Growing up as a teenager in the late '90s, nothing got more cool points than rolling up to school with a tiny hoop in your ear or a nose ring or a stud through your tragus (that’s the little cartilage tab that points toward the inside of your ear). Back then, a piercing said a lot. It meant, first and foremost, that you weren’t afraid of pain, that (depending on your age) you had awesome parents, and judging by the fact that most kids who had piercings paired them with wide-legged JNCOs or pleather and faux fur-trimmed duds from Hot Topic, that you were part of the counterculture and proud of it. Piercings were a way to explore your identity, to play with gender, and be different. Lenny Kravitz, Travis Barker, and Marilyn Manson became known for more than just their music—their nose and lip rings stood out in their music videos, making it clear that you didn’t need to fit a mold to get a piercing.
Fast forward 20 years to guys rocking a septum piercing with a tailored Armani suit and a top knot, as piercings have shed their meaning and connotations and given way to major demand. For some, it’s not which facial piercing but how many, as body modification has become one of the most unique and prevalent forms of self-expression. So we talked to some of New York City’s top piercing artists, including Starr Ellis and Johnny Pearce from Nine Moons Piercing as well as Casey Danzig from Studs, to get the scoop on what’s popular, what hurts, and what to consider if you’re thinking of getting pierced.
What Should I Get Pierced?
That depends on two things: your preferences and lifestyle. Sure, some piercings for men are more popular than others, but Pearce stresses that life is short and encourages his clients to embrace their individualism when choosing what to pierce. “Piercings make you cooler. They do it all on their own. Even if the crowd around you disagrees, hell, especially if the crowd around you disagrees, you taking measures to pursue something so personal that you wanted, for you…that’s even next-level cool,” he says. But he also says that certain lifestyle factors might make certain piercings more practical than others, such as a tragus piercing posing difficulties for a medical practitioner that frequently wears a stethoscope or, as Danzig points out, someone who constantly wears earbuds. And that’s where your piercing artist comes in because aside from ensuring a safe and hygienic piercing, they can help you decide what to get pierced while weighing in on potential issues and avoidable hazards. For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus mainly on-ear and facial piercings in this article.
How Do I Choose the Right Piercing Artist/Studio?
While a simple Google search is the easiest way, Ellis explains that finding the right piercing artist with the experience and knowledge of proper safety precautions takes a bit of footwork on your end. She recommends tailoring your search to include the following questions:
- How long have they been piercing?
- Are they members of the Association of Professional Piercers?
- Is their portfolio extensive, clean-looking, and updated?
- Are tools reused or disposable?
- What methods of sterilization and disinfection do they use?
- How often is their sterilizer “spore tested,” and where can those tests be viewed?
- Is the studio environment inviting, clean, and comfortable?
- Do the piercing artist and staff foster a calm, reassuring, and professional experience?
Pearce recommends choosing a shop with passionate piercers. “90% of doing a safe piercing involves understanding the health and safety aspects, with all effort to minimize potential risk/harm to the client. Finding a piercer means finding someone who’s borderline obsessed with your safety. A passionate piercer is also going to truly care about giving you the best visual outcome, regardless of the amount of time it takes to get things ‘perfect.’” Ellis echoes that sentiment with a reminder that you, the client, always have the final say. “If anything makes you feel uneasy, uncomfortable, or unsafe, it’s important to remember that you can just say ‘No thank you, I’ve changed my mind,’ and leave the studio.”
Lastly, regardless of how common your piercing (ear lobe, for example), Danzig always recommends a needle piercing over a gun piercing.
How Much Does it Cost?
Pearce explains many factors determine the final cost of your piercing, but most of the price will go toward the jewelry. Gold, for example, is always more expensive than titanium or steel, just as genuine diamonds will always cost more than rhinestones. There’s also the experience of the piercing artist to consider, as the more experienced they are, the higher the cost tends to run. And in this field, you get what you pay for.
Does it Hurt?
Not surprisingly, all the piercers we spoke to said this is the most common question they get asked. “Any piercing can pinch a little, but the level of pain experienced will vary from client to client,” Ellis says. “No piercing is so bad that our clients don't come back for more.” She adds that she’s never had a client scream while getting pierced, but that could come down to the fact that part of a piercer’s job is to ensure you’re calm and know what to expect before the needle ever touches the skin.
What Are the Best Materials for a New Piercing?
Even if you’re set on something simple, you should never skimp on your choice of jewelry. “The better quality jewelry you use, the better and faster your new piercing will heal,” Pearce explains. Stick to implant-grade alloys, solid 14K rose-, white- or yellow-gold, and ASTM F-136 implant-grade titanium (all in use at Nine Moons). Avoid any body jewelry labeled with terms like stainless steel, sterling silver, or surgical steel, as they are generally unacceptable for new piercings.
How Long Does a Piercing Take to Heal?
Danzig says that she often asks clients what sort of commitment they’re ready to accept before deciding on a piercing, as healing time can vary wildly. Ear lobes, for example, usually heal in 8-12 weeks, while some cartilage piercings can take up to six months or even a year to fully heal.
Despite that, most piercings have the same level of aftercare, Ellis says. Basic after-care involves leaving the fresh piercing alone as much as possible and avoiding pressure or trauma. Cleaning is simple; just a thorough rinse daily with warm running water and sterile saline irrigations to maintain cleanliness, promote circulation and remove any crusts or dead skin that may accumulate. Pearce echoes this less-is-more approach, adding that it’s generally more important to focus on your boy’s overall health by staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, and getting a good night's sleep of which support the body’s natural healing abilities.
Other than that, avoid touching your piercing at all costs, as well as sleeping on it or wearing clothing that could irritate the area.
When Can I Change the Jewelry?
It varies by piercing. As a general rule, new piercings are done with longer jewelry to allow for some initial swelling, after which it’s downsized to a shorter length that fits better in four-to-eight weeks (depending on the piercing). After that, you should still wait at least three months to a year into healing before changing it into something more your style. When in doubt, always check with your piercer beforehand.
Will it Leave a Scar When I Take it Out?
Again, that depends on what you’re piercing. Pearce explains that any piercing can result in scar tissue, but because every client is biologically and environmentally unique, everyone will scar slightly differently. One of the keys to minimizing potential scarring is to minimize trauma to the piercing as it heals, as in protecting it from being bumped and irritated. And not surprisingly, piercings done with the precision of a needle rather than a gun tend to generate far less scar tissue.
At the end of the day, piercings for men have never more in demand, giving guys one of the most unique, individual ways to express themselves. But before you take to the needle, be sure to do your homework and follow every bit of advice from our experts.