before signing a waiver? Make sure you know what the studio’s sterilization procedures are, ask to see their autoclave and accompanying tests proving its function, and ask if they use single-use needles.

“Any reputable studio should be more than happy to go through these things with you,” says LaCroix.
What about tattoos? They’re much the same as piercings, only far more permanent. A bad tattoo can’t simply be redone. It can only be covered with more ink, or removed with lasers.

Monica Sanderson, a tattoo artist and shop owner, specializes in cover-up work.

“A lot of factors go into a cover up,” she says. “How much black or dark ink was used in the old one? How big do we have to go to cover it?”

If you have an old piece of work you’re not satisfied with, you need to be reasonable.
“We can’t cover your tribal arm band with a small daisy,” notes Sanderson.

Bad tattoos stem from a few main issues: poor workmanship, poor placement, and poor judgment. A reputable, capable tattoo artist should have no problem showing you their portfolio of past work. If you can’t see what they’ve done prior, get out while you still can. Additionally, tattoo artists tend to specialize in a specific genre or style of art. If what you see isn’t lining up with what you want, then look for someone else—after all, you are the client.

And your brother’s girlfriend’s uncle’s roommate who tattoos out of his basement? Steer clear.
“A residential property is not equipped to be properly sterilized and cleaned and would have to go through rigorous and continuous health inspections in order to keep it going,” says Sanderson.

Another thing to remember is that tattoos age. What looks good when you’re 18 years old might not look so hot at 32, 49, or 75. Certain spots on the body change more than others, especially when it comes to tattoos and pregnancy. A friend of mine had a rabbit tattooed on her hip as a teenager.

After delivering her 10lb son, that tattoo doesn’t look like any rabbit I’ve ever seen.

Tattoos are personal and permanent. Don’t rush the process. Based on what Sanderson has seen over the years, she believes age to be a big problem in tattoo remorse.

“Many people want tattoos covered that they got when they were too young to make the proper decision. When you’re younger than 18, you haven’t lived long enough to embrace the meaning of your tattoo, or to even know who you are as a person,” she says.

So maybe I could have saved a few bucks here and there on my own metal and ink indulgences. But after all that, why would I want to?