Body Art

Much controversy has surrounded the increase in body art (piercings and tattoos) because of the health concerns of the transmission of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. There are quite a few things you can do to reduce your risk of infection should you decide to have a piercing or tattoo. The most important thing you can do is inspect the shop carefully over several visits. Questions to ask the body artist:

Do you:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with antibacterial solution immediately before and after each customer?
  • Wear latex gloves during the procedure?
  • Use single service materials and equipment (i.e., each needle and tube set is individually packaged, dated and sealed, and autoclave sterilized), and set up and open them in front of the client?
  • Use sterile disposable needles?
  • Have an FDA-regulated autoclave on site?
  • Sanitize your work space with an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved viricidal disinfectant, preferably one that kills tuberculosis, before and after each client?
  • Thoroughly rinse tube/needle set from tattoo machine using an ultrasonic tank before discarding?
  • Properly dispose of contaminated materials?

Measure how the person who you talk with answers your questions -- are they considerate and thorough, or are they annoyed by your inquisitiveness? You have a right to have your questions answered thoroughly in advance. When you get there, check out the studio -- make sure it looks and feels clean. If you get there and you're uncomfortable, you can leave.

Piercing After-Care

Your new piercing will cause you some discomfort for the first 2 weeks and will not be healed for about 6 weeks. Even then, the new tissue is thin and very fragile. To promote healing, you must keep your piercing and jewelry clean at all times by cleaning twice a day for six weeks. Do not touch or play with your piercing at times other than cleaning. First remove any dried matter from your jewelry, rinsing it with warm water. Standing in the shower with a light, warm spray of water on your piercing will prove very soothing during the initial healing period. Once the dried matter is gone, apply soap lather to the piercing with your fingers and work your jewelry back and forth through your piercing, then rinse by working your jewelry back and forth under a stream of water. Alcohol should not be used to clean a piercing as it will dehydrate and kill the newly formed tissue. Neosporin may be used to help prevent infection, but extended use of antibiotic ointments can cause problems.

A well balanced diet, with vitamin and mineral supplementation, is extremely important to the healing process. Many find healing accelerated if some form of dietary Zinc and Vitamin C is used. Should you get an infection, do not remove the jewelry, as this will leave an opening for the infection to drain from the body, and do make an appointment at CHWS for care. For nostril, septum, or tongue piercing infections, seek medical care immediately! Infections of nasal tissues can be fatal. Also, if a piercing is in an area that could come in contact with someone else's body fluids, condoms should be used to prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs.

Some piercings can cause complications, such as keloids (severe, excessive scar formation). This often happens is the piercing is through the cartilage. If you think this might be happening, make an appointment at CHWS to be seen.

Oral piercings of the tongue, lip or cheek require that you rinse well for the first 10 to 14 days with original formula Listerine immediately after eating or drinking anything except water. A liter of Listerine should only last about a day and a half. Smokers should rinse after every cigarette or quit smoking during the healing period. Reduce the frequency of rinsing and/or switch to a milder mouthwash after the first two weeks.

Typical Healing Times for Body Piercings

Earlobe 6 to 8 weeks
Navel 6 months to 2 years
Eyebrow 6 to 8 weeks
Cheek 2 to 3 months
Nipple 2 to 6 months
Tongue 4 to 6 weeks
Ear Cartilage 2 to 12 months
Lip 6 to 8 weeks
Genital variable; depends on site; could be up to 8 months


If you think you have an infection, please don't wait to be seen!

Tattoo After-Care

Tattoos require less care than piercings because they are not as invasive as piercings. When you leave the shop you will have a gauze dressing covering your tattoo. This can be removed the next day. For 24 hours you need to stay out of unclean water (rivers, oceans), and try to keep the area clean. Soon you will have a light scab, similar to a rug burn, and this will heal naturally. Also, you will be advised to stay out of the sun until the ink has had time to "set" or the ink may fade.