Students seeking piercings urged to be cautious, hygienic

K.C. Howard

University sophomore Tyler Welch walked into Saint Sabrina’s Parlor and Purgatory in Uptown on Sunday to have a 12-gauged barbell inserted into the underside of his penis.
He waited calmly for the piercer, Tye Stahle, to wash up and invite him into the piercing room.
“I’m not nervous,” Welch said, while staring intently at a tattoo portfolio.
This wasn’t his first piercing.
Two nipple rings, a septum ring, a scrotum piercing and one very new frenum piercing — along with several tattoos — make up the complement of Welch’s body art.
“I started out and I wanted to be all tough,” Welch said, explaining that since he doesn’t drink or smoke, body art is his forte.
Welch is one of many to pierce nontraditional body parts, but metro piercing artists warn individuals seeking a piercing to be careful in selecting a body art shop.
“If you’re thinking about getting a piercing, definitely do your homework,” said Josh Edwards, a tattooist and piercer at Absolute Tattoo on Washington Avenue.
Welch chose Saint Sabrina’s, he said, because “it is the cleanest place. It’s the best, and they have a lot of jewelry choices.”
Unlike tattooing, piercing is not regulated in Minnesota, nor does a piercer have to be licensed.
Edwards recommended checking if a piercing facility uses an autoclave — a sterilizing machine that uses heat, steam and pressure to kill living bacteria. To avoid possible disease transmission, piercers must use single-packaged needles and open the package in front of the client while wearing disposable rubber gloves.
“These are universal precautions, and they are very important,” said Patrick Condon, a piercer at Saint Sabrina’s.
Universal precautions are a standard set of safety measures used in all medical procedures, Condon explained.
The Association of Professional Piercers has sterilization regulations that members must follow, such as separate piercing rooms and information on aftercare. Piercing shops that are members of APP will have certificates posted.
Regardless of whether shops follow specific sanitary precautions, piercers and medical experts suggest clients take proper care of their piercings.
“All sorts of things can go wrong and a lot of people don’t understand that a body piercing is a fresh wound,” said Shannon Lamm, a former piercer at Saint Sabrina’s.
Welch said he has always taken excellent care and has never had any infections from his various piercings.
When he first got his nipples pierced, Welch said, he would hold Dixie cups filled with saline solution on his new piercings.
Unwashed hands should be kept away from new piercings to avoid depositing bacteria in the wound, said Lamm.
She also recommended soaking the new piercing in a lukewarm saline solution three to four times a day to ward against infection and to aid the healing process. Depending on the piercing, the entire healing process can take three to eight months, Lamm said.
Welch expected his new piercing to heal in one month, he said.
Dental experts have different concerns for individuals seeking what many piercers have deemed the most popular piercing: the tongue ring.
“The most common thing I see are chipped and broken teeth,” said Christopher Bacsik, an oral surgeon at Boynton Health Service, referring to the damage a tongue ring can cause.
“And there’s a risk of things like HIV and hepatitis if (piercers) do not use an autoclave properly,” said Bacsik.
Despite the dangers, piercing is a growing trend.
“Ten years ago, it was unusual to see someone with a tongue ring. I took a picture, it was so unusual,” said Bacsik. “But now it’s common.”
The piercing profession is also a booming industry, said Lamm, who is leaving Minnesota to pierce in California.
“It’s a form of expression,” she said, “and we’ve only seen the beginning.”
As he reclined on the piercing table, Welch explained the reasons for his extensive body art collection:
“It’s partially just the fact that, you know, you just do what you want.”
K.C. Howard welcomes comments at [email protected]