Whitney is an expert on piercings and tattoos, with experience in the body modification world.
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.
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 a 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 that causes an 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 halfway 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 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 in 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 won't risk 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.
- Fewer 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 the reaction.
- Material: Most piercing jewelry is made of high-grade stainless steel or titanium, which gives the best chance of 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 Gun||Piercing Needle|
Which is cheaper?
guns are generally cheaper
Which is more convenient?
it's easier to find places that use guns
Which is quieter?
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 About Piercings
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.
Piercing Babies and Children
- You'll find that children do not have as much of a reaction to 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 their parents' permission. If you live in one of these states, you can contact your doctor, as they 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 they can't recommend someone, you'll have to drive to an area where piercing minors with parental 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.
Quick Aftercare Tips
No matter how you get pierced—needle or gun—the aftercare is extremely important. Proper aftercare is simple.
- Don't play with the piercing.
- Don't mess with the jewelry.
- Use saline solution or a very diluted sea salt solution to clean the piercing (1 teaspoon sea salt per 6 ounces of water).
- Do not pick off any lymph or crusties; they will come off during cleaning.
- Clean the piercing twice a day for the first few weeks, and then once a day until fully healed with a soaked cotton swab and use a Q-tip dipped in either solution to wipe away any lymph.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2009 Whitney
Andrea on May 11, 2020:
I'm honestly in a state of confusion and debate right now. I want to get my 3rd lobe piercing done and I've debated on whether or not it should be done with a needle or gun. I remember getting my 2nd lobe piercing with a needle a feeling an enormous amount of pain when I was 9. However, I'm not able to remember getting my ears pierced with a gun because I was just a baby. Everyone seems to tell me how pain free gun piercings are and I'm not sure what to do at this point. Can someone please help me?
Fiona on March 10, 2020:
I have never gotten my ears pierced but I am very soon. I’m a little scared cause I don’t like needles but I don’t want my ear to get infective by a gun. Is it alright if I take ibuprofen before and after my piercing? Also I wish I could find a place specifically for piercing and not also tattoo cause I don’t want to go to a sketchy place
laur on March 05, 2020:
i am planning on going in to get my second on my ears but i don't know if i should use gun or needle. When i got the gun done 8 years ago, i remember how much it hurt and it was just a really bad experience so what should i do now?
Darcey Freeman on October 03, 2019:
The this was palyi g
lexi on July 28, 2019:
when i got my ears pierced the lady who did it said that a piercing gun was like stangers sharing a water bottle and that it originated from when people tagged their cow.
Julia on June 12, 2019:
I have 3 piercings in one ear. And also a cartilage, I got them all done by a piercing gun and haven’t had any problems or infections. I’m also about to get my nose pierced. I have 7 piercings right now and not a single one has had any complications. My cartilage surprising didn’t hurt one bit I didn’t even feel it.
Alaska Clark on September 11, 2018:
I’ve had my firsts and seconds done with a gun.....no infection. Bout to get my cartilage!
Julie on September 09, 2018:
I've had my ears pierced with a gun for all of my holes(3 on each ear) which there was no pain and no infections for any. This article is full of opinions. It mainly depends on who you are and how your skin/body reacts to things. The guns are very clean. The tattoo shop where my sister and friend got their noses pierced did it with a needle and they both got infections. I don't know if its just the person who pierced it or if the needles are truly not clean. it all just really depends where you go and who pierces them.
Ann on August 18, 2018:
I had my ears pierced when I was 18 months by a gun and it never got infected or closed. Now I’m planing to go to Claire’s to get my 2 nd lobe piercing.
LISAAnn on July 16, 2018:
I have had my nose pierced with the gun twice. It hurt a little but when i dont wear a nose ring it doesny close up very easily. I love the fact I can wear it or not without having to get it repierced. I get stainless steel nose rings for $2 each and I got the piercing for $13. Love the gun.
Rex on July 12, 2018:
I'm a qualified beauty therapist and I've found it quite common for those in the beauty industry to be qualified in piercing using a gun. I want to expand my service but would rather learn how to use the needle method, however I keep being told that I need to be qualified with the gun as well as the needle. Is this correct?
oof on February 25, 2018:
i got my seconds and a CARTILAGE done with a gun yesterday akhufnaefhief what do i do? i dont want it to get infected at all
Olivia on December 22, 2017:
I had my ears pierced with a gun quite a few times-first ones when i was 3, seconds at 11 and never had a problem with healing. I'm a baby when it comes to needles, want to get my nose pierced, but don't know how much a needle will really hurt. Please help! :(
Annabel on July 23, 2017:
I had my ears pierced with a gun and they took forever to heal and it was very painful in the process and when they were pierced. To take them out and place them back in was quite painful I had to push them through and twist them in and sometimes I might have been re piercing them. I kept them in for longer than I was told you're usually supposed to keep them for 6 weeks and I kept them in for 8. After not even a year to getting them done they closed up. Early this year I had them done with a needle in a tattoo parlour. I've had no troubles it wasn't as much of a painful process and it wasn't too expensive. They healed after about 2 weeks and I could take them out and swap them for others with no trouble and I'm really happy with them.
Kaila on July 15, 2017:
I just wanted to let you know that I got my nose pierced with a gun and it turned out fine. So therefore if you did choose to get it done with a gun, odds are you'll be fine.
Jasmine on July 13, 2017:
I am goin in soon to Peers my Cartledge
allison on August 01, 2015:
I work at icing, one of the stores that peirces with a gun, a store generally located in the mall. I would like to point out that we stopped using the butterfly backs because of the swelling, and now use backs that allow for swelling. Also, no blood, or any bodily fluids come in contact with the gun, and when piercing correctly, one hand is on the gun, the other on the ear. I clean the gun with only one hand so that my hand on the ear has no contact with the gun. Also, our studs are not blunt. They are very sharp, and resemble needles, so That there is no blunt force trauma. Cartilage pierced even with a needle can shatter the bone also. To end my comment, I would also like to point out that we are trained, and I have personally been able to learn better hands on and through experience through others and myself. For instance, if you are worried about the gun missing the mark, don't be. We stick the earring out a little bit, and touch the dot with the earring to make sure that we are accurately hitting the dot. Also, the angle is very important when piercing, which is why we twist our wrist, not our hands or the gun. How you pierce your ears, or your children's ears is your choice, and I fully respect piercings with needles, but I also think that while making this choice, you should have all of the updated information about how gun piercing are now, and not how they were 15 years ago.
Beckettbroo on December 05, 2014:
i had my firsts done years ago with a gun, they took a very long time to heal, and then I had my seconds done like 5 years later with a needle, nowhere near as many problems, and then last year I had them all out too long and they all closed up. I never made the connection that it was the gun that gave me issues but I'd say it's pretty clear that it is since I had them redone with a gun (firsts in January, seconds in August and its December now) and they will not heal they get sore and still seep pus, it's disgusting. I will never get a piercing with a gun again.
leah on August 17, 2014:
I've had 7 ear piercings with a gun and my nose no problems at all also got my son's ear done with a gun at 2 yrs the earing use was not an old fashioned pricing stud it was stainless steel and much tinner, he didn't even flinch nor was the gun LOUD in anyway!! Yet me sis got her nose done with a needle and got a bad infection!! Plus some tattoo shops use disposable guns to pirece ears and noses so what dose that tell you to be far and methods of pricing can get infected or go wrong depends on who did it and to person having it done everybody reacts different and some people are no as good at keeping new piercings clean
Robyn J Williams from Canada on May 05, 2013:
It's not biased at all. Do you really think a mall store with untrained employees and non-sterile equipment is a great idea when it comes to putting holes in your body?
PebblesSmudge on May 03, 2013:
I've have mine done with a gun and it hasn't become infected or anything. When I took it out, it was fine. The lady who did it was a professional as I didn't have it done in somewhere like Claire's. This is a really biased article.
Kirstyn on February 24, 2013:
Piercing guns are horrifying torture instruments. Ive had four piercings (two ears, two in my nose) all with needles and never had any problem with them, except for my first nose piercing which got infected because I had a really bad allergic reaction to the nickel in the surgical steel of the jewelry--but that's a story for another day.
the point is, think about it this way: needles have been used for piercings for thousands of years on millions of people with few problems
suomynona on January 20, 2012:
Well, I've had my ears pierced twice on each ear with a gun, and they took years to heal completely. I had problem after problem, infection after infection... And I can remember the pain not being too bad when I got them done, but afterwards it burned a long time. Today I had them pierced the third time on each ear with a needle. What a difference! It hurt me more during getting it pierced, but the pain went away very fast and looking at it, you'd never guess I had them pierced today. No redness, just a beautifully pierced lobe. I would happily pay more and hurt a bit more in the name of safety.. and sanity, for that matter.
fishlover on December 23, 2011:
i did mine with a gun just yesterday! what should i do?
Whitney (author) from Georgia on October 20, 2011:
Surprisingly, yes. I actually spoke with a coworker this morning, who was wanting to take her baby to the mall to get her ears pierced.
Nicole on October 18, 2011:
This article made me laugh. Do people still get their ears pierced at a mall anymore?
katmart on October 06, 2011:
When I was twelve I got my ears pierced with the gun, I had no problems. I had my kids ears done about 6 months ago with the needle at a licensed shop, and all kids have had problems. I think the ear doesn't heal as quickly when done by needle. Only one of my kids has succesfully had the earrings with out a problem. All others had problems with the back of the earrings. I also had the cartilage done with the needle, I would say the pain is the same but I had to take it out because it was not healing properly. I think the gun isn't safe these days, but it sure is easier to heal from.
Li on October 03, 2011:
I think a point that a lot of the authors are missing on here (at least for ear-piercing) is that many places use disposable guns now, as opposed to the old style that took a re-loadable cartridge. I've had my ears pierced 6 times and my nose pierced with a gun, and never had a problem with them. The only piercing I ever had an issue with was my navel, which was done with a needle at my local tattoo/piercing shop, which got severely infected because the idiot who pierced it used the wrong size barbell.
Robyn J Williams from Canada on August 24, 2011:
Thank you so much for putting GOOD information up! There is so much misinformation about piercings and piercing tools, I am always thankful to see the good stuff!
Cam on August 02, 2011:
I think either one is good but this post tries to make the guns look really bad. I would prefer the needle but the guns still isn't that bad, isn't loud at all, and there were no good pros for it and the needle got a shit ton of pros and little cons. Everyones body is different so I would say they are both just as good, just it depends on the person on which method they would enjoy more
Katie Morrow on April 19, 2011:
I have only ever had mine done with a gun. I got my first hole, second hole and my auricle done, and I have never had a single problem. I have never had an infection or much pain at all. My best friend has had her two holds, upper cartilage, and auricle done and she has never had a problem either. It hurts some of course but neither us have had an infection or major issues with a gun.
Zoie on April 16, 2011:
I have to peircings in each lobe both done with a gun and it hurt SUPER bad. And this weekend Im going to get my helix done (why I read this) and my dad convinced me that I REALLY need to get it done at a super sanitary tatto parlor with a needle. I did not agree with him till know. So thanks so much. Is the needle more or less painful then the gun???
Me on March 21, 2011:
I've gotten both done, and it's funny because the set I got done with the needle have given me more problems than the other two with the gun. I'm so pissed because even though I left the piercing in for more than the recommended time before changing, and I tend to keep something in there at almost all times, one ears done with the needle still closed up. And it didn't get infected or anything, the swelling just never went away and after a week of having them out, a year later, it closed up.
jessica on February 28, 2011:
i turned 14 a couple of months ago and i have my nape pierced with a clamp and a needle i don't think you could get any surface piercings with a gun can you ?!
Jess on October 29, 2010:
im 12 and Ive had my lobes done with a gun about 5 times and now ive had them done for about 2 year and they're fine. Im planning on getting my tragus pierced tomorrow with a needle. IM SCARED !
Carol on September 27, 2010:
My daughter had hers done yesterday, and we went for the needle style of piercing. She's only 13 and it was weird taking her into a tattoo parlor. The guy there explained it all pretty much exactly the way they did here. She said it hurt, but I had mine done with the gun and that doesn't feel real good either. She has tiny ear lobes, and I was afraid they'd be uneven with a gun.
My mom had hers done a second set of holes with a gun, and the woman said "oops" when she did the second one. After many infections and doctor visits, she gave up and let all four holes grow shut. What a shame, too, because she had some beautiful earrings...
If I was every going to have any done again, I'd go for the needle. My first two were uneven, and the lady said it was because they can't be that precise with the gun covering most of your lobe.
Sarah on August 09, 2010:
Thanks! I think I will get it again with the needle.... I'll just suck up my fear because I'd rather put safety over fears haha! Thanks so much! :D
Whitney (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:
The needle will help reduce complications. The guns are terrible to get any piercing with. You also don't want to change jewelry until the piercing is healed.
Sarah on August 08, 2010:
Hey me again! Can someone please help me decide how to get my ears pierced next summer? Pweeeeeeese? THANKS!
Sarah on August 07, 2010:
I had my ears pierced about six weeks ago and I got it done with a gun. It was totally fine because I held still and just closed my eyes. I'm also afraid of needles so I decided to just go to Claire's. I changed them out yesterday but them this morning when I tried to put them back in, (I had taken them out because they were large and would snag on the pillow, irritating them even more) the hold was already healing! It was extremely painful to try to get them in, and my left ear was almost COMPLETELY healed! I cried so much today and so now I'm just letting them heal back up and getting them pierced again next summer..... :( Oh well. I guess I might try the needle thing at a professional this time but I still can't decide! Can someone help or puruade me to get over my fear of needles! Haha thanks!
Emily on June 02, 2010:
This was useful, i got my ears pierced two other times, the first time my left earring came out, the second time they got infected, grew into my ear and i had to get them surgically removed. I am planning on getting them pierced again and plan on using a needle from a professional. Never knew how unsanitary the piercers are, luckily they have needles.
dieseldodge09 from Texas on December 16, 2009:
I think a lot of people in the malls or where ever should not even be piercing. You never know if they clean the gun or if they are sanitary in there process. I remember when I was younger me and my friend went and bought to studs at a shop in the mall, and the clerk used the same gun on both of us without gloves and no in between cleaning. Theres a lot of people out there that don't care but what they are doing is giving a chance of cross contamination, which is not safe. I think the person assigned to piercing at these little shops should be certified in blood born pathogen and cross contamination course.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 11, 2009:
It is your decision, but each person heals differently. Because they're not healed, you shouldn't have removed the studs. Usually, that antiseptic isn't the best. Use saline when healing peircings.
Elvia on December 10, 2009:
Well the problem is that i figured they should have healed by now, im a very clean person, i was my hands before touching the earring, i don't play with the earrings and I have only cleaned them with the antiseptic that was given to me when i got my ears pierced, my earlobe never bled until yesterday when i took out the studs to pour some antiseptic through the hole with a cotton ball i did the same with the left ear and nothing went wrong i think my right earlobe must be retarded :( but im tired of having to take pills for the swelling to go down
Whitney (author) from Georgia on December 10, 2009:
I wouldn't pull out the studs if you can heal them. It just may take longer. What problems are you having healing your ears? How are you cleaning?
Elvia on December 10, 2009:
OMG i had no clue about the gun! I wish I would have never pierced my ears! the pain is excruciating and I can't believe i did that to myself!It's been long past the time they said my ears should have healed and they're still not good to go! I think after 8 weeks of having them pierced im going to give up and pull them out :( I don't recommend anyone to use the gun!
Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 13, 2009:
Thank you for writing it and it was interesting to read all about it. I don't think I would do one or the other.
Whitney (author) from Georgia on November 12, 2009:
Anticipation is one thing, but trauma and safety another.
lynnechandler on November 12, 2009:
I've actually had both done and there isn't as much anticipation when you get the gun instead of the needle.