pc000With the growing popularity of piercing, there are plenty of opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage of someone else’s ignorance. I see this time after time when a customer comes in shop complaining about how their ear cartilage still hurts after weeks or months of getting pierced. My first response is to ask if they got their cartilage pierced by a gun. You know the one I’m talking about, right? It looks something like the picture at left. These tools are designed to pierce ear lobes only and nothing else. What amazes me is what people are using them to pierce. I don’t know who I feel like slapping first, the idiot doing the piercing, or the idiot getting the piercing. So I have only one thing to say, “Don’t be an idiot and get anything* pierced with a piercing gun.” — * These guns are designed for earlobes only.

While I may not be an advocate of piercing guns, I do feel that they have their uses. I had both my daughter’s ear lobes pierced with them when they were each 18 months old. It was wonderful because they do the job quickly with a minimal amount of pain. But that’s where it stops. No ear cartilage or nose cartilage and definitely no belly buttons.

What happens when cartilage is pierced with a gun

As I stated above, a piercing gun was designed to pierce ear lobes only and are not designed for any other purpose. It uses a strong spring to punch a piercing stud through the soft flesh of the lobe into the stud’s backing piece. This action is so quick that it is almost painless.


Fig.1 on the left illustrates the composition of layers a typical cartilage piercing goes through. At this point I feel I need to stress the fact that cartilage, once pierced, does not heal. Cartilage is non-regenerative, which means that once a hole is in there, it will always stay there. How a cartilage piercing heals is by having the skin tissue mend itself over the hole, surrounding the cartilage.


Ear piercing studs are typically made of 18 gauge wire with a point on the end. When this is used on ear cartilage it punches through the tough tissue of cartilage causing it to blow out the back (fig.2). To illustrate, take a pencil and push it through a piece of thin cardboard. The jagged edges on the back side of the hole is the result of this method of piercing. You will also notice that there is no space between the pencil and the cardboard.

Since the piercing post does not allow proper room for skin growth around the post, this type of cartilage piercing heals excrutiatingly slow, or not at all. Depending on the amount of damage done to the exit area of the cartilage, the irritation due to the cartilage blow-out can be painful. Both these two problems combined makes cartilage piercing with a gun highly susceptible to infection.

What happens when cartilage is pierced with a needle

cart003The proper method of piercing any cartilage is to use a needle that is at least one gauge size bigger than the jewelry being inserted. This allows the skin tissue to grow in around the jewelry, properly healing the hole. In fig. 3a you will notice that the needle removes a round section of tissue. It creates a nice clean hole for the jewelry to easily pass through. Since the needle creates a clean hole there is no concern about cartilage blowout affecting the healing process. This also reduces the level of pain while the piercing heals.

cart004When the jewelry is inserted, a thinner diameter wire is used (fig. 3b), giving the piercing plenty of healing room around the jewelry. Keep in mind that once pierced, that cartilage will forever have that size hole in it. Unlike earlobes or other soft tissues, cartilage cannot be stretched to fit bigger jewelry. If you plan on putting larger gauge jewelry into a cartilage piercing it will need to be pierced at the appropriate size to accommodate the new jewelry. Inserting a taper to stretch out a cartilage piercing will only result in the cartilage ripping apart.

Piercing guns are not for other body parts

Irregardless of what those “mall piercers” may tell you, piercing guns are not for other forms of body piercing. You cannot properly pierce a nose, a belly button or a tongue with one of these instruments. Common sense should be used here, but unfortunately I have heard of people actually attempting these types of body peircings. If you really have a desire to adorn yourself with body jewelry, please seek out a trained and qualified body piercer working in a reputable shop. Don’t go to the mall and have them permanently scar your body.

Sterility and your health

Another problem with piercing guns is sterility. Piercing guns were designed to be used in a manner that prevents contamination when used as intended. By forcing the gun to pierce other body areas, the piercer is risking the contamination of the gun. Since most piercing kiosks and jewelry stores don’t maintain any method of sterilization, you are risking your health.

Staphylococcus Aureus is a common microorganism found residing in mucus membranes. Otherwise known as staph, it is the primary culprit for staph infections in most piercing and tattoos. While we have a certain amount of resistance to our own bacteria, the introduction of foreign bacteria can be harmful. With nose piercing it can be severe due to the proximity and common blood flow to the brain.