This article is from the Piercing FAQ, by Anne Greenblatt with numerous contributions by others.
Piercing needles are hollow, lancet-point needles, beveled and
sharpened similarly to the hypodermic needles used by medical
professionals. Most are about 2 inches in length. Piercing needles
slice a crescent-shaped hole and do not remove tissue. The larger the
needle, the more exaggerated the crescent shape of the hole. Most
piercers do not perform piercings larger than 10 or 8ga. Many piercers
in Europe use cannula needles designed for intravenous drips, which
are fitted with a plastic sheath that is used to thread the jewelry
into the piercing.
The needle should remain in its sterile autoclave package until the
piercer is ready to proceed with the piercing. Needles should be used
only once and placed in a medical sharps container which is disposed
of through a medical waste disposal service. Aside from cleanliness
concerns, needles are noticibly dulled from a single use.
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Standards, 1998 edition, pp 31-38, http://www.safepiercing.org