The Piercer's Corner - Piercing Gun vs. Needle Method

Piercing Gun vs. Needle Method

So after attending the Association of Professional Piercers annual conference last year, some information was brought to light about which method is better: Piercing Gun or the needle method. Many of you call to ask which method we use and most cringe at the idea of having me stick a needle in your ear. While piercing guns may seem to be a quick, easy and convenient way of creating holes, they have major drawbacks in terms of sterility, tissue damage and inappropriate jewelry design. Well here is some information that may change the way you look at your next earlobe or cartilage piercing while using the needle method.

Reusable ear piercing guns can put clients in direct contact with the blood and body fluids of previous clients. Ew!

Most people are not aware that ear piercing guns are often not sanitized in a medically recognized way. Plastic ear piercing guns cannot be autoclave sterilized and may not be sufficiently cleaned between use on multiple clients. Wiping the gun down with rubbing alcohol or other antiseptics does not kill pathogens within the working parts of the gun. Blood from one client can aerosolize, becoming airborne in microscopic particles, and contaminate the inside of the gun. The next client’s tissue and jewelry may come into contact with these contaminated surfaces. That alone give me the Hebe-geebies.

If you didn’t already know, the Hepatitis virus can live for a really long time on all kinds of surfaces, and can live inside a piercing gun for several weeks or more! Hepatitis and common staph infections, which could be found on such surfaces, can create a serious public health threat if they are found even in 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 higher risk for contracting such infection. (This is why we prefer to pierce individuals 13 years and older as the immune system is typically developed by that age) Most gun piercing establishments do not have the required sterilization equipment necessary for these procedures.

Piercing guns can cause significant tissue damage.

You probably haven’t given much thought to this with most ear piercing studs being quite dull. Piercings must be done by using excessive pressure over a larger surface area in order to force the metal shaft through the skin. The effect on the body is more like a crush injury than a piercing and causes similar tissue damage. Medically, this is referred to as “blunt force trauma.” At the least, it can result in significant pain and swelling for the client, at the most in scarring and potentially increased incidence of auricular chondritis, a severe tissue disfigurement. (If I had a dime for every person that said they have hard bumps on the back of the ear cartilage because of a crappy ear piercing and experience, I wouldn’t have to work anymore, LOL!)

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. (A horror story I have heard time and time again) The gun operator, who may not be trained to deal with this possibility will opt to remove the jewelry and re-pierce the ear, risking contamination of the gun and surrounding environment by blood flow from the original wound or 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. Neither option sounds very appealing to me.

When used on structural tissue such as cartilage, more serious complications such as auricular chondritis, shattered cartilage and excessive scarring are common. Gun piercings can result in the separation of subcutaneous fascia from cartilage tissue, creating spaces in which fluids collect. This can lead to both temporary swelling and permanent lumps of tissue at or near the piercing site. These range from mildly annoying to grossly disfiguring, and some require surgery to correct. Incidence can be minimized by having the piercing performed with a sharp surgical needle, which slides smoothly through the tissue and causes less tissue separation. A trained piercer will also use a post-piercing pressure technique that minimizes hypertrophic scar formation (the “Bump” as you all refer to it).

Weirdly enough, cartilage has less blood flow than lobe tissue and a correspondingly longer healing time. Therefore infections in this area are much more common and can be much more destructive. The use of non-sterile piercing equipment and insufficient aftercare has been associated with increased incidence of auricular chondritis, a severe and disfiguring infection in cartilage tissue. This can result in deformity and collapse of structural ear tissue, requiring antibiotic therapy and extensive reconstructive surgery to correct.

The length and design of gun studs is inappropriate for healing piercings.Ear piercing studs are too short for some earlobes and most cartilage. Initially, the pressure of the gun’s mechanism is sufficient to force the pieces to lock over the tissue. However, once they are locked on, the compressed tissue cannot return to its normal state, is constricted and further irritated. At the least, the diminished air and blood circulation in the compressed tissue can lead to prolonged healing, minor complications and scarring. More disturbingly, the pressure of such tight jewelry can result in additional swelling and impaction. Such consequences are minimal when jewelry is custom fit to the client, allowing enough room for swelling, and is installed with a needle piercing technique which creates less trauma and swelling.


Jewelry that fits too closely also increases the risk of infection because it does not allow for thorough cleaning. During normal healing, body fluids containing cellular discharge and other products of the healing process are excreted from the piercing. But with inappropriate jewelry, they can become trapped around the hole. The fluid collects, becoming sticky and trapping bacteria against the skin. Unless thoroughly and frequently removed, this becomes an invitation to secondary infection. So using body piercing specific jewelry like the lines that we offer will significantly reduce these issues and they look way better!

Misuse of ear piercing guns is extremely common.

OMG!!! I cant even begin to tell you how many people have told me they had other body parts done with a gun and even done with a gun at a swap meet! Hello?! What are you thinking?? Even though many manufacturers’ instructions and local regulations prohibit it, some gun piercers do not stop at piercing only the lobes, and may pierce ear cartilage, nostrils, navels, eyebrows, tongues and other body parts with the ear stud guns. This is absurd! Please don’t do this. Don’t let cost be a factor either. You get what  you pay for. Its your body, take care of it.

Although gun piercing establishments usually train their operators, this training is not standardized and may amount to merely viewing a video, reading an instruction booklet, and/or practicing on cosmetic sponges or other employees.Professional body piercers should have completed a lengthy apprenticeship and have continued education courses as well as a current CPR/First Aid certificate as well as a OSHA approved Blood Borne Pathogens certificate.

Because of the ease of acquiring a gun piercing and the lack of awareness of risk, many consumers fail to associate their negative experiences with the stud gun itself. They believe that, since it is quicker and easier to acquire a gun piercing than a manicure, gun piercing must be inherently risk-free. Often it is only when complications prove so severe as to require immediate medical attention that the connection is made and gun stud complications get reported to medical personnel.

So the bottom line? We use the needle method and you should want that. Suck it up and take the pinch of the needle, it if hurt that bad, no one would get piercings. The pain is minor and temporary and you will be left with a beautiful long lasting piercing for years to come. Our earlobe prices are designed to match the introductory price at those dreaded mall locations in order to entice consumers to try the healthier alternative….the needle!

Thanks for reading.