Opinion

Hepatitis is a friendship killer: Don’t DIY bod-mod

There are a lot of great things you should do DIY style, but tattoos and piercings are not. When it comes to relatively risk-free home activities, making sauerkraut, toilet paper cozies, and decorating your smelly pair of shoes are totally appropriate, but body modification should be left to professionals.

Home-done piercings and tattoos can seem relatively harmless. After all, legions of teenage girls inspired by “The Parent Trap” pierced their ears at 8th grade sleepovers and turned out just fine, right? Not really.

Many people love their home done tattoos and piercings because they were done by friends. “It’s a great memory, it’s like a friendship bracelet!” they say. Yeah, if friendship bracelets were made of bloodborne pathogens, infection, and scar tissue.

These are the biggest risks of home body modification. It starts with the environment in which the modification is done, like a bathroom or a bedroom. This isn’t a sterile environment like a tattoo shop, with mopped floors, sanitized work tables, and autoclaved trays for tools. There are no medical soaps to completely sanitize skin and no gloves to wear. Any roaming germ could find its way into the freshly bloodied tattoo or piercing and lo! a raging infection is borne. The risk is even greater with piercings, where the insertion of jewelry can seal the bacteria inside and a subdermal infection can develop and spread rapidly. Staph infections are the most common, and can quickly become an emergency. Ever heard of MRSA? It’ll eat pieces of your skin off—including the lovely stick and poke tattoo you just got.

Not only is the environment unsterile, the tools are too. Piercing and tattoo needles are one-time use only, and all other tools are autoclaved between 250 and 270 degrees to murder any germ invaders. Passing a needle through a flame or using rubbing alcohol will do nothing to protect you. It might make you feel better, though.

Then, there is the issue of the tools being used. Piercing needles are made out of surgical grade steel, hollow and extremely sharp. This allows them to remove tissue to create a hole for jewelry. Sewing needles and safety pins aren’t hollow, so they just push the tissue aside instead of cleanly removing it. This damage makes the tissue more prone to infection and creates more scar tissue. It’s like if you went in to get your appendix removed and the surgeon made the incision with a blunt hole punch instead of a scalpel.

Another important tool for safe piercing are piercing clamps, a type of forceps with a hole on the end used to align the needle and keep the skin still during piercing. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you, the foolhardy college student, do not own a pair of piercing forceps.

With tattoos, using a needle, thread, and ink does not produce anything close to the precision and clarity of a tattoo gun. Tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils to move a bar with a needle up and down as fast as 190 times per second. Even if you did a bunch of meth, you couldn’t move your hand that fast.

When an unsterilized (not to mention one that is not sharp enough for tattooing) needle creating hundreds of tiny puncture wounds, a gateway opens to your circulatory system. Then, diseases like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and tetanus sneak into your body and can cause serious complications.

Keep in mind, these are only a few of the risks associated with home body modification. And nothing beats the greatest risk of all: having a hideous tattoo or a lumpy belly button piercing for the rest of your life.

But above all, what you pay for when you go to a professional body modifier is experience and artistry. They understand how to create a safe and aesthetically pleasing tattoo or piercing that fits with your body. Part of their training is a comprehensive understanding of anatomy. Spending a half hour or an hour placing the piercing is part of what will make it look beautiful.

A good body modifier can make the experience of tattooing or piercing simply wonderful because they know what they are doing and can walk you step-by-step through the process. They took years out of their life without pay to train to do what they do, and that’s a big deal. If you really want a tattoo or piercing, you owe it to your future self to get it done safely and beautifully. And also because staph infections suck.

If you decide to not make a terrrible and regrettable decision, here are some resources to start your search for a body modifier: www.safepiercing.org, www.safe-tattoos.com

November 8, 2013

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