Which Is Better for Piercing: A Gun or a Needle?

The quick answer: A piercing needle is much better than a piercing gun, for many reasons. Needles are generally cleaner, more accurate, and less painful than guns. Below, you'll find the pros and cons for both piercing guns and piercing needles. Read them. Study them. Make the decision that you think is best. When it comes to your body (or your child's!), you don't want to make a bad decision.

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Since piercings are common among people of all ages—parents get their babies and young children's ears pierced, and many adults add additional piercings as they mature—many people want to know which piercing method is best. No matter who you are, you'll want the fastest, safest, cleanest, and most pain-free piercing method.

(Note: When it comes to the method used for the piercing—needles or piercing gun— the technique is as important as the aftercare techniques that follow. Of course, there is risk with any piercing, but with proper technique and aftercare, most people can heal a new piercing with minimal complications. However, not all people can successfully heal a piercing, even if the techniques are perfect and aftercare methods were solid.)


The Pros and Cons of Piercing Guns


Accessibility: Most places use guns since it's easier to train someone to use them, so if you're looking for a place that uses a gun, it'll probably be easier than if you're trying to find a place that uses needles.Convenience: It's convenient to get your ears pierced while at the mall shopping.Affordability: It's sometimes cheaper to get a piercing at the mall or at a booth versus a qualified piercer. There's less skill and training required, so they can charge less.Speed: It's over fast, with one quick pull of the trigger.


Tissue Risk: There can be major tissue trauma when a piercing is performed with a gun. The piercing guns hold blunt studs, and when these studs are forced through the tissues, it literally rips the tissue in order to make room for the jewelry. If your piercing will go through the cartilage, it can shatter with blunt force.Messiness: When the blunt stud is shot through your skin, it can get messy. A wipe of an alcohol or antiseptic pad is not going to remove all those blood particles, however, and piercing guns cannot be properly sterilized. They get a lot of use and come into contact with bodily fluid... however, a simple swipe of an alcohol swab between uses is not enough to sterilize the instrument. Some claim that the instrument never comes into contact with the skin, but the piercer's hands do, and they're touching the potentially contaminated gun and are further contaminating it with your blood.Training: Mall employees and booth workers generally undergo a whopping two-week course on how to use a piercing gun. That's not a lot of time to teach proper techniques for infection control or healing.Infection Risk: Piercing guns use blunt studs that have butterfly backs. These can easily harbor bacteria and gunk, which can infect a new piercing. The studs are sometimes made of a low-grade material which cause allergic reaction, scarring, and infection.Swelling Risk: The gun pinches the back of the jewelry snugly into place, which doesn't allow any room for the piercing to breathe and heal properly. Because the butterfly backing is going to be put on way too tight, you will experience increased swelling (it will swell naturally as part of the healing process, but it will swell worse if it doesn't have room to swell).Designed Just for Earlobes: Although these guns were designed only for piercing earlobes, mall employees also typically offer cartilage piercings and nose piercings with the same instrument. Cartilage can easily shatter with the pressure and force of a piercing gun.Loud: Piercing guns are loud, which can scare younger children more than anything. If the child jumps, the stud can easily get stuck half-way through, which means it must be removed. The gun will have to be recocked and the stud shot back through the tissue, causing more tenderness, bleeding, and risk of complications.Aiming and Angles: Piercing guns are hard to aim properly and so the piercing is more likely to be crooked or inaccurate. If the employee doesn't have it just right, the stud can go through at an awkward angle or in at a bad placement, which may cause your body to reject the jewelry.Irritation: Most stores in the mall and booths that are certified for piercings will tell you that you need to turn your piercing a couple of times a day. This may sound like it makes sense, but it reality all it does is irritate the new piercing and introduce bacteria, which will cause infection.

Summary: The cons outweigh and outnumber the pros. There are many people who never experience any problems when getting piercings with piercing guns at the mall, but do you really want to take that chance?


The Pros and Cons of Piercing Needles


One-Use: The needles are one-use-only, so you don't have risk of someone else's bodily fluids on your needle.Cleanliness: Piercing instruments can be easily and properly cleaned in an autoclave that uses high pressured steam to thoroughly sterilize the entire instrument. Used needles are properly discarded, but jewelry and hemostats are sterilized thoroughly in the autoclave.Training: Professional body piercers receive extensive training that includes proper piercing techniques, infection control, and healing practices. They will also learn how the body reacts to new piercings and how to avoid hitting nerves (which will reduce the pain the customer feels when getting a new piercing). They also learn proper sterilization techniques.Less Pain: There is less pain when piercing needles are used. The needle is hollow and extremely sharp so that it slices through the skin, which pushes the tissues aside to make room for the jewelry. Even though it sounds rough, it's a really quick process.Less Bacteria: The jewelry for a needle piercing is designed to allow dirt and bacteria to be easily removed. Generally, captive bead rings (CBRs) and barbells are used for new piercings; both allow the jewelry to move so that the bacteria doesn't just sit on the new piercing. Plus, they're made of metals that are proven to help reduce reaction.Material: Most piercing jewelry is made of a high-grade stainless steel or titanium, which gives the the best chance at not developing a reaction or infection during healing.Versatility: You can use a needle to pierce almost anything—areas with cartilage or without.


Inconvenient: It can be an inconvenience to go out of your way to find a reputable tattoo shop that offers needle piercings.Expensive: It can be more expensive than going to the mall. You have to add a tip to the total cost that the piercer charges.

How Do Piercing Guns Compare With Needles: Cost, Safety, Etc.?

 Piercing GunPiercing Needle

Which is cheaper?

guns are generally cheaper

needles are much quieter than guns

Which is cleaner?


needles are much cleaner than guns

Which hurts less?


in general, needles hurt less than guns

Which is more accurate?


needles are more accurate than guns

Which heals easier/faster?


needle piercings are less likely to have healing complications

Which are better for non-lobe piercings?


needles are better for most body piercings

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use a piercing gun to pierce your nose?

Piercing guns are not designed to pierce noses. Not only are needles much safer, they're also cleaner, more accurate, and less painful.

Can you use a piercing gun on your navel, septum, lips, tongue, nipple, genitals, facial, and other dermal piercings on soft body parts?

There are many reasons why you should never use a gun to pierce anything but a lobe (and many reasons you shouldn't use one on a lobe, either): safety, cleanliness, accuracy, pain, infection/complication... the list goes on, and it includes size, as well. Piercing guns almost always use 20 to 18 gauge wire, since most standard studs—and most French hook earrings—are 20 gauge, but other sites require other sizes. For example, lips and navel piercings require 14 gauge jewelry in lengths much longer than standard studs. So even if you managed to pierce the lip or navel with a gun, you'd have to immediately pull it out and replace it with longer, thicker jewelry. In other words, you'd have to shove a too-big post into a too-small hole right away. Ouch. Do you really want more pain at that point? Much easier (safer, smarter, cleaner) to use the right-sized needle for the job.

Can I use a piercing gun on cartilage piercings (rook, helix, tragus, conch, industrial, etc.)?

No. Just no. The blunt force of a piercing gun is likely to rip or shatter your cartilage. In fact, using a piercing gun on cartilage has been outlawed in many places. (To learn more, read Ear and Nose Cartilage Piercings: Pain and Care.)

Is healing time different for each method (gun vs. needle)?

There haven't been any reputable studies done to verify anecdotal evidence on this subject. However, most experts say that because needles are cleaner and more accurate, those piercings are more likely to heal faster, without infection or complications. To learn more about heal times, read How Long Will My Piercing Take to Heal?

Can I use a sewing needle instead of a piercing needle?

Just because it can be done doesn't mean you should do it. Here's why:

Proper, professional piercing needles are always hollow, so they make the room the jewelry requires. They remove a small plug of skin rather than just tearing in and pushing the skin aside.Piercing needles come in a variety of sizes, customized for specific types of piercings, and are pre-packaged and thoroughly sterilized.You might not know what that old sewing needle is made of, but you can rest assured that a professional piercing needle is made of high-quality, surgical stainless steel.

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Piercing Babies and Children

You'll find that children do not have as much of a reaction with having their ears pierced with needles as they do when they have them pierced with the gun since the needle is quick and painless and there's no loud, startling noise.Because the mall isn't going to be licensed to use piercing needles, you want to go to the nearest tattoo studio that will pierce a minor. Just call around first because not all states will allow minors to be pierced even with parent permission. If you live in one of these states, you can contact your doctor, as he may be able to perform the piercing (yes, some doctors will perform ear piercings on babies, young children, and even adults). If your doctor won't do it, and if he can't recommend someone, you'll have to drive to an area where piercing minors with parent consent is legal or just wait until the child is of age.If you live in a state that won't pierce minors with parent consent, you can still go to the mall if you feel like you don't have any other options, but then you still have to risk all the above issues with piercing guns.