Sterilisation is a highly important part of piercing safely. Items must be sterilised during a piercing to prevent the spread of disease and infection. Sterilisation is used to ensure that Blood Borne pathogens (BBP) such as hepatitis and HIV do not get spread between clients. This blogs aim is to help you understand what sterile means, how piercers sterilise and how to check your piercer is using sterile items correctly. This blog isn’t aimed at teaching you how to sterilise.
THERE IS NO SAFE WAY TO STERILISE AT HOME. Boiling items, holding items over flames, using bleach and many other home methods are not safe. They do not kill or remove all the pathogens that could be on the surface. Attempting home sterilisation can lead to infections that could be life threatening. Always go to a professional.
What does Sterile mean?
The dictionary.com definition of sterile is “Free from living germs or microorganisms.” Within piercing we also need to clean as well as sterilise to remove debris as well as pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms that can cause disease.
There are 5 classes of cleanliness for items. An item can be covered under multiple classes e.g. clean and sterile or dirty and contaminated. Items can fall under multiple classes e.g. clean and sterile or dirty and contaminated. Working from sterile to contaminated they are:
Sterile – Free from living organisms and pathogens
Clean – Free from dirt and debris
Disinfected – Chemicals are used to kill the majority of pathogens but not all
Dirty – Known to have dirt or debris
Contaminated – Known to have blood or other biological contaminants
It is important that your piercer understands these categories and how to prevent sterile and clean items from becoming dirty or contaminated incorrectly.
Piercers need to clean the jewellery, tools and equipment that they use for a piercing. A dirty item cannot be sterilised as pathogens can be hidden in the dirt or debris. There are different methods of cleaning for different items.
Jewellery can be cleaned in various different ways. The most commonly found in piercing studios are:
Ultrasonic Cleaner – These machines have a bowl that is filled with chemical or enzymatic cleaners that the jewellery is submerged into. The machine then vibrates the water at an ultrasonic frequency which causes voids known as cavities to form between the water molecules. These cavities will pull dirt and debris off the jewellery at microscopic level. This method can also be used to clean dirty and contaminated tools but a separate ultrasonic should be used for clean items (new jewellery) and contaminated items (used tools)
Anodiser – Anodising jewellery that is made from Titanium or Niobium will clean the surface due to the crystals being formed on the exterior. For a more detailed look at anodising check our previous blog post here. This method can be used on gold jewellery too but cannot be used on items that contain iron (e.g. steel jewellery or tools).
Jewellery Steamer – A jewellery steamer blasts dirt and debris off the surface using a high pressure steam nozzle. This method of cleaning is fine for new items but not for contaminated items. Jewellery steamers will spray dirt and debris over a large area so if the item is contaminated it will spray contaminants over a large area . This could contaminate clean items and workspaces.
At Rogue we use a combination of Ultrasonic Cleaners and Anodisers to clean jewellery and tools. We are happy to show you how we clean all the items for your piercing.
The furniture such as the work table and procedure bed/chair will be cleaned using a medical grade hard surface disinfectant. This will remove dirt and debris from the scrubbing action and will kill the majority of pathogens (as long as the disinfectant manufacturer instructions are followed). This will minimise pathogens in the piercing area but this surface is not sterile so it is important to keep fresh piercings off these surfaces.
There are several different methods available for sterilising items but due to size and cost not all are available to piercers. Some of the items piercers use are ordered sterilised using methods that are unavailable in piercing studios so we will cover those too.
Steam – Autoclaves are the most common method of sterilisation found in piercing studios. An autoclave uses high temperature and pressure steam to kill pathogens. There are very strict standards set for steam autoclaves and their are different classes of autoclave. Different types of items can require different types of autoclaves or autoclave cycles. Most commonly piercers will use a wrapped 134C cycle which means that items are placed inside sealed sterilisation pouches (wrapped) and heated to 134C (metal items). Other cycles used would be unwrapped (for items to be used as soon as sterilisation is complete) and 121C (for Plastic items that would melt at 134C). The most commonly found classes of Autoclave found in piercing studios are Class B and Class S. Both types are vacuum autoclaves which means that hollow items such as needles can be sterilised. A Class B autoclave will generally be used for wrapped items and a class S will be used for wrapped and unwrapped items. At Rogue we use a Class S Statim autoclave so we can sterilise and use items as they are required. The big bonus here is we do not minimise our plastic waste by not using sterilisation pouches.
Ethylene Oxide Gas – Ethylene Oxide (EO) gas sterilisation is an industrial process that it out of the scope of piercers as the equipment is large and dangerous. Some items such as pre-packed needles are sterilised using EO gas. EO gas disrupts the DNA of pathogens to kill them and achieve sterility.
Gamma Radiation – This method is also out of the scope of piercers due to the size and danger of the equipment involved. Also a license for using radiation would be required. Items that would be damaged by heat and/or EO gas would be sterilised using Gamma radiation. Sterile gloves are the most common item found to have been sterilised using this method. Gamma radiation also disrupts the DNA of pathogens to kill them and prevent them from multiplying.
If you ask your piercer to show you how your jewellery, needle and the tools they use are sterilised they will be able to show you indicators that go through the sterilisation process and change once sterilised. Sometimes this will be on the sterilisation pouch themselves and sometimes it will be an added item.
Your piercer should also have a log of all items that have been sterilised along with some form of indicator to prove the item sterilised correctly. This log ensures that items used for your piercing are safe and sterile.
At Rogue we are proud of our sterilisation methods and would be more than happy to show you our equipment, logs and methods.
That’s it for this week! Next week we will be looking at Aseptic Piercing Techniques and the use of sterile gloves. Have a good week everyone!