7 Common Questions About Ear Piercing

medical ear piercing

There’s no shortage of opinions on when, where, and how one should celebrate the milestone of getting their ears pierced. We know that it can be a big decision and you want to be sure you’re making the best choice. At Rowan, we are dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of knowledge related to ear piercing, which is why we’ve partnered with Dr. Bryan Limmer, Rowan Clinical Advisor, to answer some of the most common questions, and address some common myths we see.


1. Why does Rowan use nurses to pierce ears?


Rowan trusts nurses with their clients because ear piercing is more than just a needle stick. Doing it well requires a real understanding of anatomy, instrumentation, technique, and wound healing. It also requires thoughtful consideration of the emotional and cultural impacts of piercing. 


Nurses use their years of education and experience to provide a safest piercing experience. Registered nurses (RN) complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, while licensed practical nurses (LPN) complete a 12-18 month nursing certificate program. Further, both RNs and LPNs must pass a national board examination to become a licensed nurse.


Once in clinical practice, nurses perform a wide variety of tasks, which include monitoring vital signs, administering medications, starting IVs, inserting catheters, managing wound care, and counseling patients on health-related topics1Rowan then provides nurses with comprehensive and evidence-based training, to build upon their formal nursing education2.


Outside of doctors and nurses, the piercing industry is largely unregulated in the United States. Most states do not have formal training requirements to become an ear piercer and there is no official governing body that regulates or advises on piercing practices3.


2. Do you need a sterile environment for ear piercing? Is it safe to be pierced in Target?


The only truly “sterile environment” in healthcare is an operating room, with rigorous controls on personnel entry/exit, scrubbing (handwashing), attire/personal protective equipment (PPE), patient draping, instrument handling, and negative pressure ventilation (Gaines 2017).


By comparison, a medical office is not a sterile environment in the same way an operating room is, yet every day, physicians and nurses perform many thousands of safe and successful procedures in medical offices all over the country through the use of something called aseptic (sterile) technique. Aseptic technique utilizes specific concepts for instrument handling, barriers, and patient contact to minimize the risks of infection (Rutala 2019).


Rowan and Target use the same aseptic techniques found in medical offices for ear piercing, which includes the use of:


  • Barriers: masks, face-shields, eye protection, gloves, patient drapes
  • Site preparation: alcohol disinfection of skin
  • Sterile instrumentation: autoclaved/ dry heat sterilized and single use items

    Further, Rowan nurses are highly trained in sterilization techniques, infection control, and blood-borne pathogens, with annual re-certification requirements.


    3. Are hand-pressurized devices the same as a piercing gun? 


    No, they are not the same. A piercing “gun” is a spring-loaded mechanism that does not allow the piercer to control the pressure applied to tissues during piercing. This is very different than a hand pressure device or a needle, where the applied pressure is precisely controlled by the piercer (Muntz 1990, Van Wijk 2008).  



    4. Is it better to pierce ears with a needle, a hand-pressure device, or a gun?


    With no control over the applied pressure, “spring-loaded guns” are believed to increase the risk of cartilage damage (Lane 2012) and/or increase the risk of post-piercing complications (Muntz 1990). However, there is no clear research confirming these suggestions.


    The best available research shows that the cellular tissue response is the same for all piercing methods (Van Wijk 2008); however, the risk of post-piercing complications might be reduced with a hand-pressured device or a needle (Simplot 1998).



    5. Is one piercing method more painful than another?


    There is no research comparing piercing method to pain score; however, one might reasonably argue that needle piercing is the more painful technique, given that needle piercing requires two passes through the ear, whereas a hand-pressure device only requires one.


    That said, there is solid research outlining successful techniques for minimizing pain perception in adolescents, which Rowan nurses use regularly (1997 Von Baeyer, 2002 Spafford).


    6. Are hollow needles better for piercing? 


    An exhaustive search of the available research shows no evidence that a hollow needle is better than a solid needle for ear piercing. Hollow needles were first used for ear piercing in the 1980’s, not because they were better, but because physicians who performed ear piercing at that time had a variety of hollow needles readily available from IV equipment (Zackowski 1987, Landeck 1998).



    7. Do you need to “leave room” for the piercing for proper air flow and healing? 


    From a biologic perspective, there is no reason to suspect that a piercing site would need “space” or “airflow” for proper healing. When a surgical wound is created, the process of wound healing begins and proceeds in a predictable manner. More importantly, there are well defined risks for poor wound healing and/or infection that are more systemic in nature, such as diabetes or immunosuppression (Guo 2010). Rowan nurses are trained to recognize risk factors and provide guidance about whether to proceed with piercing.


    Get Your Ears Professionally Pierced with Rowan

    Have additional ear-piercing questions? E-mail our nurse network at nurse.helpline@heyrowan.com.