When Our Client's Piercings Meet Our Client's Fingers: A Love Story

Touching a healing piercing is gross.  No two ways about it.  It’s unsafe for the person who has the piercing (and is apparently hell-bent on ruining it), and it’s unsafe for the people around that person.

Us piercers have been fighting the “please don’t touch your piercing” battle for a long time, and I have bad news.  We aren’t just losing.  We are “Safety-On-The-First-Play-Of-The-Superbowl” losing.

We are BUTTFUMBLE losing.

That’s not good, friends.

(y'know who is good?  Tom freaking Brady.  That's who. Can you tell I'm excited about football?)

We need to be honest with ourselves.  Our approach isn’t working.  If we don’t modify how we prevent (and react to) our customers touching their piercings, we can expect to continue losing the war.  

New Approach part 1:
Us piercers?  Yeah we need to chill out.

I’ve seen employees of mine blow this issue out of proportion, and I know in piercing studios all over the world it's even worse.  Scolding clients isn’t cool or necessary. I’m not saying it’s a great idea to touch a piercing, and it’s especially not cool inside a piercing studio.  But if you actually think you are catching every person who touches their piercing in your shop, you are lying to yourself.  And really, inside the shop versus on the sidewalk two feet before the client opened your door? ...versus in their car on the way to the shop? ...are they really that different?

(I touched the SuperBowl trophy. I still can't believe they let me touch it. "How is this relevant"?
 Shut up that's how it's relevant.)

If you've been freaking out and scrubbing the shop down when someone touches their piercing in front of you, you are doing it wrong. You've got to assume everyone has touched their piercings, and clean the shop accordingly.

We know as piercers we observe standard precautions: “Standard Precautions are the minimum infection prevention practices that apply to all patient care, regardless of suspected or confirmed infection status of the patient, in any setting where healthcare is delivered. These practices are designed to both protect HCP and prevent HCP from spreading infections among patients. Standard Precautions include: 1) hand hygiene, 2) use of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, gowns, masks), 3) safe injection practices, 4) safe handling of potentially contaminated equipment or surfaces in the patient environment, and 5) respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette.” http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/settings/outpatient/outpatient-care-gl-standared-precautions.html

Basically, standard precautions means all body fluid is dangerous, and let's prevent it from going all over the place.  I draw your attention to part 4. “safe handling of potentially contaminated equipment or surfaces in the patient environment.”  The safest approach is to treat the whole shop as “patient environment”.  Whether or not you saw the client touch their piercing, you should assume they have.  Most conscientious shops already know this.  They disinfect surfaces regularly.  They aren’t cleaning just because they witnessed someone touching their piercing, they clean because everyone brings germs from a variety of different sources through the door with them.  Just think about how gross cash is.

Everyone brings a Pandora's box of bacteria with them wherever they go. Our shops are no exception.

So let’s stop being the health and safety gestapo.  Being overly freaked or offended by someone doing something they shouldn’t doesn’t fix the problem (at least, it hasn’t yet). Remember, the point of all this is client safety.  If the client perceives your zeal for safety as rudeness, they are likely to go elsewhere.  In a lot of areas, “elsewhere” means to shops that are a lot less safe than yours.  So in the interest of safety, let’s simmer down.

(See what I did there?)

New Approach Part 2:
Keeping hand sanitizer available, but not compulsory.

I again point to standard precautions: hand hygiene.  Hand hygiene is huge in reducing infections.  While it would be really nice to have a hand washing sink right at the door of the shop, and make everyone who enters or leaves the shop use it. That’s completely unrealistic.

My suggestion is have hand sanitizer readily available throughout the shop.  Preferably, in multiple locations.  I love the infrared dispensers, and I think they add a small “fun” factor to keeping hands clean.  
(Maybe my idea of fun is weird. I dunno. Shut up.)

The thing is, no one likes to be told to wash their hands.  If/when you get asked to wash your hands, you feel dumb, gross, and insulted.  Sometimes we forget how we appear to our customers.  For some, we are just the folks who do piercings.  For others, though, we are the height of unapproachable cool.  Imagine how either person might feel if you or your employee says “Ugh could you please wash your hands now that you’ve touched your piercing”.  Either insulted or crushed.  Neither is good.

Keep in mind, we’ve established that you need to assume everyone has touched their piercings.  Ample access to hand sanitizer encourages cleaner hands and doesn’t result in these kinds of customer service blunders.  

Yes, some people won’t bother with hand sanitizer.  Some will still touch their piercings in your shop.  As long as we are cleaning the shop as if everyone has touched their piercings, we are doing our job.

New Approach Part 3:
Better signage for our customers.

This is the part of this blog I’m very excited about.  Meet Danny Greenwood:

She’s just about the most charming, fun, and talented person I know.  And *sheesh* is she awesome at graphic design.  

One of the things I think the industry could benefit from is really excellent signage.  Years ago, Joel Burgess from Savannah, Georgia put out the best comparison of internally threaded and externally threaded jewelry I have ever seen.
(Image courtesy my favorite, Brian Skellie. READ HIS BLOG)

Health Educators, Inc put out a great needlestick protocol poster. A few others have made educational signs for their employees and clients over the years.  Inspired by these (and borrowing from vintage Public Service Announcement posters), Danny and I teamed up for an eye catching body piercing PSA.
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Piercing PSAs 1-4 by Dannielle Greenwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

We knew that we wanted minimum text. We opted not to have a finger touching a piercing, because that image might be misconstrued by people who don't take the time to read the poster. The idea is (hopefully) the image is engaging enough that our customers read and understand the message. We also kept the wording very simple so most learning abilities were included. Danny did an excellent job of getting the point across in an aesthetically pleasing way, and she’s done it for FREE.

That’s right. For the good of piercing everywhere, Danny has donated these images to piercers to use as they see fit.  If you want this image, it is all yours.  Download it, print it.  The high-res pdf files are located here, albeit temporarily: PIERCING NERD PSAs

(Depending on how popular the posters are, I may need to move them to a different hosting service.)

In closing
It’s been an absolute joy to team up with Danny for this blog entry.  You can contact her to commission graphic design work here: dannythegirl.bro @ gmail . com

I’m hoping even if you disagree with my approach, you find these posters to be helpful in communicating with your clients!

Bonus: Here's me and Fakir Musafar celebrating the Patriots Superbowl Victory.
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How Worn is Too Worn?

If you are a piercer, you've been in this situation before:
You perform a stellar piercing. The jewelry length is exactly right for the average client to have room for swelling, except, this isn’t the average client.  Before your very eyes the piercing swells and swells, until it's clear the piercing needs longer jewelry.

Of course, we know what we need to do in this situation: put in longer jewelry.  (I’m hoping I don’t need to write a blog post about that).  The question I want to answer is “What do we do with the piece of jewelry that was too short”?

Question: How worn is too worn?

Answer: Any worn.
Did I say worn too much? I'm just trying to warn you of the dangers! I've worn out my welcome, haven't I?

Body piercing is a difficult business.  The price of doing business has gone up tremendously in the last 20 years, but prices have remained the same or even gone down.  It is genuinely challenging to make a decent living as a piercer.  So when I tell you that you need to throw away a navel curve that a client wore for 5 minutes when you realize it’s slightly too small, you are inclined to disagree.

The argument against me usually goes like this, “Dude, I decontaminate it and re-sterilize it.  Relax”. 

And I get it.

Reprocessing techniques vary from shop to shop, but in most quality piercing studios in 2015, reprocessing looks like this: enzymatic soak -> ultrasonic cleaner (or instrument washer) -> sterilize.  This process results in tools that are, in my opinion, safe for reuse.  (That said, I prefer single use instruments and encourage my colleagues to consider single use alternatives to tool reprocessing, but I digress.)  The real issue here is that no reprocessing technology exists that is 100% effective at removing all matter.

There’s an important difference between tools and jewelry, though. Piercing tools will only come in contact with the client for a very short amount of time, and often don’t even touch the piercing channel at all.  Jewelry, on the other hand, remains in the client for very long periods of time. I want to point out that this comparison hadn’t occurred to me, and that it was my friend Christina Blossey from the Piercing Experience in Atlanta who illuminated the difference. Thanks Christina!  

Even if an enormous percentage of the previous wearers bioburden (let’s say 99.99%) is off the jewelry, the new wearer’s body has to contend with whatever is left (.01%!).  That’s still too much in my opinion. The final wearer shouldn’t have to contend with any kind of bioburden.  Their body will interact with whatever fraction of a percent of "stuff" that’s been left behind, and that shouldn’t happen.

(Want to scare yourself to death with information on Biofilm and Bioburden? Here’s some fuel for your nightmares:

And yes, Getinge, the company that produced this information, are selling a product.  Yes that should raise your skepticism. No, I don’t think they are wrong. Frankly, testing of your instruments to make sure your decontamination process has been effective is a great idea.)

So how do we deal with this issue?

Preventing Contamination

Letting clients “try on” jewelry should have been a thing of the past years ago.  There are still some shops that allow it to happen.  
They assume reprocessing the jewelry will be enough to prevent problems in the future.  If you are working at a shop that allows people to try on jewelry, that policy should change immediately.  Frankly, the safety risk isn’t worth the benefit, and there are lots of safe alternatives to trying jewelry on.

Safe alternatives include:
  • Putting jewelry in a plastic bag and allowing the client to hold the jewelry next to their piercing.
  • Taking photos of the jewelry (held by gloved hands) next to the piercing.
  • Using rubber lined tweezers to hold jewelry near the client’s piercing (be careful not to touch!)
  • Using cell phone apps to quickly do a mockup of the jewelry on the client’s body.

A portfolio featuring your most popular items in healed piercings is always a helpful sales tool.  I have never allowed clients to try on jewelry, and I have found that most appreciate that the jewelry has never been in anyone else but them.

Many of our customers don’t understand why trying on a pair of plugs, checking them out in a mirror, and then putting them back in the display is unsafe.  Keep in mind, people apply tester lipstick directly to their mouths all the time. They never consider how gross that is. They are far less likely to understand how jewelry can be contaminated by trying it on.
The average everyday person may not see the world the way we see it. (We are piercers: weirdos with tattooed black arms that see germs everywhere). Occasionally we need to save the public from themselves.  Anyone who works at the shop should know, for safety, service and for theft reasons, that jewelry should never be left with an unattended client.

Spending a little to save a lot

Perhaps one of my most popular items is a gold seam ring for a healed nostril piercing.  The problem is, what if I grab the wrong size?  The right fit can be elusive! A gold ring isn’t cheap for me, I don’t want to eat the cost because I grabbed the wrong size ring.

The solution I have come up with is this: if I am unsure of what size ring would be appropriate, and the client is buying a gold or platinum ring, I will put a steel or niobium ring in first to check the size.  If the client ended up not liking the size or style, they would only be charged for the steel or niobium ring.  If they like it, awesome!  The shop absorbs the cost of the ring as part of providing good service (and making a bigger sale).  This prevents the issue of contaminating more valuable items.

Clearly Explain Shop Policies

Anyone selling jewelry at a piercing studio should have a mantra they repeat to clients on every sale. “For safety reasons, all jewelry sales are final.  We can’t accept any jewelry returns”.  I like that to be on the receipt, and on signage in the shop.  Politely reinforcing this during the sale can be used as a way to build the shop’s reputation: “We put your safety first, we cannot risk selling jewelry that’s ever been worn or tried on.  So our return policy has to be very strict.  Let’s make sure you are really happy with this purchase before you leave”.

When it comes to big ticket items (several hundred to several thousand dollars), my goal is to prevent contamination at all costs.  My first step is to show the jewelry to the client, taking photos, and figuring out “will it look good and fit well”.  Yes, this usually takes some time.  I almost always use a steel ring first on things like septum clickers.  I want to make sure my client and I are on the same page in regards to size before I put in a valuable piece of jewelry.  If it prevents a problem, this is time extremely well spent.
Next, I thoroughly explain the shop’s return policy: “If we put this in, and you decide you don’t like it or it’s the wrong size, I will happily give you a discount on another piece  I want you to leave very happy.  That said: once you have worn this, I will have to charge you full price for it no matter what”.  

If the client doesn’t understand, I use the analogy of a steak dinner. Putting in the jewelry isn’t cutting into a steak ordered blue rare and figuring out it’s well done.  Putting the jewelry in your piercing is the equivalent of eating the whole steak.  Once this is clear, the client isn’t likely to to argue with shop policies after the fact.  The time to send the steak back is before it’s eaten, not after.

Marking jewelry out of stock

Remember the example I gave to begin this blog entry?  None of our strategies can account for this situation.  The client’s piercing has swollen immediately, needs longer jewelry, and the shop can’t hold the client accountable for something they had no control over.  This jewelry needs to be thrown away and the shop needs to eat the cost, right?

Well, yes and no.  Truth be told, the client will almost certainly need this jewelry size in the future when the piercings goes from very swollen back to normal.  In this instance, I usually give the client the longer piece for free, and give them the original piece to bring back.  This is excellent customer service and pays dividends in developing customer relationships in your community.  The customer knows you will respond to situations that happen outside of anyone’s control professionally and responsibly.  That is worth the cost of the jewelry.

You can also mark this jewelry out of stock as damaged in the day to day course of business.  Damaged product happens to every business. This is part of your business’s “shrinkage”, and your accountant can work with you on how to properly document these damaged items.  Local laws may vary, so please discuss this with financial and/or legal professionals.

This is an uncomfortable topic for a lot of piercers.  We really don’t like the idea of losing the money we’ve invested in our jewelry stock to things outside our control, or misjudging a barbell length by 1/32 of an inch.  That said, with a little bit of work, planning, and education for us and our clients, we can ensure all the jewelry we provide is as safe as possible.

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How Worn is Too Worn? by Jef Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.