Professional Piercing: What it’s Like to Nudge the Needle

If you’ve ever had some part of your body pierced, you know the imminent feeling of a little fear and pain as you sit there, staring at the needle. You see a tray full of scary looking metal things, and hands gloved in latex looming above your face.

As you watch your piercer preparing the needle, telling you “Okay, breathe in and then out on the count of three…” you might start to wonder why you signed up for this, but it’s already done – your new piercing is in!

Okay, ouch. But how does your piercer feel? They just shoved a needle through a stranger’s body. Have you ever wondered, “Wait, why did they sign up for this?”

Well, VALLEY did, so we dropped into Ikonic Ink Tattoo and Piercing Studio to talk to Jesse Barto about what it’s like to be a body piercer.

Rook piercing
Photo from

Barto studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and found his first studio job as a tattoo artist. From there, he was prompted by his boss to learn how to pierce. At first, Barto found it a little tricky to perform certain piercings and was even uncomfortable with some. However, Barto got over his fear by just going for the piercing that scared him the most – the rook piercing.

“It was just weird holding a needle and, like, stabbing people,” says Barto. But after he finally got the rook piercing down, he was never scared again after that.

“I could do every piercing on point. Because that was one of my biggest fears, of fucking somebody up.”

After working at some different shops for a few years, Barto found Ikonic Ink. Through Ikonic, Barto was able to take his piercing expertise to the next level with APP, the Association of Professional Piercers – a very prestigious association to be a member of in the world of piercing.

“This is where you want to go to follow your education,” says Barto. Through APP, Barto took about 15 classes on things like human anatomy, safe practices in the piercing room, how to set your station up properly, sterilization – all things that would help you become the best of the best – and earned his APP membership.

With this certification, Barto brings some of the best piercing work to State College. He works on a lot of college kids, and thinks that they’re so drawn to piercings because getting one is a way to express your individuality, and be a part of something.

“I think it’s the thrill, the excitement and the edginess of it,” says Barto.

And his favorite part about piercing? Gaging people’s ears. The APP certified piercer thinks that stretching holes into his client’s ears is “fun.”

Photo by Oscar Chen

But of course, being a piercer isn’t always pretty! Barto isn’t too keen on the “texture” of piercing lips and tongues, but that doesn’t stop him from making the piercings as quick and painless for his clients as possible.

And for those who are scared of the procedure, Barto sits them down, establishes trust and does some breathing exercises with them in order to turn their fear into excitement.

“We try to show them how much they’re gonna enjoy the piercing,” says Barto.

And once that’s done, the actual piercing itself happens within seconds.

While Barto and the dauntless community of piercing enthusiasts love them, there may always be some sort of negative stigma around rocking a piercing of any scope. But Barto will continue to do what he’s good at – because he knows the value behind a great piercing.

“Having a piercing gives you character. It gives you something different than the average person,” says Barto.

Follow Jesse on Instagram @jesseb_piercings to check out some of his awesome work!


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