Everything You Need to Know Before You Get Your Next Piercing
Chief piercing officer Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric Tattoo, a parlor frequented by Beyonce and Rihanna, on everything you need to know before your next appointment. (Except explaining your choice to your grandparents. That one’s on you.)
Just 20 years ago, getting piercings or tattoos was right up there with doing drugs and dropping out of high school (at least as far as this writer’s parents were concerned). But in the passing years, piercings, like hair in rainbow hues, have become not only accepted, but trendy, thanks in part to their ubiquity in both high fashion and in the celebrity crowd.
From Katy Perry’s red-carpet-ready nose ring, to Dior’s posh baubles, and even the more punk-inspired full-face looks as seen at Givenchy, the piercing parlor no longer holds the taboo that once repelled the upper crust.
Ears are now blank canvases to be adorned with countless piercings (tragus, helix, orbital, conch) in an overwhelming selection of jewelry (rings, studs, barbells in all metals and gems), making the standard lobe stud now seem blasé by comparison.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. Noses, lips, nipples — even the side of one’s face — are now fair game for piercings, with A-listers ranging from Kendall Jenner, who caused quite the scandal with her nipple ring, to more buttoned-up country darling Kacey Musgraves, who has a nostril piercing, fueling the fire.
But before you run out to prick a new hole, there are definitely a few factors to consider. Pret-a-Reporter spoke to Brian Keith Thompson, chief piercing officer of Melrose’s Body Electric Tattoo (which boasts clients like Jessica Alba, Rihanna and Beyonce), about the do’s and don’ts of hitting the piercing shop, the latest trends in body jewelry and all the urban legends you may have heard. (Paralysis? Yeah, that one's definitely a myth).
DIOR DARLING: Piercings reign at Dior's fall 2016 show. (Photo: Getty Images)
What’s the most popular piercing trend you’ve seen a lot of lately?
Nipple piercings have been really popular right now. It’s probably more popular than the septum. You won’t see it really, but it’s kind of cool because you don’t see it, it’s just for you. Or your partner. It’s one of those private piercings.
Or you know, you could wear something sheer and very fitted to the body and actually see the outline of it slightly. There’s something really cool about that, too.
What should someone who’s considering a piercing take into consideration beforehand, or ask their piercer about?
The metal. Make sure they’re using hypoallergenic metals — titanium, gold. A nipple piercing can take quite some time to heal, so ask yourself, ‘Do I have the time, the patience to take care of this?’ It’s an immediate gratification, so you go with your friends, you get the piercing, it’s exciting, it’s fun. You’re like, ‘Yay!’ and now you have three to five months of care. Sometimes it can take longer; it depends on the person.
Overall, though, you just follow the really easy aftercare, which is soap and water. I use Dr. Bronner’s. I find soap is the best because it’s all-natural, there’s nothing in it — no chemicals, I mean. If you just follow that, you’re gonna be fine.
Anything you have to avoid with a fresh piercing?
For about two weeks you want to stay out of the ocean. Chlorine not so much; chlorine can dry the area out, but I haven’t seen it cause anything. [It] is actually killing the bacteria and fungus and all that stuff.
BLING RING: Tove Lo wore a bedazzled septum ring at the 2016 Grammy Awards. (Photo: Getty Images)
What should people watch for?
Some people, they will suffer what’s called rejection. What happens is the body does not want it there anymore. Let’s say the metal is cheap, it’s like cheap stainless steel, or it wasn’t pierced at the proper angle, or proper depth or proper gauge size — and the body starts moving the barbell forward over time.
It’s really kind of bad because if you allow it to go all the way through, you will have this horrible scar. So you have to be proactive and watch your body. So when you’re getting ready in the morning, look at it. Does it look the same as it did last week? And if you are like that, you won’t have a problem.
Do you have to worry about scar tissue if you’re re-piercing an area?
No, not at all. The needles go right through the scar tissue, it’s not that big of a deal. Some people think it’s gonna hurt more — but it doesn’t actually hurt more. Your nerves don’t grow more in the area just because it’s been pierced. That’s a common misconception.
That’s the great thing about piercings, though ... if you get tired of it or something doesn’t work out you just take it out and redo it. It’s not like a tattoo; you can get laser surgery, but that’s like a divorce: It’s expensive, it hurts and it’s gonna take a long time.
What are the biggest misconceptions about getting pierced?
There was a group of girls coming in for [a cartilage piercing], and I think their parents or someone started a rumor trying to get them not to do it by saying it would paralyze them. I just laughed at them — that's absolutely not true.
Another misconception is that if you’ve had a couple drinks, you can’t get pierced. You can, you can totally do it. You’re not going to bleed out. The main thing about alcohol is nobody wants to work with someone who’s drunk when they’re not. [Alcohol] cuts the nerves. It’s quite alright to have a drink before you get pierced. I wouldn’t get shit-faced drunk, because you’re going to be making bad decisions. But a couple drinks? It can actually take the edge off.
Another thing a lot of piercers will tell you, ‘Oh, you can’t do that with a ring, you have to do a stud, or you can’t do that with a stud, you have to use a ring.’ That is total bullshit. There’s nothing you have to start with. There are no rules in this thing. You can do whatever you want as long as it’s safe metal and designed for a first-time piercing.
EAR PARTY: Scarlett Johansson at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in 2015. (Photo: Getty Images)
Do you think piercings are becoming more accepted in our culture?
Oh, definitely. Ears are becoming more ornate. Now they were always doing it — I mean, I’ve been doing piercings for about 10 years, and piercings have been around for thousands of years. The septum piercings? The Aztecs were piercing their septums, the Egyptians were stretching their ears. There are photos of Buddha with his ears stretched.
Scarlet Johansson has a lot of piercings, I think like seven or eight. She was one of the first celebrities to have her septum pierced. She’s had it done for years and years before any of the others were doing it.
Usually in pictures you’ll just see the right side of her face, and that’s because her left ear is covered in piercings, if you ever notice. All the different magazines, she’s always showing the right side of her face.
What role has social media played?
I think it helps, like when Bella Thorne comes in because she has a huge following. Just on her Instagram alone, she has like 9 million followers. So it does have power when they do this stuff.
Everybody can see it instantaneously, and I’m seeing trends in piercing happening like that. Or a tattoo happens on a celebrity, we’ll get 20 people in in a week that want the same tattoo or the same style piercing. It’s really powerful, they definitely have a voice.
What was your most requested piercing that was inspired by a celebrity?
I did piercings on Basketball Wives for Brooke [Bailey] and Draya [Michele]. I did two anchors on one of the girls — like if she had sideburns, like that area, right in front of the tragus. For Brooke, I did three anchors on the top of her shoulder area by her neck, and that sparked — it was crazy how many of those piercings I did. Still to this day, girls come in and want those piercings.
It was almost mind-blowing how many of those I was doing. And that's kind of a big piercing, too — that's not just some little thing that you get. That's something that you come home and mom sees it, and she's not into it, you're going to have a talking to. [Laughs]
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