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Ear piercing instrument

Ear piercing instrument

An ear piercing instrument (commonly referred to as a piercing gun or an ear piercing gun) is a device designed to pierce earlobes by forcing a blunt starter earring through the lobe. Piercing guns may be reusable or disposable. Piercing guns are typically used in mall jewelry shops.

Piercing guns are widely criticized as dangerous among professional body piercers. The use of a piercing gun carries an increased risk of disease transmission, local infection, tissue damage, and rejection of the piercing, as compared to methods used by professional piercers.

Design and use

Traditional model

The most common design uses a spring that stores potential energy when part of the ear piercing instrument is pulled back. Pre-sterilized starter studs and matching friction backs are typically provided in pairs by the piercing gun manufacturer in sealed containers. A starter stud has a blunt point that is designed to rip through the earlobe. Ear piercing instruments are designed to pierce using 20- or 18-gauge earrings, normally made out of surgical steel, 24 kt. gold plated steel, 14 kt. gold, or titanium.

When piercing, one starter stud is loaded into a receiving tube, and its matching friction back is loaded into a holder closer to the main part of the instrument. The earlobe is inserted between these two parts of the instrument. When the trigger is squeezed, the spring is released, causing the instrument to close with considerable pressure. The stud is forced through the earlobe, engaging it into the friction back. This model cannot be sterilized.

Disposable cartridge model

Some newer models of piercing guns use a disposable cartridge, sometimes called a cassette. With these models, the stud holder and clasp holder are entirely disposable. In some parts of the world, e.g. most of Europe and Australia, this modification is either specifically required (eg in Scotland) or implied by Health And Safety legislation. The image shows a White Disposable Cartridge System, loaded with a with a blue cartridge and a gold stud.

Hand clasp model

A newer design does not use a spring to force the starter earring through the earlobe; instead, the operator must manually squeeze a hand grip in order to force the stud through the ear. Some of these models work with earrings in capsules, which are loaded into the instrument without the operator touching them. A wider variety of jewelry shapes and designs are available for newer piercing instruments.


Piercing guns are widely criticized in the body piercing community. Shannon Larratt, editor and publisher of BME is a vocal critic of the piercing gun; he penned an essay titled Piercing guns are blasphemy!, where he described the piercing gun as an inherently flawed, dangerous instrument that should never be used. Larratt also printed T-shirts which featured an image of a piercing gun with a red circle and line through it, to mean No Piercing Guns. BME also published an article titled Do Piercing Guns Suck?, and BME contributor Lish Daelnar also wrote an essay titled Why a needle piercing is superior to a gun piercing.


Piercing guns are impossible to autoclave, because they are made of plastic which would melt under the high temperature. The manufacturers of these devices dispute the need for complete autoclaving, claiming that, when used properly, contamination risks have been minimized in modern designs. The use of disposable cartridge systems can make the chance of cross-infection negligible, however, the safety of this system is still dependent upon the competence and integrity of the operator. These tools are often used by persons who lack training in related health areas such as cross contamination. It is possible to accidentally contaminate the stud by touching it to the instrument during the loading process.

However, this problem has been solved when a new generation of piercing guns with disposable cartridge that completely encloses the earrings has been introduced.


Another issue is the amount of trauma caused by the use of piercing guns. Although the jewelry may appear to be pointed and sharp to the naked eye, in comparison to the surgical needles used by professional body piercers, the initial piercing jewelry used in these instruments is blunt. Blunt force trauma is used to drive the jewelry through tissue, causing far more trauma to the tissue than is caused with a sharp needle. The extent of the damage is greater, causing the wound to take longer to heal. A piercing needle is hollow, allowing for the removal of tissue; piercing guns simply push tissue to the side, which can prove to be problematic and hinder the healing process. Immediately following a piercing with a piercing gun, the lobe will typically feel hot and burn for several hours. This does not happen to such an extent with a piercing needle.

Earring backs

The standard jewelry for earlobe piercing has been 1/4" studs with "butterfly backs". These studs are too short to allow for swelling during the healing process, swelling often caused by the additional trauma associated with the use of a piercing gun. In some cases, the stud is shorter than the tissue it is intended to pierce, which causes the head and back of the pressure on the healing piercing. The "butterfly back" collects lymph and blood which oozes from the wound and holds this material against it, which can lead to or prolong infection. The backs also hinder in the healing process, since the removal of tissue is hard. It can also become embedded, and if the flesh grows around the stud, surgical intervention may be necessary. Jewellery from mall salons are also high in nickel, and are low quality metal, and often cause irritation and high rates of rejection.

Use on areas other than the ear lobe

These guns are not designed to pierce through the cartilage of the upper ear, or to pierce any part of the body other than the ear lobe. Some U.S. states and some countries in Europe have already banned piercing guns for use on cartilage, including ear cartilage and nostrils. Improper usage of piercing instruments upon areas of the body not intended for their use can lead to additional problems. Jewelry that is too short for the tissue, or inappropriately shaped, especially jewelry used in the mouth, can embed itself into the body, with the wound effectively healing over it. This can require the surgical removal of the jewelry in some cases and can lead to abscesses, infection and severe scarring. In many piercings, the narrow gauge of the jewelry used by piercing guns can lead to tearing and other ongoing trauma that expose the body to infection and cause permanent scarring. A post to BMEzine titled Gun Piercing shows graphic photos of a severe infection of the ear cartilage after piercing it with a piercing gun, which later required reconstructive surgery.


See also

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