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Making an Informed Decision

"While individual acts of defiance may not be equal to the task of defeating the structural inequalities of racism or sexism, they are in no way unimportant. Fighting the pressure to conform, attempting to hold one's own against the commercial and cultural images of the acceptable is a crucial first act of resistance. The attempt to pass and blend in atually hides us from those we most resemble. We end up robbing each other of authentic reflections of ourselves. Instead, imperfectly invisible behind a fashion of conformity, we fear to meet each others' eyes... "what are you looking at anyway?""
from Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance by Wendy Chapkis

Henna Hand

(Choosing a Piercer)

Body piercing has been present in almost all societies in one form or another for millennia and has held considerable significance including coming of age rituals, marks of wisdom, and adornment. For whatever reason you choose to get pierced, it can prove immensely rewarding, but holds many risks which one should take into consideration. The main factor involved is commitment. Are you prepared to risk the possible detrimental side-effects, and invest the time to ensure proper healing?

This page briefly describes safety concerns, describes a typical piercing and suggests how to choose the right piercer.

If you have any unanswered questions,
please feel free to contact us at Ambient Inc.
Email us.

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A piercing performed by a competent professional and followed-up with conscientious aftercare will reduce and almost negate any detrimental side-effects. Occasionally they manifest even in healed piercings when you are stressed, overtired, malnourished, or sick. The following conditions can actually serve as a barometer for your health; mental, emotional, and physical. Diagnosed and treated in their early stages they present little risk save discomfort, and looking gross. There are some risks associated with piercing, and there is always a small chance of occurrence, though, so they must be addressed.

Infection: most often occurs when a healing piercing is improperly cleaned, touched with dirty hands or exposed to another person's bodily fluids. Getting pierced by a professional who uses proper sterile technique and diligent aftercare are the best means of prevention and a knowledgeable piercer can help eliminate an infection should one occur.

Rejection is a natural reaction to a foreign object as the body tries to expel it. Sometimes a ring will "walk" to another position. At other times the ring will gradually grow out of the body. This process often leaves a little scar in the wake of the jewelry. If you so desire, a piercing can be re-done just behind the scar tissue, reducing the chance of rejection occurring again. Proper placement is essential to reducing the chances of rejection. Common piercings prone to rejection are the Madison, handweb and other "surface" piercings.

Scarring, Marks & Keloids: Provided your piercing heals nicely, scarring is negligible. Were you to remove a piercing before it healed fully, there would be no trace left of it within a few weeks. Removal of a fully-healed piercing often leaves two small dots that fade to a small black-headesque mark. Though not limited to them, keloids and granuloma most often occur in blacks and those of Celtic descent: its a genetic predisposition to excessive scarring. Another frequent cause can be the use of hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, or any other extremely drying cleansing agent in the care of a fresh piercing. There are various means of treatment for removal, reduction, and prevention. Consult with your piercer for more information if this is a concern.

Allergic Reaction: A sensitivity to nickel has become associated with piercing fans with multiple piercings, but has appeared in people before getting pierced. Surgical Stainless Steel contains nickel, so if you believe yourself to be allergic to steel or nickel (often shown by irritation wearing watches with metal backings or cheap gold) your piercer can offer alternatives. Sometimes piercees will exhibit allergies to their cleaning solution. Your piercer should be able to detail symptoms and offer suggestions to remedy the situation.

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Piercings often require some compromise in your lifestyle. Some will prevent you from horseback or bike riding for awhile. If you have to sit at a desk all day, you may find a navel piercing irritating. More so if you wear tight pants. Swimming in a pool with any healing piercing is best avoided and hot tubs are forbidden for at least 6-8 weeks. Here are some more factors to take into consideration:

Sex: Irritation and infection are the primary concerns here. Even if you trust your partner(s) completely about HIV and Hepatitis, there are many other sources of infection. In addition, the irritation from rubbing or tugging slows down healing immensely and should be avoided for the critical first two weeks of healing. For the duration of healing, no other person's bodily fluids should touch your piercing- not even sweat or saliva. Just remember to play safe and clean afterwards and a fresh piercing interferes only minimally.

Travel: There are three main factors to consider when travelling: time, water quality and metal detectors. If you think you won't take the time to clean your fresh piercing at least twice daily, then don't bother getting that navel piercing for your trip to Cancun. If you're thinking of trekking in the jungles or going swimming in Mooney's Bay, or being in contact with water where the purity is questionable, be prepared to pick up a couple of shiny happy parasites in your fresh piercing. With relation to metal detectors, you'd need to be wearing about half a pound of metal for any but the most sensitive machinery to detect piercings.

Donating Blood: The Red Cross prohibits people who have received a tattoo or piercing of any kind, including ear piercings, from donating blood for one year, the incubation period of Hepatitis C. Chances are if you take good care of your piercings and go to a reputable piercer, this will never be a concern, but they're playing it safe.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: It is generally a bad idea to get pierced whilst pregnant since it can overstress your immune system and trigger some unpleasant side effects including keloids. If you plan on getting pregnant anytime in the next year, don't get your nipples or navel pierced. Navel piercings often have to be removed in the final trimester, so a fully-healed hole is important. If breastfeeding is important to you, please be advised that although having your nipples pierced shouldn't prevent you from breastfeeding, they can cause considerable discomfort and be awkward (mothers nurse frequently, thus removing and replacing your rings is a real pain in the tit).

Certain Medical Conditions such as diabetes, low or high blood-pressure, predisposition to fainting, and certain medications and allergies can all affect the piercing process as well as aftercare. Please be candid with your piercer and honest when you fill out a consent form. If you are seropositive, please be advised that it can stress your immune system immensely to heal a piercing and take an unusual amount of time to do so. Knowing this, if you still wish to get pierced, it is considered a courtesy to inform your piercer so he or she can tailor your aftercare. A responsible piercer treats every client as though they carry HIV and Hepatitis and takes the same precautions against contamination. There is no risk of getting AIDS, Hepatitis or any other illness as a result of a piercing done properly.

Alcohol, Aspirin, and Other Drugs: Please refrain from using alcohol and aspirin for 48 hours prior to a piercing since both have the effect of interfering with the ability of your blood to clot. A responsible piercer will not knowingly pierce an intoxicated person. If you need something to bolster your courage, bring a friend or a teddy bear. We offer lollipops. Please inform your piercer of any medication you are currently taking, since they may affect your piercing and healing.

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The following is how a typical piercing proceeds at Ambient. At any time you feel uncomfortable feel free to ask questions and/or back out. That is always your right.

Preparation: First you fill out a release form and answer some questions about your health, then you help choose your piece of jewelry reflecting your personal preferences, allergies, body type and piercing type. Ear piercing guns and studs are NEVER appropriate for ANY piercing. Typically we offer surgical steel or niobium body piercing rings. The jewelry is then cleaned for 15 minutes while you are advised to use the washroom, and while you are being prepared, largely consisting of cleaning your skin around the area to be pierced and marking the spot with a surgical skin marker or sterilized toothpick dipped in ink. Your piercer will mark the entry and exit points of the jewelry to optimize healing and reduce the chances of rejection. Please tell your piercer if you are not 100% satisfied with the location of the dots: its much easier to erase the marks than to move a piece of jewelry once you've been pierced!

Pain and Anaesthetic: It is at this time that your piercer may offer you some anaesthetic: we prefer not to use it since it is far too often used as a crutch by incompetent piercers to cover their shortcomings. In addition, spray-on anaesthetics are practically useless, can cause tissue trauma, and are not guaranteed to be sterile. Xylocaine-based creams are only effective and available for some genital and mouth piercings. Most piercings hurt less than stubbing a toe, or popping a pimple beside your nose: one second of discomfort, and then a slight burning sensation that rapidly dissipates.

The Big Moment: Next, the piercing itself begins. For most piercings, your skin is clamped, holding it in place. The piercer then asks if you are ready and starts you on a simple breathing exercise. The sterile needle passes quickly through your skin and into a cork on the other side. The cork is removed, as are the clamps. The jewelry is inserted into the back of the hollow needle and pushes it out.

After: The jewelry is closed, your skin cleaned again, and the needle is destroyed and disposed of in a biohazard sharps container. Your piercer gives you an aftercare pamphlet and details important points. If you are interested in herbal remedies, vitamins, aromatherapy or other alternate healing methods, please mention this to your piercer. They can best advise as to which course to take. Sometimes people can feel ill or even faint from the mild shock they receive as the needle passes through the skin. If you feel queasy or faint, or if you seem pale, your piercer may advise you to sit and relax for awhile. When you have had all of your concerns addressed, and you feel ready to leave, you can go enjoy your new piercing!

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When you get pierced you are placing your health into the hands of someone else, hence there are many questions you should be prepared to ask. If you can't get answers to them, you should consider looking elsewhere.

Price should not be an issue. Saving a few dollars pales in importance when you consider the consequences of an improperly-performed piercing. On the other hand, high prices do not assure quality.

Medical Qualifications: If a piercer claims to have medical background, ask for them to elaborate on this and how it is relevant to piercing. While a brilliant neurosurgeon might have the knowledge of proper sterile technique, she probably wouldn't have the experience necessary to place a piercing properly with the proper depth and jewelry, nor offer appropriate aftercare suggestions. Would you trust a nurse who couldn't draw a stick-figure to tattoo you? Most piercers should have current first aid and CPR certification in addition to piercing experience.

Experience: This is acquired largely through years of training and hands-on experience. Ask how your piercer learned their craft and how long they've been working. Also find out what steps they are taking to improve themselves to this day.

References: This is the best way for you to gauge the quality of a piercer. Ask friends, people on the street, and if you're on the Internet, check out rec.arts.bodyart. Your local Health Board should be inspecting the piercing establishment. In Ottawa, calling the RMOC's Health Board (722-2242) can let you know if an establishment has been inspected lately or received any complaints. In any case, demand to see your piercer's portfolio of healed piercings.

Cleanliness: An autoclave (or pressure cooker) is the only accepted method of sterilization of used instruments(dry heat is insufficient). All needles must be destroyed and properly disposed of after each use. Gloves must be worn for each piercing and disposed of after each piercing. All surfaces must be scrubbable and kept scrupulously clean. Jewelry should only be used once. These are but a few of the safety and cleanliness guidelines to look out for. Ask to see your piercer's work station and autoclave.

Comfort: Do you feel comfortable with your piercer? Do they seem to be able to confidently answer all of your questions and demonstrate good bedside manner? Please note that Ambient boasts experienced piercers of both sexes should this be of import to you. A few friends/hand-holders/cheerleaders can be allowed in for support or total privacy is offered at Ambient. We also encourage clients to bring their favourite music on CD or cassette. Please inform your piercer of your preference.

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We are not medical professionals. Any serious health concern should be addressed by your doctor.

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