Piercings: An Artful Expression

Getting a new piercing? Not sure how many to get? Not a clue on how to care for them?

Love them or hate them, they have become a valid form of artistic expression of the individual in the 21st century.


As early as 10-15 years ago, having any piercing beyond the single piercing through the lobe was still seen as risqué. Treating piercings as an art form has led to the rise of a trend known as “Ear Curation”.

We chatted to Gavin Middleton, a body piercing at Parkhurt’s Black Betty Designs.

Gavin says, “Ear curation is a relatively new term for a trend of arranging multiple piercings in an aesthetic fashion, and doesn’t always involve sticking to the traditional symmetry but rather embraces the natural characteristics of each ear to highlight individuality. Although I am a huge fan of the challenge to get piercings symmetrical, I enjoy the freedom of expression that comes from placing multiple earrings to arrange unique and beautiful works of art.”

And with the multitudes of beautiful jewelry pieces to choose from, why wouldn’t you want to get on this trend?

The history of piercings is an interesting one. Piercings were even found on the world’s oldest mummy who was 5300 years old. Early symbols of social hierarchy, wealth or prowess on the battlefield to a form of rebellion in 70s and 80s alternative culture. It is a trend that has constantly evolved over the eras of modern history.


“I’ve been a body piercer for over six years now. I’ve grown in various other directions too. Tattooing, laser tattoo removal, and body modification, but piercing has always been a passion of mine.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many people and safely help them in embellishing their appearances. My life is pretty much dedicated to piercing. I’ve been working at Black Betty Design in Parkhurst since February. I love it because we stock some of the most fabulous jewelry I’ve ever seen. It’s such a privilege to be part of such a modern, dynamic team who shares my belief that we should only sell the best quality products, as that is what my clients are worth. It’s an honour to assist in whatever form of self-expression I can.”

Looking at their range of beautiful jewelry, it is apparent that piercing has become a more widely accessible expression. Gone are the days that piercings signified the “no-goods” of fringe communities.


Was your first piercing done in a pharmacy with a shakey-handed inexperienced clerk, armed with a piercing gun for R20? Yea, mine too, and each time it resulted in an infection.

I made sure to ask Gavin why it’s important to choose a professional piercer, as this is a common mistake.

“The main reason to always go to a reputable, professional body piercer is because this is our specialty. We know what we are doing. We take great pride in our work and we don’t use piercing guns! I did a three year apprenticeship in which I learned the importance of attention to detail, the correct jewelry for each specific piercing, how to consider anatomy in safely placing each piercing, and the importance of keeping the workplace clean. Everything used for piercings is I only use once and then disposed of through a medical waste company. Additionally, piercing guns have been proven to cross contaminate surfaces between uses, despite being wiped with alcohol between uses. They were originally designed to tag cattle and sadly, hygiene and the amount of trauma was not even considered.”

In addition to what Gavin said, the blunt force trauma caused by the piercing gun damages tissue and shatters cartilage. This can often lead to longer or problematic healing. Paying the higher cost of having a professional artists is an investment in the finished product. Cheap often has a cost on your health.


Much like a tattoo, when we get a piercing, we are creating a wound that needs to heal correctly. Not taking proper care will cause problems down the line. Minimizing infection and excessive scarring is the reason aftercare is crucial.

“As a body piercer, my main aim is to not cause any damage to my clients. Unfortunately, if the wrong aftercare procedure is used piercings can leave scars. As a general rule of thumb, if what you’re doing agitates the wound, it’s going to delay healing, and create excessive scar tissue. That’s why I advise using saline solution from your body piercer, because it’s sterile and isn’t harsh enough to burn or sting, and as a result will allow your skin to repair itself healthily around your fresh piercing.

Old piercing scars can be unsightly, and if it’s something that concerns you, there are a variety of options that can reduce scar tissue. From plastic surgery, to micro-needling, to tissue oils, there are a lot of methods of dealing with old piercing scars, but it’s always best to consult a professional, and we can offer suggestions about the quickest, least traumatic route for each individual’s situation.”


I have always joked, that if it were not for my job, I’d be far more pierced than what I am. Antiquated beliefs about piercings, along with visible tattoos and colored hair, are changing though. As millennials are entering the upper hierarchies of companies, so are their ideals. Expression is important to the 20- and 30-somethings of today, which is a contrast to the stark cookie-cutter identities of the corporate world of the Gen X and boomer generations.

Of this, Gavin says, “It has always been a source of confusion for me that some places of work are against their staff having piercings. I can understand the restrictions in fields such as medicine and food preparation, as they can be a risk to the individual or products, or services provided. I can also understand working directly with customers requires one to be presentable, but with good quality jewelry, that is easy to achieve.”

But are there some easily concealable options for the workplace with unswayable dress code policies?

“I always do my best to offer suggestions or alternatives for my clients who have strict working conditions. Septum piercings, daiths, microdermals, navel piercings, tongue piercings, and intimate piercings are always an option for anyone who wants to be more discreet about their piercings.  Any reputable piercer will be able to offer some suggestions.”


Back in my teenage years, ear stretching was all the rage and a trend synonymous with the alternative 00s. Will it make a comeback into mainstream trends?

“With the latest trends being smaller and dainty, stretching to wear plugs and tunnels has decreased in popularity lately. Like most fashion trends, it’s probably going to re-emerge in the near future. It may seem like quite an extreme procedure to a lot of people, but it is far from it. With roots in many cultures around the world, ear stretching is nothing new. From King Tutankhamen in ancient Egypt, the Maasai in East Africa, to the Karen-Padaung people in Myanmar, to the Mayan and Aztec people’s, ear lobe stretching has been an important rite of passage, denoting social status. Today, it’s more about the jewelry, where wood, steel, and bone are commonplace alongside semi-precious stones, glass, amber, resin, and ornately decorated gold, so I believe that it still has the potential to emerge as a mainstream fashion trend.

Ultimately it’s down to whatever style makes you feel best about yourself.”

A quick flip through the trendy side of Instagram is enough to convince me that a septum ring would be a great addition to my collection, which of course was not a popular choice a few years ago.

Whatever the trend of the day is though, always take your piercers advice about what will be good for you.

“Discuss your ideas with your piercer – we usually have suggestions about what will work with what you’re getting pierced. Often it can come across as opinionated and biased towards or against certain placements of jewelry, but piercers have seen what works best. We’ve seen hundreds of peoples’ experiences and can see a problem before it even happens. Trust us, we want to see you happy with pretty jewelry. I’d never want anyone to struggle to heal a piercing – I’ve been there and it’s so disheartening. I definitely don’t intend to dismiss anybody’s vision, but I would happily offer alternative suggestions to achieve the same aesthetic.”


Taking care of your jewelry is an intrinsic part of piercing care, and one often forgotten.

“Caring for your jewelry is frequently overlooked after getting pierced. Sometimes the reason for a healed piercing to suddenly flare up and get irritated. Each type of jewelry requires different treatment, most importantly, they need to be treated with care. Surface imperfections can be sharp enough to scratch your skin and make it quite uncomfortable. This is usually the first thing that I look for when a client has a problem with any piercing, and sometimes that’s all it takes for it to settle down and heal again. If you have concerns with any piercings or jewelry, communicate it with your piercer. They will know what your jewelry is made of and the best methods of keeping it clean without damaging it. It is important to keep your jewelry clean so your skin stays healthy.”

Thank you to Gavin for giving us an in depth insight into piercings. If you have the itch for a new piercing as I do after this article, book with Black Betty Design. The have a studio in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Pictures courtesy of @gavmods, @blackbettydesign, @sarah_lee_tattoos  and Pexels.com

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