Nostril Piercing Techniques Part One: Clamped Nostril Piercings

Nostril Piercing Techniques Part One: Clamped Nostril Piercings

After the Nostril Piercing: Advanced Fundamentals class (which I had the pleasure of teaching with the incomparable Alicia Cardenas) at the 2014 Association of Professional Piercers Conference my friend “Tall” Gary Vargas came up to me and said, “10 years in the industry.  This is my first conference.  I come to see your class …and you tell me to clamp a nostril”.

Frankly, I understand where Gary is coming from and I imagine this sentiment was not rare within the ranks of our more than 200(!)  attendees.  Clamping nostrils isn’t just abnormal, it’s downright passé.  

The piercing industry has a love/hate relationship with tools in general.  I actually run a piercing studio that disposes of every tool we use, which means I am always looking for opportunities to safely eliminate tool usage.  Still, I really like tools.  I like things that make my job easier.  Piercers sometimes forget that tools are not the devil. At the end of the day our clients are much happier with well placed piercings that heal well than they are with innovative piercing techniques that impress other piercers.

I have established from my previous entries that (by and large) we as piercers are attempting to make piercings that enter and exit perpendicular to the the nostril.  The most simple and effective way to make this happen is by clamping the nostril.  This isn't just because clamps are exceptionally good at delivering perpendicular piercings, but also because needle receiver tubes and freehand techniques can make it much harder than necessary.  To put it another way: clamping can make nostril piercings (nearly) idiot proof.

The rigid stiffness of the outside of the nostril means that when you place a clamp on, it is unlikely to distort the tissue (on the visible part of the nose).  Since the clamp applies pressure on the inside and outside of the nostril equally, we have a very strong indication of how to pierce perpendicular to the tissue.  Try placing a clamp on your own nostril crooked.  Not only will you find it nearly impossible to do so, you’ll also see that if you manage to get a clamp on your nose crooked, it hurts.  A lot.  Your client will let you know if you’ve got the clamp on wrong, I promise.

Clamping also eliminates a problem that receiver tubes create.  Receiver tubes only support the inside of the nose.  What many piercers do is push too hard on the receiver tube, pushing the nostril out of it’s natural position. This distorts our view of of what perpendicular truly is, and makes it significantly more challenging to get our x and y axes right.

I mentioned before that the outside of a nostril is rigid, and unlikely to be distorted.  That isn’t true of the inside of the nostril.  The inside of the nostril is soft, delicate tissue.  Having anything up the nose can cause your client discomfort.  That’s why, when placing a clamp on the nostril, I gently place the clamp on the inside first.  After I have established a comfortable place for the clamp to sit on the inside of the nostril, I gently apply pressure with the other side of the clamp.  

Visual Cues
One of the best aspects of using clamps for nostrils is they give us visual cues as to 90 degrees.  When we line up a needle in a clamp, we can see it line up with the handle of the clamp.  This lets us know if we are wildly off of perpendicular (needle drift because of needle bevel should still to be accommodated for).  
The clamp provides a line to measure against.

The clamp allows us to visualize perpendicular much easier.

We can also visualize our X axis by looking for 90 degrees from the side of the clamp.  Yes, you should be able to do that without the clamp… but the clamp takes the guess work out.  

Finally, the clamp provides a visual cue for itself.  What I mean by that, is when you see the visible jaw of the clamp on the outside of the nose, you can visualize (in yer noggin) what the jaw on the inside of the nose looks like.  On all but the widest nostrils, you are piercing where you are not able to see, so having all of these visual cues really adds up.

A brief discussion about clamps
Body piercing clamps evolved from sponge forceps and many piercers (myself included) have trouble not referring to them by their “original” names.  For the purpose of separating our modified versions of these sponge forceps, I will not call our clamps by their sponge forceps names; Donnington or Pennington or Foerster.  (But I’ll be thinking it!)

As for choosing a clamp style, I prefer the smallest I can get my hands on.  Mini-oval jawed clamps are great.  Mini-triangular jawed can work as well, although you will want to make sure not to poke your client with the edge.  Unfortunately disposable clamp technology hasn’t yet achieved very small jawed disposable models, but I am confident those are on the way.  Disposable models tend to be built on the “tweezer” model instead of the hinged models we know by using metal clamps.  I don’t mind either, so long as I feel like I have control over the pressure I am placing on the nostril.

Slotted clamps?
When I saw slotted piercing clamps introduced, I was skeptical of their effectiveness.  If we are using a clamp to provide support, cutting a big chunk of that support out didn’t make a ton of sense to me.  I also didn’t like the edges on slotted clamps.  Over time, my stance against them has mellowed.  Most disposable options are only available slotted, which meant I had to learn to use them.   Now that I have experience with them, I’d say my initial concerns were overblown, to an extent.  I still prefer non-slotted options, but I feel comfortable with either option being effective.

Performing the Piercing
At this point, I am ready to execute the piercing.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to preparing to pierce.  Some piercers “hover” their needle above the dot they are about to pierce through, while others place the needle on the mark and let their client get used to the sensation of the needle against their skin.  I am in the latter category, and you will notice in my tutorial videos I am not shy about setting the needle against the skin for some time before I proceed with the piercing.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach, honestly.  It comes down to the comfort level of the practitioner.  I do think the hover method is better for more experienced piercers.

Before performing the piercing, you need to make sure the needle will not go through the nostril and right into the septum.  If you did that, it would not be the end of the world; although it probably won’t feel good and will result in some unnecessary bleeding.  We are in the business of keeping clients, after all, so let’s take steps to prevent doing that.  I suggest holding the needle with a thumb and middle finger about ¼ to 5/16ths of an inch from the end of the bevel of the needle, while supporting the back of the needle with the index finger. This way, when your thumb and index finger hit the clamp, the needle has traveled the average length of your jewelry plus the length of the bevel, which is enough for the needle to exit the skin but not so much that the needle pokes the septum.  Obviously, your client’s nose will determine exactly how far you can push without hitting their septum.  Hold your needle accordingly.

Once the needle bevel has completely come out the exit side, then and only then can you change angles and get the needle out of the nasal cavity.  After this, you can safely insert the jewelry of your client’s choice.

The Auto-Correcting Mechanism
I really can’t go a blog entry without mentioning Fakir Musafar, mostly because these principles I am writing about originated with my training at the Fakir Intensives.  I’d love to say I came up with most of this, but I didn’t.  Fakir Musafar and Course Administrator Ken Coyote are to thank for most of my understanding of body piercing.  

In the Fakir Basic class, Fakir introduces the concept of the “Auto-Correcting Mechanism”.  This is a trick your brain plays on your hand-eye coordination to make you hit what you want to hit.  Fakir learned this by doing trick shooting.  You don’t look at your gun, you look at your target.  Your brain will auto-correct and help you hit the target (with practice, of course).  

What this means is, when I pierce I first set my needle on the tissue that I am piercing. Then make sure my bevel orientation is correct (and that I am using the cutting surface of the needle).  Once I have that side of the clamp set, I can divert all of my attention to the exit side of the piercing.  My auto-correcting mechanism will make sure I do not pierce at a strange angle.  I will focus on the exit and I will hit it, over and over and over again.  I suggest practicing this technique a lot on a piece of foam board or silicone.  Once you have established confidence with the auto-correcting mechanism, then you can use it to assist you in piercing your client.

If I cannot see inside the nostril (even while wearing my trusty headlamp), I make sure I am visualizing the clamp on the inside of the nose.  I know where I want the needle to exit, in reference to the perfect exit position in the clamp.  I concentrate on that spot and pierce smoothly right at the spot. I will always hit it, and you will too.  

At that point, it is easy to insert jewelry, clean your client, and proceed with the rest of your day.  One more perfect piercing leaves your studio and the world is a better place for it.  Have you wowed piercers on the internet?  No.  Have you wowed your client?  Yes.  And that’s what’s important here.

This video is an example of a clamped nostril piercing using a Snaptile disposable clamp. The insertion is performed using sterile needle blanks (19 gauge and 26 gauge) from Industrial Strength, LLC. The jewelry is an 18 gauge 5/16 Neometal flatback with a 2.5mm moonstone end.

Clamped nostrils are not a step backward as a piercer.  Often times, stepping outside of your comfort zone (safely) will only improve your usual piercing routine.  Good piercers routinely challenge themselves with new techniques or revisiting old ones. Ken Coyote  suggests you try a new technique 25 times.  After applying “the rule of 25”, you should have enough experience to really form an opinion on the technique.  When clamping nostrils, the first few tries will seem foreign.  The few after that, you’ll start to see how clamping tissue like this provides tremendous tissue support and visual cues.  After that, well, you will be able to decide if clamped nostril technique is really for you... Or if I am totally crazy.

I hope you enjoy this first technique installment.  In subsequent blog entries I will discuss receiver tube and freehand techniques.   

Needle Physics Illustrated

In my teaching experience, one of the hardest concepts to explain is "needle drift".  Needle physics can be a difficult concept for piercers to fully wrap their heads around.  I attempted to address this in a previous blog entry, but I believe the following animations are more likely to be helpful to a piercer than my initial entry on the subject was.

My brother was kind enough to make animated .GIF files for me.  These .GIFs demonstrate, simply, the way needles drift through surfaces.

This demonstrates needle drift.  This is the direction a needle faced "straight" at a surface would naturally go if there wasn't a piercer forcing it to go directly forward.   "I can push a needle straight!  That never happens to me!" you may say.  That is absolutely true. What happens when a piercer forces the needle forward is the bevel of the needle damages the tissue, sometimes visibly leaving a "flap" behind.  This means a more challenging healing process, and a more uncomfortable procedure.

This is a needle that is actually being pushed straight, along the cutting surface of the needle.  (excuse the seemingly upward motion, it is unintentional)  By using the cutting surface of the needle appropriately, the piercer minimizes the amount of damage done by the needle, and allows the cutting surface to do its job.

My suggestion to piercers who are viewing this and still having trouble with it is to use a large gauge needle on a piece of foam board or a thin piece of flexible silicone.  You will feel the difference, and this will influence your bevel orientation on every piercing.

My hope is that the visual learners in the piercing community are helped by these animations.  My sincere thanks to my brother, Chris Saunders, for producing these for me!
As of 2017 I now pierce full time at Gamma Piercing in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Please visit our website or stop by and say hello!

Black pearl and gold jewelry

Photo: Our friend Melody loves her new genuine black pearl and rose gold nostril jewelry by body vision los angeles !
My friend Melody took this self portrait photo to show off her new jewelry by BVLA.  Melody's work can be found at

Nostril Piercing Advanced Fundamentals Video

On June 10th, 2014 Alicia Cardenas and I had the pleasure of presenting our Nostril Piercing: Advanced Fundamentals class at the 19th Annual Association of Professional Piercers conference.

Nearly 300 people attended the class. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the highlights of my career.

I am pleased to share the video I made to demonstrate a safe nostril piercing technique.

I do have some notes I'd like to share on the video.
  • I add the excess distilled water from rinsing my anodized jewelry to the anodizer bath because it counteracts the natural evaporation of the solution.
  • I wish I had polished the StatIM cassette, this was an aesthetic oversight on my part. 
  • My face mask should've been donned before hand washing. It looks a little weird donning the face mask with gloves even though the gloves were tossed immediately afterward. 
  • I cleaned the whole nose and lip but didn't prep the whole nose. In hindsight I would have prepped the entire nose as well. 
  • I've since adjusted my drape to avoid covering the eyes.
  • In the editing process, my transfer of a disposable insertion link is missing.  After I perform the piercing from outside to inside, I follow the needle out with an 18g needle blank with a 26g transfer pin (also a needle blank) bent gently inside it.  That allows me to link the jewelry to the transfer pin and insert it from the inside out.
My sincere thanks to the exceptionally talented Mike Formanski for shooting, editing, and producing this video.  

Single Use Supplies (RTFM)

Do you know what this symbol means?

The crossed out 2 is placed by manufacturers on products that they intend to be single-use only.  Because the manufacturer is aiming their product primarily at the medical industry, this means the manufacturer wants this product used for one procedure on a single client and disposed of afterward.

Here’s a few of the things we as piercers know are single use:
exam gloves
sterile procedure gloves
skin prep swabs and wipes
and the list goes on.  Piercers tend to get this part of their job right.

...With one exception.

"Looking good Jef!  Are those LED's on those goggles?"

Facemasks are single use items, which is to say they need to be thrown away after every client. Yet a lot of piercers don't throw them out. I think to us piercers they just don't seem "used" after a single navel piercing... but they are, and they need to be thrown away.  Do you not believe me?  Here’s a box of them.

photo1 (1).jpg

Check out the lower right hand corner. There's a crossed out number 2! No need for debate, the manufacturer has spoken! Facemasks are single use! So here is a friendly reminder, read and follow those manufacturers instructions!

Rockstar Body Piercing Voted Best Place to Get Pierced

It's always a tremendous honor to get voted "Best of" by your local community.  I'd like to say thank you to everyone who voted for my shop, Rockstar Body Piercing.  My staff and I are consistently trying to deliver the best body piercing in Rhode Island!  It's always nice to know our friends, colleagues and clients believe we are doing just that.

I was also very happy to see that this blog was referenced in the Providence Phoenix.  I've been blown away by the reception this blog has gotten and I am really looking forward to the posts I have planned for the future!

A fresh conch piercing with Anatometal threaded onyx cluster and matching threaded Onyx plugs.  Piercing by Jef Saunders.

Nostril Piercing Advanced Fundamentals Class

June 10th, 2014 7:45-9:45 PM at the Association of Professional Piercers Conference, Alicia Cardenas and I will be presenting a class based, in part, on this blog.  A detailed breakdown of nostril piercing theory and technique.  I look forward to seeing you there!

Playing Detective!

Rockstar Body Piercing, my studio, has two locations.  One of them is smack dab in the middle of Brown University, which means a lot of my clients are students and need to find competent piercers when they return home.  Often times, they present me with the opportunity of assisting them with the task.  This is a common question on professional piercer internet forums as well: “does anyone know a piercer in ‘Location X, USA’?” More often than not, friendly colleagues chime in from that general location and the question is answered.

This system works fine, for the most part, but I am of the opinion that piercers are cheating ourselves of a learning opportunity when we do that.  I think there is a multi-part process that is worthwhile for both colleagues: the one looking for a piercer in a particular area, and the piercer that is potentially going to be recommended.

I talk about “critical thinking” an awful lot, and I don’t think critical thinking is limited to skin prep or aftercare.  Critical thinking involves using your deductive reasoning, and it’s important to use that on a regular basis.  One of the worst critical thinking mistakes is letting the “hivemind” that is pro piercer forums (such as the Body Modification Learning Forum [BMLF]) do your thinking for you.  When a client of yours needs a good quality piercer in an area that you aren’t familiar with, it’s time to don your Sherlock hat and let the sleuthing begin!

Finding Piercers

We have a few good resources to use that can point us to piercers in a specific area.

Gregg Marchessault’s Body Modification Learning Forum Piercer map, for one:

Then we have the Association of Professional Piercers Locate a Member page:

Now this narrows the field a bit, but of course we could have excellent piercers that are neither APP members nor active on the BMLF.  In that case, we could always use Google to search for a piercer in a particular area. 

I also tend to think highly of people who use certain high quality jewelry manufacturers.  Those manufacturers tend to have ‘Piercer Locators’ on their websites, and I will often use those tools to find someone in a particular area.

Determining Quality From a Distance

Now that we have found a piercer, we need to determine if this piercer deserves our recommendation.  What are we looking for?  Keep in mind, when you suggest a piercer to your client, your name is forever attached to that suggestion in your client’s eyes.  Also, you can’t do a full walk through of their shop or know their bedside manner.  You need to determine quality based on resources available to you on the internet, and you need to do it in a reasonable amount of time.

Here’s what I look for (and at) and why:
1) APP membership:  Why? First, I know that the location will have been looked at (in video format) by a trusted colleague of mine at some point. Second, I know that the shop has promised to carry appropriate jewelry for body piercing.  Thirdly, I know that spore test results are required for membership.  That’s not all I look at, though.

2) Shop Facebook Page: I tend to look at the shop’s Facebook page before I look at the shop’s website.  Websites are expensive, age quickly, and tend not to have up-to-date work on them.  Sure it’s a good sign if the website is good, but from personal experience I know a shop can be great with a mediocre website.  On the other hand, the Facebook page is insightful.  Since I am looking for a piercer, is piercing even mentioned? Are piercings, piercers, and jewelry presented professionally? Are the piercers specified by name, and held in the same respect as the tattooers at the shop?  

As an administrator for the BMLF, it is my job to look at piercers (and other body artists) online presence and determine if they are, in fact, professionals.  I hate to say this, but most tattoo shops that also offer piercing don’t mention their piercer by name.  They don’t showcase their piercers work, and they tend to only mention piercing “sales” on their Facebook page.  What I can deduce from this approach to piercing is to this tattoo shop,  piercing is an afterthought.  They don’t value it as a service they offer, and when you don’t value your own service there’s no reason anyone else should value it either.

3) Shop Website: Maybe the Facebook page is run by one particular artist at the shop, and he or she unfairly focuses on tattooing and ignores piercing.  The shop website is a chance at redemption.  Typically if the Facebook page is awful, the website is too.  It’s definitely worth a shot, though.

Also, websites can provide tremendous insight to what the shop’s values are.  If the website is all about sale piercings and t-shirts, I personally don’t find that compelling.  If the shop website focuses on safety, quality, training and professionalism:  I find that tremendously compelling.

4) Other social media: Instagram, Twitter, Google+ etc.  What I want to see is a professional demeanor and obviously good work.  

5) A Friendly Phone Call: Maybe my client needs a specific type of jewelry?  A Neometal end, for instance.  Calling ahead of time on their behalf is not only good customer service, but a great networking tool.  One of things that I have noticed when I call shops is that the right person on the phone can really seal a recommendation for me.  If they are friendly, knowledgeable, and sound like they are smiling on the other end of the phone, I have a good idea of what their customer service might be like.  Lots of people can pierce with good jewelry in a clean environment, but can they do it with superb customer service?  That is very important to me.

So, simply put: If I am looking to recommend a piercer in a specific area, they are worthwhile in my eyes if they meet a few simple criteria.  APP Membership, and/or a good Facebook presence and/or a good website.  I’m looking for those piercers to use good jewelry, place their piercings well, and take pride in the way they present themselves online.  I’m looking for informative and professional interactions with the shop staff themselves.  It’s very easy and typically doesn’t take long.  

Does this guarantee an awesome experience?  Of course not.  There is only so much one can do from internet searches and phone calls.  Still, when a client of mine tasks me with finding a piercer for them, I like to point them in the appropriate direction, and one I feel reasonably confident in.

You may have a different set of criteria.  My approach is by no means fool proof.  I encourage you to develop a logical and repeatable set of criteria that you apply to looking for other piercers.  In many cases you may find that the closest piercer that meets your criteria for a recommendation is some distance away from the town you are looking at.  There have definitely been times where I have told a client they need to travel several hours to find anyone I feel comfortable suggesting.

Thinking Critically About Ourselves

At the beginning of this blog entry, I mentioned that this is a useful exercise for both parties involved.  Why is that?  I encourage any piercer reading this to search for themselves using the same critical eye that they have applied to piercers they don’t know by reputation.  What do people see when they look at your portfolio?  Your online presence? Your shop’s online presence?  No one is perfect, least of all me.  When I began working as an Administrator for the BMLF, I “lurked” my own profile and felt like my studio portfolio was well tended to, but my private Facebook portfolio was outdated, and not very indicative of who I am as a piercer.  

It was then that I decided that my online presence was not a destination, but a journey.  I needed to regularly look at what I was putting out to the world and hopefully earn clients and recommendations from colleagues not based (solely) on my reputation, but on my continued hard work and what I hope to achieve as a piercer: high quality work with beautiful jewelry, well photographed and professionally represented.

So my suggestion to piercers about to ask “Who pierces in “Location X” on behalf of their client is this: Use the tools at your disposal.  Develop a deeply discerning eye.   Finally, use that deeply critical eye you develop as much on yourself as you do on your peers.  We all benefit when we demand the best from ourselves and the piercing community at large.

Body Piercing Needle Physics

I have discussed the angle of nostril piercings pretty thoroughly in my previous blog entries.  In most instances, perpendicular piercings are going to look best and heal best.  With the exception of nostrils pierced with rings, in which case my client and I agree to deal with longer healing times and more complications so the piercing is aesthetically perfect for a ring.

So, now all that we, the piercers have to do is set the needle at the right angle and push, right?  Problem solved!

Unfortunately, no.  

Needles are not push pins.  Let’s look at a push pin:

The arrows represent the pressure from the cork board, which is equal on all sides.

When you press a pin or thumbtack into a cork board to hang up a sick punk flyer or a Garfield comic strip, you put pressure directly at the back of the pin, and the pin hits at the perpendicular surface and goes straight in.  The pressure acting on the pin is equal at the top and the bottom (and the sides), and this aids the pin in going straight.  

Now, let’s look at a modern piercing needle.  This is totally different.  It is essentially a metal tube cut at an angle and sharpened (there is much more to it than that, but let’s not get distracted in this blog entry).  That cutting surface presents a problem. 
The arrows represent the drag pushing the needle in a downward angle.

Here’s what beginners think a needle does:

Here’s what it actually does.

The pressure from the tissue on the cutting surface pushes the needle “down”.  I was introduced to this idea at the Fakir Intensives in 1999, and they call this needle drift.  I’ll be honest, it was 2 years of piercing in a busy shop before I really understood what was going on.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, to pierce at a 90 degree angle, the needle needs to go through like this:

Of course, this is very easy to visualize on a 6 gauge needle. It is exceptionally challenging to accommodate for this on an 18g needle.  I have demonstrated this showing the bevel facing up, but it is the same no matter which way the needle bevel is facing.

How does a piercer manage to get angles perfect, given this challenge?  This is where I like to point beginner piercers toward clamped piercings.  Clamped piercings give us visual cues to make sure we are holding our needles perpendicular to the tissue.  Also, when we visualize our exit, we tend to hit it.  (I did, in fact, just say something nice about clamped piercings.  I should have asked some of you to sit down before I said that.)  

As a brief aside:  this concept is introduced in the Fakir Intensives Basic Piercing Intensive, yet year after year I find piercers who aren't familiar with this concept (and who also feel the Fakir class isn’t worth their time).  It was Ken Coyote who taught me this on my second day of piercing education, and I am lucky to have had the concept introduced to me so early.  Long story short: the Fakir Intensives is worth your time if you are a piercer.

In addition, at the Association of Professional Piercers Conference June 8-13, 2014 there will be a class on needles called Needles: the Cutting Edge.  This class will be taught by Luis Garcia and Brian Skellie, and I would strongly suggest it if this blog is intriguing to you.

I don’t intend to answer the needle drift issue in this blog, I merely want to introduce the concept before I start approaching actual piercing techniques.  I will be demonstrating how to avoid needle drift for perpendicular piercings, and how to use it to our benefit when we do angled piercings for rings.  I will also be posting technique videos.  These blog entries haven’t been about health and safety, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be demonstrated.  To my colleagues: if you have comments or critiques on health and safety, placement, or technique - let’s discuss them!  I would very much like this to be a learning experience for all involved, myself included.

Full Disclosure: I am an instructor for the Fakir Intensives and I am also teaching classes at this year's Association of Professional Piercers conference.  Why do I include this disclosure?  This is a critical thinking skill: a healthy dose of skepticism should be applied to claims made by salespeople (like me, in this instance).  I think it is ethical for me to explain that I have a vested interest in people attending both the Fakir Intensives and the APP conference (even if I don't benefit financially from them).