As a daughter of a Japanese mother, the worst thing I could do is take an interest in piercings and tattoos, next to hating miso soup and wasabi. Though tattoos and piercings are much less taboo in Japan than they used to be, being inked still conjures images of criminals and gang members for some Japanese citizens (including my grandma). I’m not interested in getting yakuza-style bodywork, but I have three small tattoos and currently have eight piercings that I keep jewelry in at all times. My mom is not a huge fan of my bedazzled body, but she has gotten used to my look over the years. (She does occasionally call me a bull, for my septum piercing.) Even her Japanese friends seem to find my look entertaining, though I’m sure they’d go bat-bonkers if their own daughters did the same thing.
Above: My nose is all blinged out. I dread cold/flu seasons and spring allergies.
Since I was fourteen, I’ve been a body modification enthusiast. But in my excitement and eagerness, I often overlooked professional advice and educational material. (“My earlobes are bloody, but I don’t care because I just shoved rad plugs into them!”) Over the years, I’ve made a few poor body mod decisions, the biggest one being that I stretched my lobes too fast. If you are new to piercings and are considering getting a little metal, here is a list of DOs and DON’Ts that I compiled based on advice I’ve received from piercers:
*DON’T let anyone pierce you with a piercing gun. Getting ears done at the mall has been an American tradition for decades (I had mine done when I was 10), but many professional piercers are hoping to see the piercing gun banned entirely. Getting pierced with a needle by a professional is safer, less painful, and much more sanitary. Read more on why guns should be avoided.
*I’m all for DIY projects, but DON’T pierce yourself. Sewing needles are for sewing, and safety pins are for pinning fabrics...safely. Don’t be like that dopey kid in high school who wanted to be the next GG Allin and punctured his earlobe with a thumbtack during math class. It’s unsafe, unsanitary, and flat-out stupid. Leave it up to a professional to put some new bling in you.
*DON’T substitute household objects and crafting materials for jewelry. Just like sewing needles are not made to pierce skin, plastic knickknacks, wires, and Sculpey are not made to be put in the body long term. I’ve seen Etsy stores that sell totally inappropriate jewelry and I cringe at the thought of people destroying their bodies over saving money and looking cool. While some people have never had complications wearing Sculpey and plastic, synthetic materials may wear down and act as irritants to the body. Consult your piercer and buy jewelry made of appropriate material from a certified body jewelry shop. Once you know what materials are safe for your body, BodyArtForms is a great online shop for body jewelry. If you are hesitant about materials and sizes of products, email/call the shop and ask your piercer before ordering off the web.
*DON’T rush into things. Piercings, like tattoos, can be addictive. Seconds later, you may spin around in the chair and say “Let’s do another!” (Note: I had my septum and both my nostrils pierced within a five month period.) You might be gung ho about it today, but plans change. Things to consider: your budget, your future/current career path, possible scarring upon removal.
*DON’T let a lack of funds be the deciding factor. Your body isn’t a bargain bin, so don’t throw cheap crap at it. Even worse than buying poor quality jewelry, a crappy piercing job can scar you for life and end up costing you more in the end.
*DO take time to care for your piercings. Piercings aren’t done when you leave the studio - they need to be babied for a certain amount of time for the best results. Talk to your piercer about healing time and aftercare procedures so you can have a healthy, happy body.
*DO a warm sea salt soak on new/irritated piercings. The one advice I get time and again from multiple shops is to do a sea salt soak. When warm, a sea salt solution is a natural astringent that will clean your piercing and loosen any dead skin cells around it. Most piercers prefer non-iodized sea salt, which can be found in most health-food stores. The suggested recipe is ¼ teaspoon salt per 8oz (250ml or 1 cup) of distilled warm water. The solution should be the temperature of drinkable coffee, or bath water that you can comfortably dip into, and should be as salty as your tears. Put the solution in a shot glass and press carefully against the piercing, or put it in a large enough cup that you can fully immerse the piercing in it. (For ears, hold your head right above the cup and lower your lobes into it.) Soak for up to five minutes.
*DO choose the right shop. The first step to a positive piercing experience is finding a shop near you that is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers. APP is a California-based non-profit international health and safety organization dedicated to the dissemination of information about body piercing. Find the closest APP shop near you by using their “Locate a Member” web feature.
*DO see your doctor if something seems really off with your piercing. While piercers can often identify irritation or abnormal steps in the healing process, a doctor is necessary for serious infections. Check with both parties to see what you can do to keep your piercing. There’s a chance you may not have to remove your piercing entirely.
I am by no means an authority when it comes to proper body modification techniques. But judging by horror stories from friends and piercers, earlobe stretching seems to be one technique that many people fail to educate themselves on before practicing. As a victim of past stretching failures, I urge you to talk to a trusted piercer before you do anything.
Stretching should be considered as permanent as tattoos; you may need surgical reconstruction if you decide you no longer want stretched lobes. Many piercing shops will stretch your lobes for you safely and appropriately. Proper stretching can take months, even years. I started stretching (poorly) when I was 16. After learning proper technique and downsizing (switching to smaller jewelry) several times, it took me four years to stretch up to my final size of 3/4”.
Here are some helpful links if you’re considering stretching:
Onetribe Organics' informative Stretching FAQ: http://onetribe.nu/faqs/11
Wiki on all things body modification: http://wiki.bmezine.com/index.php/Stretching
Tips and trobleshooting from my favorite shop: http://infinitebody.com/index2.html
Despite everything I said above, I absolutely love my earlobes and the rest of my body mods. Couple months ago, I had to have an angry 7-month-old microdermal taken out from my sternum, but otherwise all my piercings have healed well with no complications. I owe it to the professionalism of the piercers at Infinite Body Piercing in Philadelphia and Rockstar Body Piercing in Providence (both APP certified).
My chosen career path is fine arts and illustration, so if I ever retire my piercings I hope that it would be on my own accord. Again, I am not a professional and my advice is based on personal experiences and exchanges with piercers I trust. I’ve said it several times and I’ll say it again - talk to your piercer, ask questions, and research. Getting a piercing can be a thrilling and awesome experience, as well as a safe one. So do it right, get poked, and look fabulous!
Illustration by Erina Davidson