The following interview is with Brian from Piercing Experience in Atlanta, GA. Piercing Experience can be reached via their website – http://www.piercingexp.com/ – or phone by 1 (404) 378-9100.
This interview took place on 5/25/00 by Donnie of http://www.whiteskiesburning.com/ (now defunct)
Reproduction in whole or part is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Donnie and White Skies Burning. There are no understandings verbal or otherwise to the contrary.
To the left is a photograph of Brian and his STRETCHED (!) cartilage piercings (Pyrex eyelets in) – the cartilage was stretched over a period of 2 years and 6 months – from a teeny 16 g piercing.
Donnie:A little bit about your studio, Piercing Experience, please?
Brian:The name expresses my purpose, to instill respect for the body, for the intellectual leap, and for the event itself, as well as a life with piercing.
I have been working under that business name since 1992.
Donnie:How many employees and what is their experience time like?
Brian:I am a one man show with occasional interns right now. I have had numerous helpers and colleagues over the last years.
Donnie:Piercing Experience is located in Atlanta, GA – Kind of an unlikely place to find a high quality studio – What landed you in Atlanta
Brian:Atlanta is where I grew up, and my studio is and has been within a mile of my old neighborhood for the entire time.
Donnie:What previous job did you have prior to Piercing Experience?
Brian:I was a student, and had part time work here and there, delivering sandwiches, washing dishes, cleaning workshops, and my favorite, selling music at Criminal Records here in Atlanta. I’m a big nerd in the sense that I try to learn all about whatever I do from a fundamental level to make my experience the best it can be.
I started my own piercing business at 18. I was lucky enough to have learned through research how to pierce myself, and had my hand held to steady it by Jack Yount, my mentor.
Donnie:Jack Yount is known all through out the piercing community and is a respectable figure. What had he done to influence you most?
Brian:Jack was a dear friend and mentor. He was the only person who I could find who used responsible standards of asepsis when I first started looking for someone to pierce me. I tracked him down and he supervised my work, I had already pierced myself dozens of times successfully. He made it safe for me to pierce others by having expert, hands on enrichment to the techniques that I had developed. My methods were very simple and straightforward, and were very similar to his that he had refined over the past four decades. He and I were very much on the same page when we met, and he made it easy for me to get my wings and leave the nest. He cared about what he was doing deeply. That is what most profoundly touched me about Jack.
Donnie:So did you ever formerly go through an apprenticeship or was it pretty much self taught?
Brian:No formal training was available at the time. Not that I considered legitimate, at least. Gauntlet had been teaching their own clique how to do non-sterile piercing with questionable materials and disproportionate jewelry [It wasn’t all that bad, I but I disagreed with a few practices and products strongly], and they even had a video. I didn’t want to go near that, and it was considered the gold standard at the time. What a guessing game they had. Blind men about an elephant…it’s a wall, it’s a serpent… I wanted to pierce myself alone, at first. It was not for about two more years that I conceded to the echoing request for me to do the same for my closest friends. I would only do so under expert supervision, to ensure that I would not get anyone sick. The early methods were incredibly crude compared to what I know and practice now. I wouldn’t go back. I have a clear conscience of my previous use of safety measures to prevent infection and disease transmission. The methods have been refined to further ensure the safety of the person on the spot, and to prevent the risk of infection to such an extent, that it takes a good bit of outside influence for trouble to raise it’s ugly head. Most people are all well quickly without any sort of effort other than being sensible, now. Protecting it from getting dirty or irritated by the most simple and natural of means.
Simplification and grace are the touchstones of the new piercing practice. Beyond safety risks, you can work on the qualitative and important interactive aspects of the experience.
Self taught, through much research and development, and that continues every day.
Donnie:Its listed on your site that [few] piercers actually perform sterile technique — any others in Atlanta or even GA that performs that same sterile technique?
Brian:Not that I have come in contact with. Most don’t think that it is necessary to use entirely safe jewelry, asepsis or atraumatic means.
The closest people in practice of very similar levels of safety are in South Carolina, Body Rites in Columbia, and Factor Five in Charleston. I have audited their practices, but I can give no wholesale guarantee of the quality of service or materials for jewelry. There are others.
Donnie:You also mention a lot of only using jewelry that meets ASTM implant standards — what metals meet these standards?
Brian:Jewelry is the one thing in this field that can be documented and credentialed. Implant certification is easy to have for jewelry, as anyone can buy biomaterials intended for implant. The problem is that most manufacturers can get away with less. Look to www.astm.org for implantable materials. As for what you will find for body jewelry, titanium in a variety of grades will work, provided that the standards are documented. Steel intended for implant can be used. Some refined platinum, some ceramics, a few plastics [NOT ACRYLIC] I have been trying to work mainly with titanium, ASTM F136, as it has been documented to exceed the biocompatibility of steel and most other commonly available body jewelry materials.
Anything that does not meet the standard for human implant should only be worn for short durations and special occasions. Not in wet conditions or for extended periods of time. This will limit your exposure, and help reduce the occurrence of allergic reactions.
Donnie:You say a few plastics – Such as Teflon? What grades of Stainless Steel are acceptable?
Brian:PTFE [poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene] Teflon ® certified to ASTM F754 can be made for implants, although the commercially available grades are not intended for internal use. Once again, check the standards, and get certification on all biomaterials.
As for steel, I occasionally use the ASTM F 138 grade for short term wear, less than a week. Implantable steel must meet more than just chemistry standards, though, so check the certificate to guarantee that it is intended for human implant. Any random mixture [i.e.: 316lvm] does not a biomaterial make. Most 316[vm] steel is intended for high corrosion resistance like a propeller, boat shackle or pool slide–or surgical tools [why it is so often referred to as ‘surgical’ steel] and has to be refined specifically to ASTM F 86 surface finish specification for implant purposes.
Donnie:Your studio does not condone the use of clamps — in which the tissue is held by fingers — what is this procedure like? Ever suffered from needle stick?
Brian:We do not use clamps for the same reason that a phlebotomist does not while drawing blood. They represent excessive force. I have had about the same experience with needle sticks as any piercer. With unused, sterilized needles during transport, and on a friend long ago when still practicing because of risks in developing techniques I have since eliminated. Fortunately, we remain close to this day, and both have been tested for .:everything:. for years without a trace. As of about sixty days ago, I was still clean, and have not even come close to another incident
Donnie:What are some pro’s/con’s of the clamp?
Brian:Dirty, pinching contusion creators that were intended for colon surgery. They are designed to dissect, cut off and remove anal polyps [Pennington forceps are for rectal surgery]. They are difficult to reprocess with any degree of certainty for sterilization. They are often serrated, to make the tissue even more uncomfortable. [An alternative is a disposable single use clamp.]
They have no useful purpose for any sort of piercing that hands cannot overcome. The oft repeated cant of the industry is that it cuts the circulation off, to make it more uncomfortable…oops, I mean more insensate during the procedure. They also are very helpful to increase pain and bleeding after the circulation returns to the area. Clamps are the number one complaint on the list of uncomfortable and or traumatic things during piercing procedures that I hear.
Donnie: Also aftercare is very minimal (basically leave it alone — no picking scabs — no washing, etc.) — what kind of healing times come out of this type of post piercing recovery?
Brian:For care, nothing is proven to work better than nothing. Your immune response, and tissue regrowth are faster when unimpeded by chemicals and agitation. External sources of moisture [including IV quality sterile saline and anything less] add to tissue maceration if introduced to the forming canal. This can increase the likelihood of fungal and yeast infection as well as the piercing equivalent of a nasty diaper rash. For similar reasons, you don’t want to leave fluid in your ear canal or soften a scab in water.
Healing generally takes less time than with all the reactions and fighting your body has to deal with if there is not anything introduced to the natural course of healing. This really only works for piercings done with a bar of some form, going flush from point a to b with just the right amount of room to allow for changes in the tissue during healing..
Donnie:Are people ever quick to leave and go elsewhere because they do not agree with your standards or are most very convinced?
Brian:People would have a hard time disagreeing with the science fundamental to the care and protection that we suggest. It is the same care practice used for minor surgical sites for decades. What were you told to do for your stitches after surgery [provided that the surgery was not contaminated]? You were told the same thing, leave it alone, don’t wash it or get it wet, and let it grow. I have never had a client walk out because of a disagreement over recovery. People are free to wash their piercings, squirt on all the antiseptics that they want, and it may seem like heresy to suggest anything less to someone convinced that they are going to get a horrible infection from the procedure. Frankly, with any less of a standard of practice, I would be introducing infection for them to fight off, and they would be crazy not to clean themselves, just like getting cut or poked by a dirty object out in nature. The practical application of surgical asepsis eliminates the liability on my part for infection. It is then in your hands as a client to prevent further contamination, by not getting it dirty in the first place. It works the same for a shot or an IV. don’t contaminate the site after we cleaned it and made the opening with an aseptic practice. There is nothing to fight off until you put contaminate the opening, and it seals itself before our surgical preparation wears off.
Donnie:so is the piercee instructed to keep it dry? for how long?
Brian:A person should keep their piercing dry while healing and when healed. That does not mean that they can’t get it wet when healed, just to dry it off completely, and with something disposable and lint free to prevent fungal and yeast infections.
If a person is healing, their piercing should be kept dry, and dried with sterile gauze or swabs if there is an excessive fluid build up.
Showers and bathing should be done covered while healing. Macerated tissue is more susceptible to infection and irritation.
Many allergic reactions are helped along by moisture, prolonging and exacerbating the exposure to irritants.
Donnie:what do you suggest to keep it dry?
Brian:The judicious use of a plastic cup or membrane seal such as Tegaderm to keep it dry.
The membrane seal is sterile, looks a lot like plastic wrap and is gas permeable, but water tight. They often can be worn for weeks depending on the size and quality of the seal.
Donnie:About how many piercings are done on average per day?
Brian:In my studio, I do on average, about ten per busy day personally.
Donnie:What is your view on the practice of large gauge initial piercings? Per say 8g+ for nipples – 10g+ for tongues – 8g+ for most genitals? Do you condone this practice or are most of your piercings in that area kept below that?
Brian:I pierce more large gauge than small, on average. I pierce a range of 18 g up to 2 g for most average bodies. It is all dependent on the anatomical allowances and restrictions. Nothing that would cut off the circulation or stress the tissue too much. Most piercing should not be done, small or large by an inexperienced technician. Larger initial piercing sizes are just as safe as the smaller if the right methods are used to protect the tissue from trauma.
I encourage larger piercings for some people, and smaller for others based on their level of interest and their anatomy.
I just saw a pair of earlobes that looked great that I pierced last week with 4 g [~5mm] single flared eyelets. They were clean, healthy and not at all distorted or inflamed. This is the most common result from aseptic, atraumatic techniques that employ implant certified materials for the jewelry. No reaction is a great result. He had not cleaned them at all, and said that he didn’t feel anything bad at all.
Donnie:In choosing a piercer — what are some obvious things a piercee should look for off hand when they enter the studio and look around the piercing room?
Brian: 1. Certification of tests for any and all parts of any jewelry to be used for the piercing are critical. The right size and shape of bar for any piercing is second most in the scale of things. Rings are impractical for healing because of contamination.
2. Practical working knowledge of asepsis, not just cross-contamination and OSHA blood borne pathogen standards. This means every object that will come in contact with your body is sterilized prior to use by autoclave, and asepsis is maintained by not touching anything other than sterile objects and the skin immediately adjacent to the area to be pierced [i.e. a sterile drape should be used to prevent contamination from the surrounding area.] Use of an appropriate surgical preparation agent. Sterile gloves, sealed and packaged individually or in pairs. The use of a mask for all piercing procedures for protection against droplet and particulate contamination.
3. No clamps or forceps. No corks. No rubber bands. No sundry jars full of bulk products.
Donnie:What do you mean by the ring is impractical for contamination?
Brian:Contamination by a ring is simple: the dirty, scabby part, and everything that is trying to eat it gets pushed inside when you move. Even if this didn’t feel like barbed wire, it would still be a problem.
Brian:Corks harbor fungus and more…do you want ground water from Madagascar in your piercing, or any little particulate organic matter? I don’t even ever use latex or powdered gloves because the particulates granulates scar tissue when in a wound.
Donnie:Are you ever picky about who does and doesn’t get a certain piercing? Such as if they are an everyday drinker or else if they have had a piercing before (in regard to if they are wanting a piercing that’s a little more intense/advanced)?
Brian:In regard to piercing anyone who comes to me is welcome. There is something occult and delightful about leading someone over the threshold of this path, through the gates of their senses… I have to be choosy, though. Some people just don’t take it seriously, and should not do it until they do. This is one of the reasons that it has been used traditionally as a rite of passage. I get to select who is ready on the basis of my experience and intuition.
Obvious caveats: if a person is under the influence of something, I will give them a rain check. If the person is a jerk, I will nicely tell them that I am not ready for them, and ask them to come back later, when we both are feeling better about it. If someone is a true neophyte, and wants something that will take more effort than they might realize, I will talk them through it, and may actually do the procedure for them if they need it as a learning experience.
Donnie:Ever have requests for modifications other than piercings? Meatotomys? Implants? Male/Female Circumcisions?
Brian:Requests galore. Legally, I can’t touch it. My high school policy debate partner went through Harvard law with honors, and I wouldn’t want to have to use his skills for something as easy to say no to as that. Good counsel strongly suggests against it.
If I could do that sort of thing, free of prosecution for others, I might consider it amusing. Some things are better left to plastic surgeons. Some people are better left to their own devices, if you know what I mean ;)
Donnie:What’s your opinion on the APP? Anything you feel they should be doing differently?
Brian:I have worked for change at the heart of the APP for several years [and continue to volunteer].
Brian:I was reluctant to join for the first three years that they were struggling and loosely existed. Several of my acquaintances were involved, people that I liked and respected. I visited the first public meeting in Las Vegas, and decided to help out. I gave them my procedural standards, and was met with, “Oh, we already have a procedural manual in the works, and this stuff won’t work anyway.” I asked to see the APP manual to no avail, and was invited to join.
Brian: I never had my questions and application answered completely, but they liked what I was about, and I was in. Next year in Orlando, they appointed me to the board of directors. I found out right away that the organization, as it were, was not yet truly incorporated, but on its way, and I put my back into it. Jeff and René Martin and I got the organization officially incorporated as a non profit, and put together the bylaws, trusteeship, etc., (with the help of Sky Renfro and others)
We worked together to make the organization legitimate in the eyes of the medical and scientific world. We began a peer review of the practice and jewelry standards, and collaborated with scientists and doctors over what needed to be the lowest common denominator. This was the emperor’s new clothes.
Donnie:Are you still an APP member?
Brian:Yes, I am. Jeff and René quit, disillusioned after all their hard work. I encouraged a few allied colleagues to work on the board of directors after us. Then I left graciously after finishing my term as Treasurer, without animosity. I am carved into the bedrock of that organization. I am a consultant and research advisor to them as a volunteer. Outside of the organization I have separate agenda to address.
Donnie:Any future plans for the studio? Adding more piercers?
Brian:More vacations, less studio time. More inspiration and fun, less stress. The studio is an organic creature with a life all it’s own. It will continue to develop and get prettier as time progresses. The techniques have come a long way, only to go exponentially farther. In the future, piercing may not be sharp. New interns come through with the seasons. Maybe I will keep one or two… I am going to enjoy it, I never will be bored with change.