Most people would not think twice about getting their ears pierced with a stud-gun.  However, an educated minority is rising against the tide to inform people: getting gunned piercings is dangerous!

Surprised?  Most people are.  We all know people (maybe even ourselves) who "had their ears gunned and turned out fine."  However, these people are simply lucky (or just haven't discovered the problems yet).  While many people manage to heal gunned piercings with a stud, this act is never recommended.  The APP (Association of Professional Piercers) and BME (Body Modification Ezine) are two of the largest information sources on contemporary body modification; BOTH are against gun piercings (see left for their official statements below).

What is the APP position on guns?

"The lack of ability to sterilize the ear piercing guns is one of the issues of concern about such equipment. Blood can aerosolize (become airborne in essentially microscopic particles) and contaminate the gun. If any part of the stud touches any part of the contaminated gun, there is the possibility of transmitting a disease-causing micro organism.

The Hepatitis virus can live for extended periods on inanimate surfaces, therefore transmission of such disease through this type of equipment is possible.

Further, most of the ear studs are quite dull, even if slightly pointy. The piercings are accomplished using a considerable amount of force. This is more like a crush injury than a piercing, and feels like one as well. The use of a sharper, sterile object makes for a much safer, gentler, more comfortable piercing.

Other aspects of concern include the fact that the studs are too short for some earlobes, which can result in complications. The jewelry can get completely embedded in ear lobes, even when pierced according to usual practice with a gun. Also, the piercings are difficult to clean thoroughly if too close fitting. The studs do not allow for much room even on slim lobes. Air and blood circulation are limited which can delay or complicate healing. Swelling and/or scar tissue formation can result. Also, the butterfly backing of ear studs have a configuration that can easily trap bacteria adding to the potential risk of infection.

Another problem is that the guns are very easy to misuse. Some who operate them "professionally" have little or no training. Further, many people do not stop at piercing only the lobes, and pierce eyebrows, tongues, nostrils, navels and other body parts with the ear stud guns. Such usage is warned against by most manufacturers, but that does not prevent frequent abuse of the ear piercing gun equipment. This is absolutely inappropriate and very dangerous!"

What is BME's position on guns?

"A piercing gun, traditionally used by mall-stores for piercing ears, is typically inappropriate for piercing of any kind, especially body piercing. Almost all medical professionals agree that piercing guns can not be adequately sterilized (an alcohol wipe is NOT sterilization); which means that in theory they are capable of passing hepatitis and other diseases.

In addition, experience has taught the industry that:

•  Ear piercing studs are dull and tear through the body causing unnecessary scarring, pain, and other complications.

•  Ear piercing guns are inaccurate and not designed for piercing most body parts resulting in improper piercing placement.

•  Ear piercing studs are the wrong size and too short for most piercings resulting in swelling, rejection, infection, and many other problems.

Any "piercer" using a piercing gun should be avoided."

So why are gun piercings so bad?  There are a plethora of reasons, some are very common and some are rare but still too big to risk.

Being pierced with a gun will damage the tissue in your ear.

That's right.  Gun piercings cause excess scar tissue.  The reason lies in the method of creating the hole.  Unlike in a needle piercing, guns puncture your skin by blunt force.  Instead of a sharp object swiftly cutting a slit into your skin, studs are dull and put intense pressure on the outside tissue which forces it inside your ear until a hole is made.  This blunt trauma is more painful and can cause excess scar tissue and aide in infection (when the outside part of your ear is pushed into the hole, it takes with it all those microorganisms that were on the outside of your ear).  OUCH.

To top that off, guns -- which were originally used to tag the ears of dairy cows -- are supposed to be used only on earlobes.  Even the the people who MAKE AND SELL piercing guns say it's dangerous to pierce anywhere else.  Yet many places use a gun to pierce ear cartilage and even other body parts, even though this could cause tons of problems -- including deformities and shattered cartilage.  Just the fact that these "piercers" don't know the proper uses of the gun should warn you against having them poke a hole in your body.

Guns are NOT STERILE and can spread life-threatening diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

That's right, you CAN get these viruses from a simple piercing.  At a good piercing studio, where everything is sterilized and/or disposable and cross-contamination is avoided, you will not get such viruses.  However, gun piercings do not save you from this risk.

First, let's talk about sterilization and cross-contamination.  The first thing you should know is that rubbing alcohol does not completely sterilize things.  Neither does flame, boiling water, or any of the other methods that a lot of people assume work.  While rubbing alcohol will kill SOME bacteria (but not all... and even to kill the most basic bacteria it takes a half-hour of soaking), it also leaves behind bacteria as well -- whether it's used on your skin or on the gun, it's NOT sterilizing.  It's only cleaning.  Matches and lighters definitely don't work (you know that black stuff they leave behind?  That's burned off fuel and is very dirty.  You don't want that inside your body).  There are really only two methods of sterilization; the most important and efficient one is an autoclave (these are used by hospitals).  Autoclaves are basically very expensive "ovens" that work by using intense heat and pressure.  The second thing you need to know is when you're working in a sterile field, everything is only as sterile as the dirtiest object present.  This means EVERYTHING possible needs to be autoclaved.

clean adj. - Free from dirt, stain, or impurities; unsoiled.

ster·ile  adj.  - Completely free from live bacteria or other microorganisms.

In gun piercings, the stud is usually the only thing that is sterile (and sometimes not even that).  Given the fact that "things are only as sterile as the dirtiest object present," that means that having a sterile stud is useless when it's put into an unsterile gun by a person who is usually not wearing gloves in a store that is touched by hundreds of people each day.  Modern plastic guns themselves are not sterile because they cannot be autoclaved or they will melt (older metal guns can be autoclaved but rarely are); anyone who tells you the gun is sterile is incorrect.  This means that you can contract hepatitis or HIV from a piercing gun if a person who used it before was infected

Many guns today are disposable, and while that means you wont be exposed to other people's blood, it still doesn't protect you from the contamination of the packaging and the dirty hands of the factory workers who assembled the gun.  Even a simple infection can be deforming and life threatening in bad cases.

In a proper needle piercing, everything is autoclaved: the jewelry, the disposable needle, the clamp -- everything.  The piercer will even wear sterile gloves (and change them if he touches anything unsterile).  The piercing will be done in a room (that is separate from the waiting room) that can be (and is) scrubbed down and safe from exposure to mass amounts of people.  This method is the best way of preventing cross-contamination and foreign viruses and bacteria from entering your body!

"Professionals" who use a gun are not trained in either piercing or proper hygiene.

In addition to their years of learning to pierce, APP piercers also take classes on how to avoid exposing you, the client, to harmful microorganisms, but you can be sure that the teenager at the mall wielding a stud-gun hasn't.  In fact, anyone can buy a piercing gun legally.  That means that the person ready to pierce your ears might have never done it before (and you will never know).  At most, they probably had a day-long piercing seminar during their employee training period.  Training for these "piercers" is simply learning how to aim the gun and shoot (with a few practice shots into a piece of cardboard).  It is not economically feasible for managers of these mall chains and beauty salons to offer education on microorganisms, methods of sterilization and avoidance of cross-contamination so it is never done.  Simply put, when you get a piercing from a person using a gun, you're getting a hole poked in you by someone who probably is about as trustworthy as your kid brother with a nail.

Gun piercings are often crooked and off-center because of their method of creation.

Because of the little training gun piercers have and because of the clumsy handling of a stud-gun, your piercing may come out crooked or off-center.  This can be difficult to heal, and can cause problems later if you decide to stretch your piercing to a different size or choose add more holes next to your initial piercing.  Crooked cartilage piercings may never heal at all, and can cause a lot of pain in the process.

Studs are improper jewelry for lobes and ESPECIALLY for other body parts.

We've all seen earring studs a million times.  You know what they look like; they're really thin and short with a butterfly backing to hold them on your ears.  Newsflash!  These studs themselves are improper jewelry, for ears and elsewhere.

For starters, they're made with very cheap material.  15% of the population is allergic to the metal nickel.  Despite the commonality of this allergy, the metals gold, steel, and sterling silver all contain large amounts of it -- yet these are the most common materials of piercing studs.  Having a piece of jewelry in your body that you are allergic to have be painful, very itchy, make your ear an ugly swollen red and ultimately prevent healing.

The proper materials for a fresh piercing are implant-grade stainless steel (which contains very little nickel) or titanium (which contains no nickel at all), along with a few other choice metals.  Using these metals greatly reduces the change of irritation from a metal allergy.  All professional piercers will have the option of choosing jewelry made in these metals.

In addition, the studs have a very thin, short rod which can easily rip, tear and migrate in your ear (the thicker the bar, the better it will be for your piercing).  Also, because the bar is so short, it cannot accommodate swelling which is your natural bodily reaction to trauma.  The lack of room to swell can more damage your ear, be intensely painful and cause serious complications (ever known someone who had to have surgery to remove an earring from inside their ear, because scar tissue grew OVER the earring?  I have).

Lastly, the butterfly backing.  Have one lying around?  Look at the back of it.  See all those little crevices?  Those trap dirt, bacterial and hair (and hair is really dirty) and push it close to or into your piercing.  Those backings are a first-rate ticket to infection.  In a needle piercing, the jewelry will not have crevices in which bacteria can hide and are easily cleanable.

Given this information, why do people still get gun piercings? 

One, they are unaware of the dangers of gun piercings.  Since we all know people who healed their gunned ears, many of us assume that piercing guns are safe.  What we don't hear about is the other risks mentioned above.  Nor do we hear about the people who contracted hepatitis or needed to have reconstructive surgery on their ears.  These people do exist and are not as uncommon as one might think.  We can solve the ignorance problem by educating each other on why gun piercings are dangerous -- so you and your friends can be safe and healthy with beautiful piercings.

Another reason for the popularity of stud-guns probably lies in the fact that, to most people, piercing guns don't look as scary.  Many people don't like the look of a needle looming near their body, even if the sharp needle with be much less painful than a gun (and handled by a person who is very skilled).  The speed in which a gun pierces is very fast, and many people assume that a piercer cannot do such quick piercings --  but a good artist can.  Not only will the piercing itself be less painful, but without the complications a gun can cause, it will feel much better and healthier during your healing period, as well.

The last reason is that gun piercings are cheaper.  While you can get a gun piercing with jewelry for much cheaper than a needle piercing with jewelry, think about what else you're getting for that more expensive price: you're getting peace of mind knowing that you haven't been exposed to fatal diseases and you're getting a knowledgeable and educated person to answer your questions and guide you through the healing process.

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Sources and Outside Reading
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Definitions from

Both the APP (Association of Professional Piercers) and BME (Body Modification Ezine, the largest source for body modification) are excellent sources for information on both piercing guns and safe body modification in general.

Please visit their websites:


For information on creating a sterile environment:  This is a dentists website, but it shows the huge effort that goes into creating a sterile field.  You can immediately recognize that this degree of preparation is not present in mall-stores and stands that do gun piercings.  On the contrary, you will find that every good piercing studio will make these preparations.

Sources that state alcohol does not sterilize:, but rather "cleans."  As demonstrated by the aforementioned definitions, these are not the same thing.

For true sterilization, an autoclave is necessary:,,  This method, along with a special chemical bath, is used by hospitals on surgical instruments.  It is one of the few true methods of sterilization.  Every body piercing shop should own one.

To read about cross-contamination, go here:  Good body piercings will be very careful of this, as mentioned in the website.  This is rarely present in beauty salons and mall-stores that pierce with guns.

Blood borne pathogens that can be transmitted by gun piercings included (but is not limited to) hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) as well as other bacterial infections and viruses.

Nickel allergies are common, and since most studs contain large amounts of nickel, your piercing could have a wealth of problems healing.  To read about nickel allergies, try: and

Outside resources supporting the fact that gun piercings are bad: