Body Piercing

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facial piercingsPeople from many different cultures have pierced their bodies for centuries. If you look in a history book, you will find that Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans decorated their bodies with piercings and tattoos. People pierced their bodies to show their importance in a group, or because they thought it protected them from evil. Today, we know much more about the risks of body piercing. Body piercing is a serious decision. Before you decide what you want to do, ask your friends, parents, and trusted adults what they think.

What are teens saying about body piercing today?

Ask other teens who have been pierced what they thought of the whole experience. How much did it cost? Was it painful? How long did it take to heal? If they had the chance to do it over again, would they still get the piercing?

Some tips teens have passed along to us:

  • YOU do NOT have to pierce your body to “belong”.
  • YOU can ALWAYS change your mind or WAIT if you are not sure.
  • If YOU do decide to have your body pierced, NEVER pierce your own body or let a friend do it because you can run into very serious health problems.

Are there any medical reasons why I should not get a piercing?

Yes. There are medical conditions (see the list below) that could interfere with the natural healing process after a piercing, which makes getting a piercing under these circumstances not only a bad decision, but a risky one.

The Association of Professional Piercers recommends that you should not get a piercing if:

  • You have a skin irritation or an unusual lesion or a rash, lump, cut, moles, or lots of freckles (where you want to get pierced)
  • You have diabetes, hemophilia, an auto-immune disorder, certain heart conditions, or another medical condition that might interfere with the healing process
  • If you have plans to become pregnant and want a nipple or navel piercing
  • If you’re already pregnant
  • If a licensed professional piercer feels that it would be a bad idea

Bottom line, if you are wondering if it’s safe for you to have an oral or body piercing, you should talk to your health care provider first.

What are the risks of body piercing?

The most serious risks are infections, allergic reactions, bleeding, and damage to nerves or teeth. Infections may be caused by hepatitis, HIV, tetanus, bacteria, and yeast. If the piercer washes his/her hands and uses gloves and sterile equipment and you take good care of your piercing, the risk of infection is lowered (but can still occur).

Did you know that:

  • You CAN get and/or spread a serious infection (including HIV), if the piercing equipment hasn’t been sterilized properly
  • Infections caused by bacteria getting into the puncture of the piercing can happen later, even after the piercing has healed
  • If the studio uses a piercing “gun” to do body piercings, LEAVE! Piercing guns cannot be sterilized and should NOT be used for body piercing

Another cause of problems from piercings is using the wrong kind of jewelry for the area pierced. If the jewelry is too large, it can actually cut off the blood supply to the tissue, causing swelling and pain. If the jewelry is either too thin or too heavy, or if you’re allergic to the metal, your body may reject the jewelry.

Know the risks before you have your body pierced:

  • Bacterial infection (where you had the piercing)
  • Excessive (a lot of) bleeding
  • Allergic reactions (to certain kinds of jewelry)
  • Damage to nerves (for example, you may lose feeling at the area that gets pierced)
  • Keloids (thick scarring at the piercing site)
  • Dental damage (swelling and infection of the tongue, chipped/broken teeth, gum trauma, choking on loose jewelry)

Is the healing time the same for all body parts?

Healing time is different depending on the part of your body that you get pierced. Some parts are more likely to get infected or have problems. Piercings on your ear lobes usually take about 6-8 weeks to heal. However, piercings on the side of your ear (cartilage) can take anywhere from 4 months to 1 year to heal. The reason for this is that the type of tissue in each area is different, and the amount of pressure placed on the pierced area while you are sleeping is different too.

Tongue piercings swell a lot at first, but heal fairly quickly if the right type of jewelry is used. However, metal jewelry in the tongue may damage your gums and chip the enamel surface of your teeth. In fact, the ADA (American Dental Association – a group of dentists that set professional standards for dentists in the United States), is against any type of oral piercings because of all the risks.

In some cases, nipple piercings can damage some of the milk-producing glands in a young woman’s breasts. This can cause infections or problems later on if the woman decides to breast-feed her baby. Some pierced areas, such as the navel (belly button), are more likely to become infected because of irritation from tight clothing. A pierced site needs air to help the healing process.

Body Piercings & Healing Times

Pierced Body Part: Healing Time:
Ear lobe 4 to 6 weeks
Ear cartilage 3 to 6 months
Eyebrow 9 to 12 weeks
Nostril 2 to 4 months
Tongue 4 to 6 weeks
Lip 2 to 3 months
Nipple 3 to 6 months
Navel (belly button) 9 months to 1 year
Female genitalia 4 to 10 weeks
Male genitalia 4 weeks to 2 months

If I decide that a piercing is important to me, where should I go?

You should ask friends and relatives with piercings where they went and if they liked the place. Look for a place that does a lot of piercings and that only employs piercers with piercing licenses. Some states make piercers get a license, while other states do not. So there are actually people who are doing body piercings with very little training! As you can imagine, this can be very dangerous for you. However, the APP (Association of Professional Piercers – a professional organization of piercers), makes safety rules for people who do piercings, and has a list of piercers who comply with the standards of their organization. Search for registered members of the APP on their website.

What should I look for in a piercing salon?

When you go into a salon, look around. Make sure that there is a certificate on the wall that says the piercer is registered with the APP. Is the place clean? The shop should be kept clean and sanitary. The lighting should be good so that the piercers can see well while working. Does the staff wash their hands and use sterile gloves and instruments? All the instruments should either be brand new and disposable (meant to be thrown away after one use) or be sterilized in sealed pouches. If the piercer uses disposable needles, you should see him/her open sealed packages. The piercers should throw away the needles in a biohazard container after using them.

What do I need to bring to the piercing salon?

You may need to bring a copy of your birth certificate. If you are under 18 years old, you may need your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Your parent/guardian will need to go with you to the piercing salon and sign a consent form. Since the law is different from state to state, you’ll need to find out what the law in your area says about whether or not you need parental permission to get a piercing.

What kind of jewelry should I buy?

The Association of Professional Piercers has revised the minimum standard for jewelry for new piercings and recommends the following:

  • Jewelry made from steel that is ASTM F-138 compliant or ISO-5822-1 compliant
  • Jewelry made from steel that is ISO 10993-6, 10993-10, and/or10993-11 compliant (EEC Nickel Directive compliant is generally reasonably priced and safe to use for new piercings. American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), is an organization that isn’t related to the government, but sets high standards for all kinds of materials that are manufactured in the U.S. The European organization that is similar to the ASTM is called the “ISO”.

Implant grade stainless steel is least likely to produce a foreign body reaction or infection in the skin. Other safe choices for new piercings are metals such as gold (at least 18 karat), titanium, or niobium. All of these cost more than implant grade stainless steel.

Gold jewelry should be at least 18 karat (75% gold) for new piercings and at least 14k gold, nickel-free white, or yellow gold for healed piercings. Gold-filled or gold-plated jewelry should never be used in any piercings because the metal is very thin. The finish wears away easily and it chips with slightest contact of the body. Some people have difficulty with white gold because it contains “nickel” – a metal that many people are allergic to.

Titanium that is ASTM F-67 compliant can be used for new piercings. Titanium is also used for surgical implants in the body. For example, titanium implants are used for shoulder replacement surgery because they are lightweight and porous. There are actually tiny pores in the metal that allow tissue in the body to attach to it. For this reason, it’s recommended that titanium jewelry be highly polished to reduce the “porosity” (pores or very tiny holes in the metal).

Look for a salon that has a wide variety of jewelry to choose from. The salon should not tell you to use a certain type of jewelry just because it’s the only kind they have.

What’s up with all the different kinds of jewelry?

Any type of jewelry used for piercings should be smooth, without scratches or chips.

  • Bars, which are the type of jewelry used in some piercings like the tongue, are measured in length (how long the bar is). When the piercing is first done, a longer bar will be used. When the piercing heals, a shorter bar is used.
  • Ring jewelry is measured by diameter, or how wide the ring is.
  • Gauge means the thickness of the jewelry. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the jewelry. The APP says that jewelry no greater than 14 gauge should be used below the neck. This is because of the risk of a foreign body reaction and the possibility of the ring cutting the skin.

How are piercings done?

An experienced piercer uses a hollow needle to create a hole by passing the needle through the body part you want pierced. The jewelry is then inserted through the hole. Sometimes there can be a small amount of bleeding. You should not take aspirin or any pain medication that contains aspirin the week before any piercing is done, since these medicines may cause you to bleed a little bit more than usual. Remember, piercing guns should NEVER be used since they can damage tissue and cause infection. Anesthetic medicine which puts people to sleep and dulls or relieves pain, isn’t used for piercings.

How much will a piercing cost?

There are actually 2 costs with piercings – the site cost and the jewelry cost. The site cost depends on where on your body you get pierced. For example, ear and nose piercings usually cost less than tongue, nipple, or genital piercings. Gold jewelry costs more than stainless steel or another metal. You should shop around and check prices at different piercing salons before you decide on where to have your piercing done.

How should I clean my new piercing?

Follow these steps to prevent infection:

  1. First, wash your hands with soap and water before touching or cleaning the pierced area. (Don’t let anyone else touch the pierced area until it is healed.)
  2. Remove any crusty material from the site and from the jewelry with warm water.
  3. Gently wash the area around the piercing with a fragrance free saline solution or a non-iodized sea salt mixture or a mild liquid antibacterial soap every day.
  4. When showering, use a drop of fragrance-free antibacterial liquid soap to clean the jewelry and the piercing. Do not leave it on the piercing for more than 30 seconds.
  5. Gently rinse all of the soap and any crusty scabs, leaving no suds or residue – DO NOT rub or pull the crusty material as the skin around it may bleed. As the piercing heals, the material will dry and fall off on its own.
  6. Gently dry the area with a paper towel or plain white napkin. Do not use towels as bacteria can be a problem. Also jewelry tends to get caught on towels but won’t on disposable paper products.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 twice a day until the skin heals. (Over-washing or over-scrubbing can irritate the area.)
  8. Avoid over cleaning. This will likely break down your skin and delay healing.
  9. Do NOT use antibacterial ointments because they don’t allow air to get to the area and they trap bacteria.
  10. Do NOT use hydrogen peroxide as it can irritate healing tissue.

How can I prevent infections after I get pierced?

Preventing infections isn’t hard. It shouldn’t take a lot of your time to keep your piercing clean, and if you keep it clean you’re less likely to have complications. The following recommendations are especially important during the healing process. However, you can also follow these safety measures even after your piercing has healed completely.

  • Do NOT use alcohol, peroxide, or other strong soaps to clean the area. These products are harsh and will irritate and dry out your skin. Other strong solutions such as Betadine® will discolor gold jewelry.
  • Rinse the pierced skin after exercising, since sweat may irritate the piercing.
  • Keep the pierced area from coming in contact with other people’s body fluids, such as saliva and sweat. Do not have oral sexual contact for 4-6 weeks if you have a tongue, lip, or genital piercing.
  • Do NOT let anyone touch, kiss or lick the piercing (ex. earlobe) while it is still healing.
  • Keep things clean that come in contact with the body part that has been pierced. For example, keep your phone clean if you have an ear piercing, keep your glasses clean for ear and eyebrow piercings, cover your ear lobe with a tissue if you use hair spray, and try not to apply makeup close to piercing sites.
  • Wear clean clothing with soft fabric for navel piercings. Avoid wearing jeans because the material can be irritating.
  • Don’t wear pantyhose, leotards, belts, or tight clothing while a navel piercing is healing.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing with a navel piercing to let the air help with healing. Constant and rough friction can cause scarring and longer healing time.
  • Don’t smoke, chew tobacco, or eat spicy foods while your oral piercing is healing.
  • Avoid using cosmetics, lotions, hairspray or other kinds of beauty products around your piercing.
  • Check your jewelry many times during the day to see if any parts have become loose, especially if you have a tongue piercing. If a bar becomes loose, you can accidentally swallow it or damage a permanent tooth. Do not hang charms or pendants from any piercing that’s healing.
  • Do NOT use a hot tub or swim in public pools until your piercing has healed. If you must swim, cover the piercing with a waterproof Bandaid®.
  • Avoid direct sunlight, tanning beds, sand, tanning oils, and lotions as they can burn and irritate the piercing (which can cause scarring).
  • Rinse tongue or lip piercings after every meal or snack. Rinse for 30 to 60 seconds after eating with an antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash, or a warm salt water rinse. Or, alternately, make a mix with one part water, and one part hydrogen-peroxide, and apply it directly to the piercing site with a cotton swab. The bubbling peroxide can help remove food stuck in the site.
  • Throw out your old toothbrush and get a new, soft-bristled toothbrush if you have a tongue or lip piercing. This is to avoid exposure to bacteria from your old toothbrush.
  • See your dentist for regular checkups and if you think you have a problem. Studies have shown that people who have piercings in their mouth are much more likely to have injuries to their teeth and gums.
  • Eat healthy foods. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals help your body heal.

Be on the lookout for signs of infection that may include one or more of the following: redness, swelling, discharge, bad smell, a rash at or around the piercing site, or a fever. If you think you have an infection, DON’T try to take care of it by yourself. Make an appointment to see your health care provider.

Body piercing is a big decision. We hope that this helps you understand the risks, and this information will help you make a decision that’s best for you. If you do decide to get a body piercing, we hope that you will follow the guidelines in this information sheet. Go to a reliable salon/piercer, buy the right kind of jewelry, keep the site clean and away from irritating materials, and see your health care provider if you have symptoms of an infection.