Beware of online shops offering piercing services

Amateur piercing services being advertised on online marketplace Carousell when The Sunday Times checked earlier this month.
Amateur piercing services being advertised on online marketplace Carousell when The Sunday Times checked earlier this month.PHOTO: CAROUSELL

They are cheap but done at dubious locations by unlicensed amateurs

Want to get a body piercing at a discount of up to 50 or 60 per cent?

Online shops are now offering these services - but there is a catch.

These risky procedures are performed at dubious meeting points instead of properly sanitised spaces: shopping mall toilets, void decks, and stairwells.

These are also done by unlicensed amateurs - some even as young as 16 - with no professional training, save for video tutorials and practice sessions with friends.

A Sunday Times check on online classifieds site Gumtree and online marketplace Carousell found at least five sellers proffering these services, with prices ranging from $5 to $30 for a range of piercings, including piercings that could be more prone to infection, such as those on the ear cartilage, tongue, and navel.

Most come with disclaimers that they are not professionals, and that customers should use such services at their own risk. They also assure customers that they take steps to sterilise equipment such as piercing needles, including using alcohol swabs or disposable needles that have been pre-sanitised.

If piercing equipment is not properly sterilised, it can lead to serious infection, including hepatitis B or C and possibly HIV, said Dr Eileen Tan. There are also other general risks, including infections, bleeding, pain and allergic reactions.

But these practices are still questionable and can lead to potentially serious health and safety issues, said professional piercing shops and doctors.

Mr Desmond Lim, 44, owner of Piercing Clinic in Marina Square, said used needles are considered biohazardous waste and have to be disposed of properly by engaging a specialised vendor, something that most online sellers do not practice.

Mr Jason Chiang, 28, residential piercer at Rise Above Tattoo and Piercing in Far East Plaza, said it is an industry standard to sterilise all tools used in piercings with an autoclave, which is a machine used to eradicate biohazardous waste from the surface of tools or instruments.

"Simply using sterilised needles is not enough as you need to make sure that everything that comes into contact with the area that is being pierced is sterile, including forceps and gloves. Otherwise, bacteria can get through and cause infections."

If piercing equipment is not properly sterilised, it can lead to serious infection, including hepatitis B or C and possibly HIV, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

There are also other general risks, including infections, bleeding, pain and allergic reactions, she added.

Dr Lynette Low, a dermatology specialist at Raffles Skin and Aesthetics, said risks of complications will also likely be increased without proper technique, skill and equipment. Some rare complications related to piercings documented in medical literature include speech impairment due to jewellery in the mouth and heart infection due to nasal piercing, she added.

One such individual offering piercing services, who gave her name only as Kino, said she had done more than 100 piercings since she started two years ago.

The 16-year-old student had initially done a piercing as a favour for a friend who was looking to save money, and it had gone smoothly without any issues, she said.

She eventually decided to turn it into an online business to earn some pocket money. "My family is facing financial issues, so if I do this, I don't need to take money from them."

She requires customers to buy their own studs and needles from jewellery or accessory shops.

The needles are thrown away in the bin after being wrapped in their original packaging. She said she has not received any complaints or feedback about infections so far.

Another 18-year-old student said she started offering such services last year out of interest. She learnt how to do the piercings, which cost up to $30, by watching video tutorials for tips.

Occasionally, she runs into problems such as slanted piercings, or studs getting stuck in the ear. "Clients can get the piercings redone for free when this happens," said the piercer, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Unlike some states in America which have laws prohibiting minors under the age of 18 from getting piercings without parental consent, and which require practitioners to be licensed, such services are less regulated here.

There are no minimum age restrictions in Singapore, though some shops may require clients to be aged 16 and above for riskier piercings such as tongue and navel piercings, The Sunday Times understands.

Practitioners do not need to be certified, said Mr Joe Finch, 42, of Ink By Finch tattoo and piercing studio in Peninsula Shopping Centre, but most physical shops have a track record and a portfolio that attest to the skills of their piercers.

A Health Ministry spokesman said that while tattooing and body piercing procedures can carry the risk of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B, C and HIV infection, the risk of infection is low if disposable or sterilised needles are used, and other hygiene measures are in place.

"Members of the public are also advised to exercise caution when considering getting a tattoo or body piercing by properly understanding the risks involved and making informed choices," added the spokesman.

Mr Chiang said he has seen more cases of clients coming to him with botched or problematic piercings as a result of piercers using studs made of the wrong material or placing the piercing improperly - likely the work of amateurs. While he usually sees only one or two such cases a year, there have been about 10 so far this year, he said. "It is best to go to a professional to minimise risks."

Mr Ahmad Hafiz Zulkifli, 19, got a piercing on his nose two weeks ago from one such online shop for $10, about half what retail shops charge.

"I was quite scared when we met up at her house as she was a few years younger than me and I felt that she could be inexperienced. But so far, everything is okay," said the Institute of Technical Education student.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 11, 2018, with the headline 'Beware of online shops offering piercing services'. Print Edition | Subscribe