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Piercing Needle vs. Piercing Gun: Which Is Better?

Posted by Jessy L. on 7th Mar 2023

Piercing Needle vs. Piercing Gun: Which Is Better?

Piercing Needle vs. Piercing Gun: Which Is Better?

83% of Americans have pierced ears. Because there are so many places that use piercing guns available in every mall in America, we can assume that many of these piercings were performed incorrectly.

But what, why is a gun piercing incorrect? It's just another method for piercing ears, right? 

When it comes to a piercing gun vs needle, it's obvious that only one of these tools should ever be used for piercing. We're here to talk about why.

Keep reading to learn all about piercing guns, piercing needles, and the differences between the two piercing methods.

What Is a Piercing Gun? 

A piercing gun sounds scary, right? Well, it's kind of because piercing guns are scary. While many people think that piercing guns are the better option because they tend not to be in "scary" tattoo studios, this actually isn't the case.

A piercing gun isn't really a gun at all. It's a small, usually plastic, device that shoves a "starter earring" through an earlobe. Some people even use piercing guns for other parts of the ear and face, but this is a huge mistake. Even using them for lobes is problematic. 

Piercing guns can be either reusable or disposable. There are pros and cons to both of these options.  

Is There Ever a Situation in Which Using a Piercing Gun Is Appropriate?

Many people believe that piercing guns are okay as long as you're only using them for ear lobes. They also think that piercing guns are okay if they're being used by a nurse. Both of these assumptions are false.

Nurses are not piercers, and nurses should know that piercing guns are inherently unsafe. With that in mind, most people who use piercing guns aren't nurses at all. Many of them are teenagers in malls or boardwalk stores, and you can even get piercing guns from beauty stores to use at home.

While it's better to use piercing guns on lobes than anywhere else, it's still not an appropriate option. Lobes are "easy" piercings, but you're still adding a wound to your body. You need to be careful. 

Problems With Piercing Guns

So what makes piercing guns so bad anyway?

It's not uncommon for people to assume that professional piercers are just being snobby when they talk about the dangers of piercing guns. They may think that piercers are just trying to overcharge them. After all, places that use piercing guns tend to be more affordable than places that use real piercing needles!

This isn't the case. As with most things, you get what you pay for if you use a piercing gun instead of a piercing needle. There are plenty of things that make piercing guns the least appealing option. 

Here are a few reasons that we would never advise someone to get pierced with a piercing gun, even if they're only getting their lobes done. 

They Indicate Poor Training

Many piercing gun users might be offended by this, but it's the truth. No matter how long someone has been working or what their credentials are, piercing guns are always a sign of poor training.

Legitimate piercers go through apprenticeships, not hour-long onboarding sessions that discuss how to use piercing guns. They learn all about anatomy, sanitation, bloodborne pathogens, proper placement, and more. They know how important it is to give their clients good results and they're happy to put the work in. 

Even the most well-intentioned piercer who uses a gun will never receive the training that they need to actually provide good services. This isn't their fault, per se, but they will need to start using needles if they actually want to progress in the industry.

They're Unable to Be Disinfected

Many people aren't aware of how dirty piercing guns are. Piercing guns can't be disinfected, and this means that your piercings may not be sanitary.

As we mentioned before, some piercing guns are disposable. While this is better, it's still not a complete solution to the problem. The earrings themselves also haven't been sanitized, and they can also introduce bacteria into your wound.

Non-disposable piercing guns get used by many people in a single day. Would you want someone to use a piercing gun on you if they just used it on a baby, a child, and a teenager within the same hour? 

A real piercer who uses needles for their work will never use dirty tools on their clients. 

They Don't Use High-Quality Jewelry

This is almost invariably true. Even if the place where you're getting your piercings is "high-end," you can be almost certain that their jewelry isn't as high-quality as they claim if they're using a piercing gun.

You might be thinking, "but what if they only stock gold with precious gems?"

Sure, that type of jewelry might be "luxury," but that doesn't mean that it's actually the best option for fresh piercings. Even many high-end jewelry retailers have gold mixtures that contain nickel, which isn't great for fresh piercings. They may also use sterling silver which is also bad for fresh piercings. 

Many of these earrings also have butterfly backs. Those are the backs that slide onto the earring posts and have a loopy "butterfly" shape. 

So why are these so problematic? 

Butterfly-back earrings are the most common earrings, and wearing them short-term in healed piercings actually isn't a big deal. In fresh piercings, however, you want to use straight posts with flat-backed jewelry.

Butterfly-back earrings can trap bacteria. They're far harder to clean with standard piercing cleaning practices (saline solution and rinsing in the shower). 

The piercing jewelry that goes into the piercing gun will almost always be butterfly-back earrings. 

Piercings Won't Be As Precise 

In most cases, you're more likely to get uneven piercings if you go to a piercer who uses a piercing gun. There are several reasons that this happens.

First, as we mentioned before, piercing gun piercers aren't well-trained. They don't have the skills or expertise to find the perfect placement for earrings.

The piercing guns themselves don't exactly lend themselves toward precision either. You can't really see where the earring is going to end up when you use a piercing gun. You only get a general idea, even if you mark the right spot.

Because of this, piercing guns often result in uneven piercings. Even if the piercings are just a few millimeters off, you can still see the difference with certain types of jewelry.

It gets even more problematic if you plan on stretching your ears or getting other lobe piercings. It will be far easier to see how uneven the piercings are. 

A note: many people who spend money on gun piercings are doing so for their children. Uneven piercings are even worse on children and infants. Because the children are still growing, their ears are also changing and growing with them. 

Ears continue to grow and change as you age, but the changes are much more subtle. Adults are unlikely to notice their ears changing. 

Piercings that look straight and even on children are likely to be lopsided when the children grow up. This is one reason (of many) that many good piercers refuse to pierce children under a certain age. 

Piercings Will Be More Painful

Too many people think that piercing needles are more painful than piercing guns, but this isn't the case. You may not have as much time to psych yourself out over the piercing, but it will be more painful overall.

Piercing guns don't actually "pierce" anything on their own. They use the jewelry to create a new hold in the body. 

Consider how dull earrings really are. When you press one against your skin, does it leave a mark or draw blood? In most cases, unless you're pressing hard, the answer is no. 

When you use a piercing gun, the gun is using enough force to shove the jewelry through a thick earlobe. This is going to feel similar to a staple going through your ear.

It might not feel painful if you've never had a real needle piercing, but to anyone who's experienced both, the difference is obvious. 

You're also more likely to experience bruising due to the trauma of the piercing gun. Your ears may also bleed more (though all piercings can bleed even if they're done with needles). 

We'll discuss later why a needle piercing, while potentially scarier at first, is actually the less painful option. 

They Indicate That The Piercer Is Otherwise Unsafe

This might be controversial, but it's generally true (and it goes right alongside our point about training). A piercer who is willing to use a gun likely is unsafe in other ways as well (even if it's unintentional). 

When someone goes through professional piercer training, they learn so much about hygiene and sanitation standards that often, their piercing rooms resemble dentist's offices. They're so clean!

If a piercer isn't even using a clean device, how certain can you be that they're using hygiene best practices elsewhere? Do they always sanitize their jewelry? Are they touching things with bare hands instead of gloves? 

Again, piercings are wounds. You want to have the safest experience possible so you avoid any potential complications. 

You Don't Have As Many Piercing Options 

To be clear: as we mentioned before, there is no piercing that's appropriate for a piercing gun. That said, the only even borderline-okay use for it is for earlobe piercings.

Some people have tried to use piercing guns for other non-lob piercings, and this is an even bigger mistake than using it for your lobes. 

Piercing guns cause too much trauma to human tissue in general, but they can be extra traumatic for cartilage. As a matter of fact, piercing guns can shatter cartilage and cause excess scarring.

All piercings have the potential to scar, but your chances go up if you use a piercing gun. Never trust anyone who claims that you can use a piercing gun on your ear cartilage or, worse, your nostril.

Even if we remove safety from the equation, you simply can't use piercing guns for most piercings. You won't have enough flexibility. Imagine trying to use a piercing gun to pierce a navel, a nipple, or a tongue.

Just kidding, don't imagine that.

If a "piercer" only knows how to use a piercing gun, they're incredibly limited. They can only do the simplest of ear piercings and they can't do them well. 

Why Do Some Piercers Use Piercing Guns Despite Their Problems?

So with all of this in mind, why are there still "piercers" who choose to use piercing guns?

No legitimate piercer would use a piercing gun. That said, there are people who work at malls, jewelry stores, boardwalk shops, and even pharmacies that will use them. Why don't they know better?

There are several reasons for this.

First, poor training. Poor training trickles down, so if someone was taught to use a piercing gun, they're going to teach the next person because they don't know any better. They may have the "it's always been done this way" mentality. 

Many of these workers don't see piercing as an art or a science (and often, it's both). They're being paid low wages to put holes in ears. They only care about the jewelry, not the piercing. 

Piercing guns are cheap and hiring professional piercers is expensive. Many business owners who only want to sell earrings would rather save money by using less safe methods. They may know that what they're doing is wrong, but they may also just be ignorant. 

What Is a Piercing Needle?

So what's a piercing needle anyway?

A piercing needle isn't like a sewing needle. They're long hollow needles that come in a variety of thicknesses (in this case, gauges) to perform piercings safely and efficiently.

A long time ago, piercers used medical needles. That's right, the same needles that were used in hospitals were also used in piercing shops! While this was effective, it was inefficient and expensive for piercers.

Eventually, manufacturers started creating needles exclusively for piercers. The needles have longer bevels, slightly different shapes, and special coatings that made them easier and more comfortable to use for piercers and clients alike. 

Piercing needles tend to be long enough to comfortably hold while also being short enough to easily remove them after the piercing is complete. Some people confuse piercing needles with tapers, which help to put the jewelry in the piercing or open up old piercings. 

Benefits of Getting Professional Piercings With a Needle Over a Gun 

So we've talked about how bad piercing guns are, but we don't want to scare you away from getting piercings in general! Piercings are fantastic for self-expression and we love them, but only when they're done safely. 

So what is it that makes needle piercings so much better? What gives professional piercers the right to look down on piercing guns?

Here are just a few reasons that needles are going to win out over piercing guns every time. 

Needle Piercers Have Better Training

This is perhaps the best reason to go to a professional piercer who uses a needle instead of someone who uses a piercing gun. 

Not all needle piercers are well-trained. We'll discuss this later, but there are definitely needle piercers who aren't good at what they do and who still use unsafe practices. With that in mind, you have a far better chance of going to someone with training if you seek out a needle piercer instead of someone who uses a piercing gun.

As we mentioned before, most needle piercers have to go through apprenticeships. These apprenticeships can last over a year. Apprentices learn all about anatomy, hygiene, and everything else they need to know to make sure their clients end up with safe and healthy piercings. 

Piercing apprenticeships are sometimes as in-depth as tattoo apprenticeships. 

When you make that comparison, would you rather get pierced by someone with a year of training, or someone who got a quick onboarding session before getting their first piercing gun? 

You Can Get Different Gauges

Many people who have never been pierced by a professional piercer before may not know that not all piercing gauges are equal. When they hear the word "gauges," they only think of large ear jewelry, but this actually isn't accurate.

The gauge of the piercing is just its thickness. This starts with a needle of a certain gauge, but you can then stretch a piercing later to accommodate larger jewelry.

When you use a piercing gun, the piercing is almost always going to be 20g or 18g. This is a very narrow gauge that actually isn't great for fresh piercings. Such a thin gauge can cause the "cheese cutter effect," which means the thin jewelry slices through the skin and causes piercings to look droopy or uneven. 

A professional piercer will do standard ear piercings at a 16g or 14g unless otherwise requested. Piercers can also do large-gauge piercings for people who know they intend on stretching their ears.

Larger gauges are also necessary for some body piercings, like navel piercings. 

You can, of course, stretch earlobe piercings that were performed with a gun, but as we mentioned before, they may be uneven. If you experienced the cheese cutter effect, you may also have a harder time stretching at all. 

Piercings Won't Be as Painful

Believe it or not, piercings performed with needles will be far less painful than piercings performed with guns.

When you get a needle piercing, the piercer is using a super sharp needle and a smooth and long bevel to slice right through your skin. That sounds scary, but it's no different than a doctor using a needle. You may feel a brief pinch and some pressure, but beyond that, there won't be much pain.

Piercing guns shove blunt jewelry through your earlobes. This is going to cause more pain, damage, and bruising.

Piercers also learn how to minimize pain through good bedside manner and breathing techniques. A good piercer will tell you when to breathe in and out for the least possible pain. 

With this in mind, this doesn't mean that needle piercings are painless. Pain is subjective, and what's painless for one person may be painful for another. 

While earlobe piercings tend to be of the least painful piercings, other body piercings tend to be painful regardless of how skilled the piercer is or what tools they use. 

A needle piercing will almost always be less painful than an equivalent gun piercing, however. 

Needles Are Far More Sanitary

We already discussed how problematic piercing guns are for sanitation. You are far more likely to get a sanitary piercing from a professional piercer who uses needles.

Needles are always single-use. Not only that, but a good piercer will either unpackage a needle right in front of you or let you see it as it comes out of the statim

The jewelry, if the piercer is good, will also be sterilized and handled with gloves rather than bare hands to minimize any potential contamination. This is not true for earrings placed in standard piercing guns. 

Even if the piercer uses tools, like clamps, they will either be sterilized or single-use. 

Piercings Will Be More Precise

Again, this will vary depending on the skill of the piercer, but piercings completed by a professional piercer with a needle are more likely to be precise than piercings performed with a piercing gun.

When a professional piercer starts the piercing process, they start by marking your ears with a pen. They let you look at those markings, change them if you wish, and then they perform the piercing. 

Because they're using a needle, they're able to ensure that the piercing goes exactly where it's meant to. This results in precise and even piercings.

Precise piercings aren't as easy if you're using a piercing gun. Even if the piercer chooses to mark your skin, they won't be able to see the markings behind the bulky gun.

Jewelry Will (Likely) Be Higher-Quality

As we mentioned before, the majority of establishments that use piercing guns also use poor-quality jewelry. Many of those stores are meant for children, and jewelry designated for children is often breakable, low-quality metal, and cheap. 

Even if you get your piercings at an expensive jewelry shop, if they use guns, there's a good chance that you're overpaying for "luxury." Even precious metals, like gold, can contain other low-quality materials.

For example, many cheap jewelry pieces contain nickel. Nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. Many people who think that they're experiencing an infection are actually experiencing a reaction to nickel in low-quality jewelry.

Not all piercers who use needles will stock high-quality jewelry. You have a better chance of getting high-quality jewelry from real piercers, however. 

You Can Get a Wider Variety of Piercings

As we mentioned before, piercing guns are limiting. They shouldn't be used for anything, but if one does choose to use them, they're limited to earlobe piercings. 

When a piercer uses needles, they can perform a wide variety of piercings all over the body. Some may also require other tools, but they wouldn't be possible at all with a piercing gun. 

For example, do you think someone could get a surface tragus with a piercing gun? What about a septum piercing? We're sure that some misinformed "piercer" with a gun will try, but the answer is a resounding "no." 

Often, people who get their ears pierced will get inspired to get other piercings (either elsewhere on their ears or somewhere else on their face and body). You can let your imagination run wild and try a ton of different piercings if your piercer uses a needle. 

You'll Have Someone to Go to For Aftercare and Downsizing

Did you know that you're supposed to downsize your piercings?

People who have only had their ears pierced by guns likely don't know this. They get their jewelry punched right onto their ears and keep it there, even if they experience pain and swelling.

Initial jewelry should almost always be large to accommodate for swelling. Your body will swell when it experiences an injury. Piercings are, as far as your body knows, injuries.

Using larger jewelry will give your body room to swell without putting pressure against the piercing. 

After a few weeks to a few months (depending on the piercing), you get to return to your piercer who will check your healing and downsize your jewelry to something smaller. It's always best to have a professional downsize your jewelry instead of doing it yourself. 

A professional piercer will also know all about proper aftercare, so they'll be able to advise you and recommend products or techniques. Someone at a mall who uses a piercing gun will not have the expertise to do this. Many offer bad advice, like spinning jewelry or using harsh products like Bactine. 

What to Do If You Have a Gun Piercing

So you have a gun piercing because you didn't know any better. Now what?

If it's a piercing from when you were a child, there's not much to do for it now. The piercings will likely never close and they've probably healed well, even if they're not perfect.

If your piercing is somewhat new, however, we recommend visiting a professional piercer for a quick look. Don't worry about taking them out yet. 

A piercer will evaluate your piercings, see if they're even, and see if there's any need to re-do them. They can also swap out your jewelry for high-quality piercing jewelry that's ideal for healing. 

Are All Needle Piercers Good Piercers?

It's important to note that just because someone uses needles instead of piercing guns, that doesn't mean that they're inherently a good piercer. It does almost always mean that they're going to be a better piercer than one who uses a gun, but that's a relatively low bar when you're looking for someone to get pierced by.

Not all piercers receive adequate training, and many of them (the majority, even), use poor-quality jewelry in new piercings. They may not be up to certain hygiene standards and they may not be interested in pursuing future training so they can improve their craft.

All needle piercers have the potential to be good piercers, but you want one that's already there. Whether they're an apprentice at a great shop or a full-fledged professional piercer, you'll have more success with someone who already knows what they're doing.

You can use the website of the Association of Professional Piercers to find high-quality piercers in your area. Not all good piercers are APP members and not all APP members are good piercers, but it's a great place to start looking. 

In general, look for piercers who:

  • Use needles
  • Stock high-quality jewelry
  • Have gone through legitimate training
  • Don't also tattoo (in most cases)

Piercing Gun vs Needle: The Difference Matters

When it comes to choosing between a piercing gun vs needle, the answer is obvious. Needles are always going to be the best choice. These two piercing methods don't even compare. 

Next time you're thinking about getting your ears pierced, go to a professional who's been through training and understands how to make beautiful piercings. 

Do you have healed piercings that are ready for fresh jewelry? We have a wide variety of styles for all types of piercings. Check out the shop today to find your new favorite piece!

Piercing Needle Gauge Chart:


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