What Is Piercing?

A piercing is a hole made in the tissue beneath the skin for inserting jewellery such as rings, studs and barbells. Ear lobe piercing is usually done with a piercing gun. Piercings on other parts of the body are made by a hollow needle. The piercer pushes the needle through the piercing site and then guides the jewellery through the hole. The needle should only be used once. Both the needle and jewellery should be sterile.

What Are the Health Risks?

A piercing needle breaks the skin, so you can get a bacterial skin infection, have an allergic skin reaction, or the piercing can cause scarring or keloid formation (an overgrowth of scar tissue). If the piercing is not done properly, you could also get a blood-borne disease such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. You can protect yourself from hepatitis B by being vaccinated. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C or HIV.

What Should I Look for Before Getting a Piercing?

It is important to get a piercing from a studio inspected by public health. Toronto Public Health inspects all known personal service settings annually that do piercing to make sure they are taking the right steps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. You can contact Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 if you are uncertain if a studio is inspected or would like to know about its inspection history.

How Can the Risk of Infection Be Reduced?

Go to a studio that is inspected by your local public health unit. Your piercer should undertake the following infection prevention steps as well:

  • Wash his or her hands with soap and water or use a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer and put on new gloves before starting the piercing.
  • Only use a piercing gun if piercing your earlobe. A piercing gun should not be used on your ear cartilage (high ear), nose or belly button.
  • Only use earrings that come in individually wrapped, sterile packages for earlobe piercing.
  • Only use approved ear piercing guns. These guns are equipped with sterile, single-use, disposable, plastic cartridges or adapters that protect the gun from being contaminated by blood or body fluids during use.
  • Clean your skin with an antiseptic such as 70% alcohol before the piercing begins.
  • Only use sterile jewellery made for piercing. Jewellery should not be contaminated with any cream, lotion or liquid before use.
  • Remove needles and jewellery from sterilized sealed packages in front of you, just before your piercing.
  • Throw used needles immediately into a special “sharps” container and not into the regular garbage.
  • Only use clean and sterile instruments that are intended to go through the skin.
  • Sterilize instruments using an autoclave, chemiclave or dry heat sterilizer. Glass (hot) bead “sterilizers”, UV “sterilizers”, ultrasonic cleaners, pressure cookers, microwaves or boiling water are not acceptable methods of sterilization.
  • Have the mechanical sterilizer tested using a “spore test challenge” every two weeks to ensure it is working properly.
  • Explain to you how to care for your new piercing and give you written instructions. It is normal for your piercing to be slightly sore, swollen and red for a few days. The piercer should tell you to see a doctor if your piercing develops pus or becomes red, very swollen or very tender. These might be signs that your piercing has become infected.

What Else Should I Expect from My Piercer?

  • The piercer should be willing to answer all of your questions about the procedure and any infection prevention steps that will be taken.
  • The studio should be well-lit, clean and tidy.
  • Your piercer should ask you for your contact information for record-keeping purposes.
  • Your piercer should deny you service if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How Can I Report a Complaint?

A complaint about infection control practices in a piercing studio, in the City of Toronto, can be made by using our online BodySafe Complaint Form or by calling TTY 416-392-0658.  All complaints are confidential and can be anonymous.