I have had a fascination with body modification for as long as I can remember- tattoos, piercings, scarification, ritual suspension, tightlacing, all sorts of funky hair, large gauge piercing, etc. I have accumulated a come & go collection of body piercings, a collection of tattoos ranging from ‘regrettably impulsive’ to ‘good’, carefully maintained 1″ earlobes, a beautiful Steve Haworth scarification & some large gauge cartilage work.
I work outdoors a large percentage of the time. When I’m not writing or cooking, you can find me on horse farms or somewhere in Northern Ontario.
Unfortunately, the outdoors can take its toll on piercings & tattoos alike. Especially when in a remote area, access to replacement body jewellry or specialty tattoo products is not readily available. So if you’re packing your bags to head into the bush or overseas, learn from my mistakes & heed my advice.
Stretched Lobes (and and large guage facial/body piercings)
Wind, sun, lowered immune system & vigorous activity can take their toll on delicate stretches. My earlobes, established at 1″ for many years, were very unhappy with me during 2016 tree planting season. I brought jade double flared plugs and titanium spacers that occasionally give my ears problems. The jade kept falling out due to vigorous activity & the titanium irritated my windburnt & chapped lobes.
After jade fell out overnight, I couldn’t get either pair back into my irritated lobes. I was unable to access jewelry for the rest of the season & have spent the last 7 months bringing my ears back up to 1″ from the 5/8ths or so they had shrunk to. On the plus side, old blowouts from impatient teenage stretching healed, and my lobes are thicker, more even & healthier after a jewelry break & a slow re-stretch.
For the future, I will bring silicone spacers in both my current size & 2 sizes down in the event of loss/shrinkage. Silicone double flares seem more likely to stay put during vigorous exercises, fit comfortably under hard hats & helmets, are comfy to sleep in, etc.
I’d also bring a handy spray can of H2Ocean, a magic healing sea salt spray, to deal with potential infection and irritation. Heavy duty sunscreen & your moisturizer of choice (I like unscented Lubriderm or lavender argan oil). Troubleshoot dry, chapped lobes that are losing their elasticity by removing your plugs and massaging with a small bit of argan oil or moisturize to promote blood flow and healing.
Keep stretched lobes well sun-screened. Often the shade offered by ballcaps and hats doesn’t actually extend over stretched lobes. I like to use a facial sunscreen in SPF 100. A sunburn is definitely not doing delicate stretched tissue any favours.
My large gauge cartilage work was punched as opposed to stretched and suffered no irritation and no shrinkage, given that the tissue was removed as opposed to stretched. It doesn’t matter much if you lose your jewelry for punched holes as they won’t close over, however, bring spares for appearances sake if that’s important to you.
Tattoos, Tattoos, Tattoos
A word from the wise- save your budget for sweet new ink for the fall and winter, when you won’t constantly be outside and exposed to bright sunlight and harsh elements. (Also, if you’re a chef, don’t get new arm tattoos unless you have a week off from the kitchen, I shit you not. I have destroyed a fresh tattoo working over a hot grill.) If you have a new tattoo, keep that fucker covered with fabric- sunscreen will not cut it! With a new tattoo (the very same one that I began destroying over a hot grill), I found myself in the middle of the forest desperately scrambling for mud to plaster over it in an attempt to block the harsh UV rays that would inevitably destroy it. It burned, blistered and bubbled terribly despite my best efforts to keep it slathered with sunscreen or covered with fabric, and today is a faded mess that will likely result in an expensive cover up. Learn from my mistakes.
I highly advise UV resistant kayaking/outdoors shirts and leggings in addition to sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen. Keep your colors bright and poppin’ for years to come. Stay moisturized with my fave, the above mentioned lavender argan oil/Lubriderm combo. Not just for your lobes. Vitamin E oil is also popular.
I can’t reiterate enough, save fresh tattoos for fall and winter when you simply won’t be exposed to the sun as much.
Scars and brands, by nature, don’t need to be babied as much as tattoos, at least once they’re healed. I kept mine covered and out of the sun when it was fresh, as an open flesh wound topped with a sunburn didn’t seem terribly comfortable to me (although at the time, I was keeping it covered with saran wrap 24 hours a day to retard healing and promote more scar tissue growth and scrubbing the crap out of it in the shower with a Dollar Store back scrubber for the same reason). Now that it is going on 5 years old and completely healed, it actually looks pretty sick when I get a tan, as the scar tissue remains light in color compared to the tan and it really pops. If in doubt about caring for a new piece of scarification or branding when you’re working outdoors, consult your artist! Especially in non-sterile environments such as tree planting and horse farming, fresh scar pieces might need a little extra special care to keep them clean and dirt free. I’d like to reiterate my advice about tattooing here- wait until fall/winter to accumulate new pieces, so that tender flesh isn’t exposed to sun and wind and dirt and debris.
Bring extra jewelry.
I lost two septum rings to the Hearst Forest after I got a cold and had to keep blowing my nose. Normally, I would find them in my bed or towel or sweater, but I watched a rose gold horseshoe plunge into the swamp in front of me and cease to be a part of my life (it looked so pretty, too). In a small town like Hearst, there probably won’t be jewelry available to purchase. I resorted to a curved eyebrow barbell as a placeholder, and went through 2 more of those before finally giving in and hoping I could still get jewelry in when I got home.
Again, waiiiiiiit till fall for fresh piercings.
For existing and established piercings, pack extra jewelry and use the aforementioned H2Ocean on any irritated spots. Flexible plastic retainers can be a good option for piercings in areas that might be rubbed or bumped by equipment, however, realistically, removal of those piercings prior to rejection might be best. Awesome backpacking trip, or awesome hip microdermals? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Visit your artist to have any existing jewelry professionally tightened . For a septum, I recommend a heavy-duty clicker that will lock in and be difficult to dislodge. If you have pierced nipples as a lady, a padded sports bra is your best friend.
A roll of sports tape to cover dangling jewelry or open holes during rigorous activity never went amiss.
A Quick Word on Funky Hair
I maintained white/silver blond, uber titanium, fab platinum blonde hair before retreating to the woods. It required a fuck tonne of maintenance and I was always laying fabulous colors over top of it. I wish I could say I have a secret for maintaining those funky hair colors when you’re in a remote area or working outdoors, but I don’t. My hair suffered terribly and eventually had to go back to brunette, as even after coming home at the end of a tree planting season, it couldn’t be saved.
Accept that your hair is going to become a yellow, Courtney-Love-Roots mess if you’re a bottle blond, and say goodbye to funky fresh blues and purples. My ION Color Brilliance lasted a surprisingly long time, but I’m pretty sure it was because my hair shaft was so damaged from repeated bleaching and toning.
If you don’t want the ‘unmaintained’ look, dye darker or neutral before leaving on your adventure. If you really, really, really want to have a go at maintenance, bring your favorite toning shampoo and conditioner, or mix a bit of your funky dye into your conditioner to create your own purple/blue/fuchsia toner. Sometimes color fades into an awesome pastel, but sometimes it turns into sun bleached dirt brown or green instead.