Ever wanted to get pierced but never had the courage to finally go for it? Or have you ever been curious about how people become professional piercers? Today I spoke to Aine, one of the co-owners and manager of A.W.O.L Tatoos & Piercings in Galway. Aine has been piercing bodies since the late 90s and is a well respected piercer amongst her peers. I wanted to find out some important information about body piercing and the importance of listening to your piercer…
Hi Aine! Can you give us a little bit of general information about piercings and tell us about the legal age requirements for getting pierced?
A Body Piercing is a procedure whereby a needle is passed through the skin and a piece of jewellery is followed through. This should be done in a clean and sterile environment, with a professional manner. All equipment used should be individually packaged and either disposable or sterilized before/after every use. Jewellery is very specific to the piercing site. Size & shape can vary depending on where it’s location in the body is. The most common gauge jewellery we use is 1.2mm (16g) or 1.6mm (14g) the length/diameter can vary. Preferably titanium and each piece individually packaged and sterilized in an autoclave before use. There’s a couple of options of jewellery shape i.e ring/barbell. A good piercer will go through this with you before hand.
Unfortunately there are no legal requirements for piercing in Ireland at present. We here at AWOL Tattoos go by U.K law as a guideline so 16 is the minimum age for piercing, some piercings are strictly over 18 though. We will in occasion do ear lobes as young as 14 if a parent is present. Good piercing studios will be strict on checking i.d and will not hesitate to turn a potential client away if they do not have i.d or a parent with them.
What are the most common piercings people ask for?
The popularity of certain piercings can change from time to time. Depending on the time of year sometimes and other times it can be down to what piercings certain celebrities might have. Or something as simple as a photo trending on Tumblr or Pinterest can spike the popularity of a piercing. The most common ones year in year out though are Nose, ear piercings (lobes/rim/tragus etc) and navels (bellybutton).
Then you have your Pinterest favorites like triple forward helix, daith hearts, multiple ear rim piercings. Secondary to these would be tongue, lip, nipple and surface piercings. I have noticed a spike in septum (middle bit of the nose) piercings recently too.
What are the things someone should consider before getting a piercing?
Do your homework. Don’t just walk into the first place you see. Ask around. Word of mouth is usually a good indication. Facebook pages are very informative. Look at the reviews of the studio. Check your piercers portfolio, make sure they have a good selection of piercings in there so you have some idea of their experience. Cleanliness is so important. The piercing room should look and smell clean. Everything they use should come out of sterile packaging. Your piercer should ideally be friendly and confident. They should be able to put you at ease and answer any questions you have. Go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right don’t get pierced. It’s your body, there’s a lot to consider. Piercings can become infected and problematic if the studio is not clean. A piercing can reject/keloid/migrate/scar if done by an inexperienced piercer.
So take your time and don’t rush into it.
Do you have any advice for people who are very nervous about getting a piercing?
There is little you can do about nerves. It’s a normal human condition. If you go to a good experienced piercer they should not only put you at ease and help you relax but also should help talk you calmly trough the procedure. Most piercings, done by a professional, should not be *that* painful. It should be a couple of seconds of minor discomfort.
What are the most common questions people ask when consulting about getting pierced and how do you calm their nerves?
First question is usually about the cost. After that is usually “does it hurt?”
It’s funny, I never get asked important questions like how experienced I am, if we have an autoclave or if I use disposable needles or a manky gun, haha. But yeah, does it hurt is usually the most common question. Sometimes people will ask about healing times too. This is an important question. Some piercings heal in a couple of months some can take a year or more. Do you want that kind of commitment? I calm customers nerves by being friendly and confident, I look them in the eye, I smile. I talk them through it and if they’re really nervous I will keep talking to them so they don’t even know the piercing is being done.
99% of people will say “that wasn’t as bad as I thought”.
What are the common risks involved with getting a piercing?
If you go to an experienced professional the risks are minimal. Once they are clean and good at what they do your piercing will get the best start. They will give you good aftercare advice and everything is usually fine. But sometimes you can do all the right things and a piercing may still have problems or not work out. Infection can happen, it’s rare but it can happen. Keloids (hypothrophic scarring) can occur, that’s a lump or bump on the piercing. Migration can happen, that’s when a piercing is pushed out by the body (grows out). Not all piercings suit all people.
How long do people have to wait before their change their jewelry?
This varies on the piercing. It’s usually either 2/3 months or 4 to 6 months depending on the piercing location, jewellery and healing. Oral piercings like lips and tongues are done with larger jewellery which are generally changed down by your piercer a couple of weeks after initial piercing after swelling has gone.
Can you briefly explain the healing process of a piercing and how important it is to stick to the aftercare routine your piercer gives you?
A new piercing will swell somewhat. It will be a bit red from time to time and will be tender. It can bleed a little also. You will get whiteish/yellow stuff (lymph and plasma) around the jewellery and this phase can last months. A new piercing needs to be cared for. It has to be cleaned twice a day. A piercing studio will either sell suitable cleaning products or will advise what to buy/make. A basic saline solution (or sea salt and boiled water) will usually do the job. You need clean cotton buds to properly remove the lymph from the piercing. Keep your aftercare sheet and read it. Always contact your studio/piercer if you are unsure about the aftercare no matter how long after the piercing was done.
How important is it that people attend a professional studio when getting pierced? I have heard lots of horror stories about people attending beauticians and other businesses that use piercing guns to pierce customers.
I guess it’s like anything else. Are you going to go to your butcher for a haircut? I mean he has knives and meat scissors so he can cut hair if he needs to….. but probably shouldn’t. I am vehemently against piercing guns. They are not clean, they can’t be sterilized, they misfire, get stuck halfway through etc etc. Even single use cartridges. They pierce using the jewellery which is nowhere near sharp enough for the job at hand. The backs usually don’t allow for swelling and proper cleaning, the jewellery usually contains nickel and is of poor quality. I could go on. Also the people using them are often trained in an hour or two, unlike a piercer who is trained for a minimum of a year.
I have heard that it is extremely difficult to secure a piercing apprenticeship, if someone is interested in becoming a professional piercer, what is the learning process?
Ok, first off, it’s not as cool or glamorous as you think it is. You as an apprentice are basically a cleaner and a go-for. You will be cleaning floors, equipment etc and doing all the crap jobs that your piercering instructor doesn’t want to do. You will sort though buckets of spare jewellery putting them together, sizing them etc. Mind numbing stuff. You will be unpaid for a year or more. Yes, obtaining an apprenticeship is and should be difficult. It’s not for everyone. You have to really want it and earn it. If you do, it will earn you a decent living and you can take that training anywhere.
I did my own apprenticeship in the late 90s. Things have changed a lot since then. Lots of new piercings, jewellery and equipment so I am around 50% self taught as the industry changed I adapted. Sarah, the resident piercer in AWOL trained under me for over 2 years before working on her own in the studio as a qualified piercer. I now consider her one if the best in the country.
If I may say so myself 🙂
You co-own/manage A.W.O.L Tattoos & Piercing in the heart of Galway City, can you tell us about your shop and why it is one of the most popular destinations in the city for tattoo and piercing lovers alike?
Myself and my brother opened AWOL Tattoos in Galway city in early 2011. At the time we had a combined experience of nearly 30 years and now it’s a combined experience of nearly 40 years. We wanted to open a studio that was friendly and welcoming and also strictly professional. Which I think we achieved. We have great staff and we strive to maintain a high level of professionalism and experience. We don’t just get customers from Galway City, they come from far and wide which is nice. I guess people feel welcome and satisfied that they are in good hands.
Obviously I biased but judging from the good reviews we get on our Facebook page, most people seem to be happy with our service. 🙂