Body piercing is any process which involves making a cut, incision or puncture of the skin, cartilage or other body part for the purposes of body modification. Most body piercing refers to the process of making an incision in the skin for the purposes of wearing jewellery.
Body piercing has played an important role in cultural and religious practices for millennia. It’s a practice that has transcended geographical boundaries and has been practised in almost all cultures. As an art form, it’s not without controversy and some religions consider the modification of the body, which ultimately remains the property of God, a sin. In ancient culture piercing was, however, seen as a deeply spiritual practice and is still a means of expression for many individuals.
The role of the piercer in Western society is to puncture skin in a healthy and safe manner to ensure that infection is avoided. There is a wide range of piercing types and body modifications undertaken by body piercers. While most of us are familiar with the more traditional practices of ear and nose piercing, body piercers may also practice more extreme art forms such as scarification.
Practising body piercers will be asked to engage in a range of body modifications. Most piercings are temporary and can be removed and in this respect piercing is more temporary than other body modification practices such as tattooing. Common piercings include:
- Antitragus/ Tragus: The piercing in the ear.
- Body: Any piercing of a body part including the navel or genitals.
- Bridge: Piercing between the eyes.
- Conch: Piercing of the inner surface of the ear cartilage.
- Labret: Piercing of the lips.
- Septum: Piercing of the nostrils or nose.
- Tongue: Piercing of the tongue.
There is also a range of other slang terms to describe piercings. For example a Madison (base of throat), Vampire’s Kiss (side of neck) or Prince Albert (base of penis, through urethra).
Many piercers are self-employed and salaries vary widely depending on the stage of your career and whether you own the studio. Summer months are traditionally the busiest.
- A piercer starts on around £15,000 per annum.
- An experienced piercer may earn between £18,000 and £30,000 per annum.
- A piercer owning his/ her own business and employing others can earn in excess of £50,000 per annum.
A piercer’s daily duties would include the following:
- Cleaning and sterilising equipment and work areas. The key piece of equipment is an autoclave which sterilises all equipment.
- Updating health records including spore checks on equipment.
- Preparing body parts for piercing including sterilisation and cleaning.
- Meeting with clients, talking through the process and aftercare.
- Recommending products needed for aftercare.
- Actual piercing, including the use of needles, piercing guns and other specialist equipment.
- Keeping up to date with the latest health and safety procedures.
The body piercing industry in the UK is currently unregulated and as such there are no pre-requisites to becoming a piercer. There are therefore no recognised qualifications. However, piercers will still have a legal duty of care and paramount to this is health and safety.
Piercing studios will be investigated by local government offices to maintain compliance with legal standards. It is advisable to contact your local health and safety office prior to commencing work, particularly if setting up your own studio, as they will be able to advise you of best practices. You will as a minimum be expected to have a knowledge of:
- Requirements of environmental health standards.
- Equipment hygiene and sterilisation, including how to reduce the risk of infection and inflammation.
- How to use equipment safely and hygienically.
- Body piercing technical skills e.g. types of piercing, risks to the body, potential allergic reactions and piercing rejections and details of the potential effects of using different piercing materials and jewellery.
- Pre and post piercing care.
- First aid.
- A steady hand and good eyes.
- A love of alternative culture.
- Patience and dedication.
- Good interpersonal skills.
- Attention to detail.
Body piercers are often self-employed and will work from a studio or salon which must be registered with the local council. Professional studios will have stringent cleaning processes and dedicated work and preparation spaces.
You will likely work normal office hours of 9-5 although some studios may open later and close later. Some studios also stay open later one or two days a week. The working week is likely to include Saturdays. Single piercings are not particularly time consuming but you will need to be able to concentrate for short periods and spend time with clients explaining the risks and aftercare procedures.
Due to the semi-permanent nature and risk of infection it is imperative that any piercing is completed in a controlled and hygienic environment.
It will be highly beneficial to gain experience at an established studio. Positions as apprentices are available and most studios will be prepared to take you on provided that you are committed and enthusiastic. Due to the nature of the industry the majority of jobs involve getting to know people and immersing yourself in the culture.
There are no major employers as such and the best way of looking for work is to look through your local telephone directory for practising studios and approach them direct.
Most piercers are self-employed and will look to own their own practice.
Also known as…
- Body modification artist
What’s it really like?
Russell Ashworth – Practising body piercer
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I’ve been working in a body piercing/ tattoo studio for the past 3 years.
What did you do before this job?
I was flipping burgers in Burger King! I’ve always been heavily involved in alternative culture, from music, tattoos and piercing to full on body modification and was never particularly happy in my job. There was a tattoo studio next door and the guys working there would regularly come in for burgers. I got to know them and just felt that their quality of life was much better; the big difference was that they cared about what they did on a day-to-day basis. I just started chatting to them and gave them my staff discount on burgers and they gave us a discount on piercings. Making friends with them was the best thing I did. In order to start up as a piercer all you need is a health and safety certificate but I went on a course that included first aid and on the job training and did an NVQ level 3 in Health which taught you to work in a clean environment.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
I live pretty close by which is really convenient. I tend to get into work at 9am and my first job is to mop the floor and main area where people come in and make sure the studio is well presented. This normally takes me about 15 minutes as everything is pretty clean from the night before. The next thing I do is set up the autoclave which sterilises and cleans all the equipment that we use. This normally takes about an hour. I’ll normally have a set number of appointments in a particular day and will know what’s going on beforehand. Some days we will have leafleters working for us to bring in some new business. At about 10a.m I will open the studio for the first people booked in for piercings. A simple piercing takes about half an hour as you have to spend some time making sure people know what they’ve asked for and are comfortable with the risks. The place I work in is also a practising tattoo parlour and I spend a lot of my spare time tracing tattoos. If you are going to be a tattoo artist you should expect to trace a lot of the time. My day normally finishes about 6:30 p.m and then I have to cash up the tills and pay staff. Most payment is cash in hand and staff know they have to pay their own taxes. The job is relatively well paid and I will normally take home around £1,000 a month just for piercing. Tattooists are normally on a flat wage of around £300 a week plus private work, but it’s not unheard of for guys to earn up to £4,000 a month.
What do you like about the job?
I get real customer satisfaction from what I do. Most piercings are pretty standard stuff but occasionally you get someone who wants something pretty “out there”. Making it happen for those people is an awesome feeling. Your own personal skill levels ultimately determine whether someone enjoys their piercing experience. I personally find piercing very addictive. This is not an easy job though and some piercings can be pretty challenging. For example I had someone come in a few weeks ago who wanted an ankle piercing. In these situations you end up looking at the textbooks to find out the best way to go about it.
What do you dislike about the job?
Piercing is still seen as somewhat unprofessional and the opinions that some people have of you can change when you tell them what you do. There are some people out there who give the profession a bad name but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
The one piece of advice I’d give is to make sure you are pierced or tattooed yourself. If you don’t know what it’s like to inflict pain on yourself it’s pretty weird to start doing it to other people. Also you have to be enthusiastic, patient and empathetic. There is something spiritual about piercing and nothing is worse than getting a negative vibe of people. Some piercings are pretty complex e.g. a ruck scaffold (four bars through the ears) and you need to have the technical know-how and skills to do this. You’re better off being honest and telling people you can’t do something rather than risking hurting or infecting them.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
I’m pretty happy doing what I do at the end of the day. I currently manage rather than own a studio. I may look to set up on my own but not at the minute.