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Surface Piercing Primer

The first time I got really interested in surface piercings was when [iam]Maghan[/iam] was discussing her nape piercing on QOD. She had mentioned that her piercer had used tygon tubing for the barbell, and that she had experienced excellent success with it. I determined that I would do as much research as possible, and that I would then try some out on myself. To start with, tygon (http://www.tygon/com) is a brand name for tubing produced by the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics company. Tygon comes in a wide variety of sizes and formulation. NONE of them are recommended for use in any implanted device. After talking with a company representative, I determined that this was the official company line because they had been sued over an implanted piece of surgical tubing, blah blah blah. In other words, the right formulation should be safe for a surface piercing. The two most promising formulations appeared to be S-50-HL and S-54-HL, the Tygon® Medical/Surgical Tubing and Tygon® Medical/Surgical Tubing respectively. Unfortunately, the spec sheet for S-50-HL stated that this style of tubing only comes as small as 3/32" OD, which is close to 10ga. I.e., it was way too large for a surface piercing. So that left me with the S-54-HL. As it came in far smaller sizes, it appeared to be the most promising. I ordered samples. And waited for about three days for them to come, along with a great deal of company literature about all their products, all very useful information. At this point, I need to point out why I was interested in tygon. The first reason was cost; a surface bar has a wholesale cost of about $20, while you can get two balls to put on the end of a piece of tubing for $10 or less. The second was the flexibility; if a ball got caught or snagged on something (as seems likely with piercings on the forearm), it was less likely to tear. Finally, there was the comfort issue. Having something that moved with the body, especially in a high movement area like the forearm, would be easier to forget about. There were a few concerns though. The biggest one was rejection. Because the tubing was straight, even though it was flexible, it might be putting enough pressure on the skin so that it would want to reject. Personally, I prefer to keep my piercings, so the idea of losing something to rejection was not a happy thought. The other question was biocompatibility. I knew that I would be able to heal (eventually) with a titanium surface bar, but I didn't know how my body would react to a piece of medical grade plastic tubing. At any rate, once the tubing arrived, I put the concerns aside and got ready to experiment on myself. The first thing I did was to examine the sizes of the thubings that they sent samples of and determine which was going to be the best to try out. The most promising candidate has an OD (outside diameter) of .070", and an ID (inside diameter) of .040". It appeared to flex easily enough that it would minimize pressure on a piercing, and the ID was small enough that the 10ga balls I had threaded tightly onto the ends; tightly enough that I couldn't pull them off without tearing the tubing! So, I cut out six one inch sections of tubing, threaded the balls onto the ends, and put the all of the new barbells into the autoclave. After the autoclave was finished, I prepped the area. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to do it myself (I need two hands to put barbells together), so I had Morganna help me out. (Morganna is the piercer that I am apprenticing under.) I got out all the supplies (needles, skin prep, forceps, gentian violet, etc.), and cleaned and marked my arms. Morganna helped me to re-mark; I had assumed that since the barbells were 1" long, I should mark with a 1" spacing. This did not turn out to be the case; I had forgotten that the ends would be turning up somewhat as they exited the skin, shortening the overall bar. The final marks were approximately 7/8" apart. As soon as everything was marked, and the skin was prepped, we were ready to go. Morganna looked at the tubing and decided that using a bigger needle would be a good idea. I had planned on using 14ga needles, but .070" is slightly larger then 14ga, so we used 12's. After she got the first spot clamped up and the needle through, we got a surprise; the tubing was so flexible that we couldn't push the needle out with it! She ended up having to put some fishing line in the tubing as a connector and to stiffen the tubing before she could get it through the hole. Once through, she took the fishing line out and threaded the ball on. Repeat five more times... And I was then the proud owner of six forearm surface piercing. We took some pictures so that I could send them into BME, and then cleaned the area and got ready to head out to the bar. Everyone at the bar was suitable impressed by how cool (or insane, I wasn't sure which...) I was. The problems began the next morning. A phone call woke me up. As I was groping about for the phone, my arm hit my dresser. ...And one of the balls fell off the tubing. I tried to find it, but before I could find it, the barbell slid out of the hole. I tried to reinsert it, but without a something to stiffen the tubing, it was a lost cause. This repeated several times during the day. Most of the time I was able to get the ball back on before the barbell came out, but I lost one more that day. The problem turned out to be the autoclave. By threading the balls on and autoclaving them, it had flared the once-tight plastic out around the threaded end, so the balls were free to fall of almost at will. I decided to pull all of them out, heal, and then re-pierce. The next time I won't autoclave; I'll cold sterilize. I did learn some very valuable things about tygon however. The first is that it's so slippery that blood and lymph won't stick to it. I was able to easily slide the barbells in and out of the pierced areas 48 hours afterwards, even with blood still spotting the balls. The second thing was that tygon is very comfortable to wear; if hitting my arm didn't make a ball fall off, there was no pain or discomfort at all. The flexing action of the tubing kept undue stress from being felt. Something else that I learned after the fact was that tygon, being a thermoplastic (i.e., heat forming) can be permanently bent using a form of some sort. I am considering making a plastic form to put the tubing into so that I can autoclave it (without the balls in!), and form it into the distinctive "staple" shape of a surface bar. Where do I go from here? Well, as soon as the bruising is gone, and I am fully healed from my last attempt, I am going to have the piercings re-done. If they end up working out as well as I think they will, I will probably get a considerable number more. I hope that this account has been of some help to people that are interested in attempting surface piercings. If you have any questions that you think I can help you with, feel free to write to me at shubnigurath@hotmail.com ~Seth Griffin.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 09 April 2001
in Surface & Unusual Piercing

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Artist: Morganna
Studio: Inkporium+Tattoo
Location: Lansing%2C+MI

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