Pointers for proper piercing

Read this before your best friend stabs a safety pin through your belly button

Tattooing and body piercing are not a new thing. Both phenomena have a rich history that goes back thousands of years and encompasses different people, cultures and civilizations. There have been excavated female mummies from Ancient Egypt (c.2000 BCE) that have had tattoos and the traditional Japanese art of hand-tattooing, or tebori, goes back to the 17th century. There are references to nostril and ear piercing in the Bible as early as Genesis, and along with lip piercing they represented (and continue to, in some cases) social standing that varies from tribes in the Amazon and Africa to societies in the Middle East and India.

In recent years, both tattooing and piercing have been revived in North America and slowly incorporated into mainstream Western culture. The escapades of tattooed and pierced celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Nicole Richie, David Beckham and 50 Cent have certainly brought it to the attention of the public.

Gary Low-a-Chee, the manager and head piercer at Way Cool Uptown, a tattoo and piercing parlour in Toronto, acknowledged that this trend has resulted in the decrease of the social stigma around them. "Certainly, when I started in this industry 12 years ago ( . . . ) you were a biker or, you know, the lower end of society, even though we weren't. And nowadays, it's a completely different thing. I can't know of a single category of people that don't have a tattoo or piercing that I have seen and I'm talking lawyers, doctors, stay-at-home moms, teachers, principals - every walk and style."

Health Canada reports that tattoos and body piercings have become very popular, especially among those aged 18 to 22. According to a 2001 study of university undergraduates conducted by the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, 51 per cent of students had piercings and 23 per cent had tattoos. Unfortunately, because this is a relatively new trend in Canada, there is a lack of data on the Canadian front although Low-a-Chee agrees that the majority of Way Cool Uptown's clientele are younger.

This increase in the popularity of piercing and tattooing in turn also raises safety concerns. Published in 1999 by Health Canada, Infection Prevention and Control Practices for Personal Services: Tattooing, Ear/Body Piercing, and Electrolysis warns that it is possible to transmit viral infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and herpes, as well as bacterial skin infections such as streptococcus and staphylococcus through tattooing and piercing. Health Canada also reports that the number of tattooing and piercing shops in Canada has increased dramatically in the last few years. These shops, along with other locations that offer these services, are required to follow protocols like the Personal Services Settings Protocol (PSSP), under the Infection Control Program of the Mandatory Health Programs and Services Guidelines that was published by the Ontario Minister of Health in December 1997. The protocol outlines how personal service workers (those who operate or practice in a business that provide personal services that might lead to an exposure to blood, serum or other body fluids) should deal with the cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing of equipment and the premises.

The problem is the risk that the facilities that provide these services may not always follow these guidelines. In lieu of this, cities in Canada have inspections annually or whenever they receive complaints. But that's how far it goes. The industry is pretty much self-regulated since there is no federal legislation, rules or laws to guide it.

"Unfortunately, because there are much bigger worries that the Health Board has, a lot of these places slip through the cracks. A lot of these hair salons don't have Health Board regulations, have never been checked and probably won't be until someone reports them. Unfortunately, it took them so long to finally be able to do all the restaurants and only that was because of the disease outbreaks and because of huge, huge infractions," Low-a-Chee said when asked about the subject.

It then becomes the job of the people getting the tattoos and piercings to make sure they are safe. "Very rarely do I get people asking me about my sterilization process. I mean, I do open everything in front of people, that all the packaging is new, everything is new right in front of them and I dispose of everything right in front of them so they do see it all, but I very rarely get people asking me about that and that kind of concerns me. Because if people aren't asking me, are they asking anybody that they've gotten work done from? There's that risk that they're really putting themselves through unnecessarily," Low-a-Chee said.

So what can you do to minimize the risk? Here are some steps to follow: Do the research. Shop around at different tattoo and piercing parlours, and ask to see their portfolio of past work. Larger parlours might have their own websites. Ask if they have been inspected by the municipal Health Board.

Have the tattoo artists or piercers explain the procedure. Ask about their sterilization process, and make sure it's their number one priority. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Always remember, an ear-piercing gun should never be used to pierce any body part other than the ear lobe because it can't be as thoroughly sterilized.

Let them know about any allergies or medical problems you might have so they can accommodate it. To be more cautious, make sure to be up to date with immunizations (especially tetanus and hepatitis). Parlours should always provide after care instructions. Make sure to follow them exactly to prevent infection. If the tattoo or piercing does get infected, consult a doctor. Remember, tattoos and body piercings all have different healing times depending on their location.

Before you get a tattoo or piercing, get educated, get informed, and the experience will be just a little bit more enjoyable.

21 February 2007
Source: Excalibur Online

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