Brief: What this guide is aiming to do is to allow you to give informed consent to what happens to your body, not to put you off getting pierced all together. Hopefully by understanding what risks you are letting yourself in for you will be less likely to be unprepared for any problems.
Piercing Guns cannot be sterilised (only the jewellery and its case is sterile) and are instead just wiped down. Because they are used over and over on different people this puts you at risk of infection.
The training for a retailer using a gun can be as little as 30mins and only as much as 3 days. Most studio based body piercers train for a year or more.
Some retailers will never have pierced a real person before they start work (having practised on sponges or cardboard) and often have very little knowledge about common problems or complications.
The piercing studs are all the same size, people’s ears are not. This can lead to problems with the jewellery getting ‘swallowed’ by the ear due to not having enough room to swell.
The jewellery acts as a plug initially, not giving the wound space to drain or settle. This can delay bleeding causing people to panic when it starts unexpectedly.
The butterfly backs on the earrings are full of holes and trap dirt, dead skin and other nasties which can cause an infection.
The backs are very difficult to take off. This can be a problem if they need to removed in an emergency. It can also damage the new piercing when the jewellery is being changed for the first time.
The earrings are often made from inadequate materials. Gold and surgical steel both contain nickel which can cause allergic reactions. Only Titanium and PTFE are suitable to be pierced with initally.
Damage and Complications
Guns are not sharp. They fire a blunt earring into the ear which is quite forceful, causing additional trauma and bruising.
The hole caused by this force is jagged and much harder for your body to heal, increasing your healing time.
More scar tissue is likely to develop from this process making stretching your ears difficult and putting some people at risk of more aggressive types of scarring such as keloiding.
While the earrings are blunt when compared with a piercing needle they are still pointed and can cause scratches behind the ear. This is an infection risk.
When a gun fires there is a natural kick back which can ruin placement. The nozzle is also large and can get in the way of accurately placing an earring. This can create mismatched piercings.
If used on the upper ear it can cause the nerves to shatter and even potentially cause cauliflower ear. Even the manufacturers are against using the guns anywhere but lobes.
There is a high demand for piercings and retailers can make a large profit margin with a gun as it is much cheaper and easier to set up than needle piercing. This is contributing to a reported 1/4 of all piercings running into problems that other people are having to deal with (as retailers often don’t know enough to help).
As well as effecting other piercing businesses who are spend their time and money sorting out problem piercings this is placing a strain on the NHS (as this BBC News Article reports).
Solutions from the manufactures
They have released a new gun that is operated by a squeeze handle and only the sterile jewellery part comes into contact with the ear. However the handle is still not suitable for sterilisation and reused.
This new gun can become locked or not have enough force to get all the way through – leaving the jewellery stuck and making the piercer touch the piercing using hands that have been on the unsterile handle.
The nose piercing version of this gun contains jewellery that is uncomfortable to heal around and causes damage to the piercing when it is removed.
While this gun addresses some concerns it is still using cheap generic jewellery, too much force and are unhygienic and used by under trained people.
Some piercers, therefore, are starting to boycott guns and choosing to pierce ear lobes at a relative loss in order to compete with retail pricing and give people a safer alternative to the piercing gun.