Your piercer should give you aftercare instructions after you get your piercing. Though they do vary from one piercing to the next, most of the time the advice is pretty similar because, ultimately, they are all wounds that need to heal.
Before you even get the piercing, you should find out what kind of jewelry you will get. These days you should be pierced only with either 316L stainless steel or titanium or glass. These are the best materials if you want to avoid any allergic reactions and therefore problematic healing. Gone are the days when people would be pierced with gold or other materials.
316L stainless steel is widely used in the United States. “316L” is simply a particular grade of steel and is one of the types widely used in the medical industry. Though it does contain nickel, it supposedly does not induce contact nickel dermatitis. Titanium is lighter and more expensive and is found in medical implants that are intended to last a lifetime. It is also required in some countries in Europe, for example. Glass can be used for some piercings (e.g. ear piercings) and is probably the most biocompatible of all.
Don’t Touch It
After you get pierced, you should avoid touching your piercing unless absolutely necessary. If you wear latex gloves or wash your hands thoroughly then the infection risk is reduced but the more important reason why you should not touch your piercings is because you can tear the healing tissues of your piercing.
It is common for those getting ear piercings in mall stores using the “gun” to be told to twist their earrings every now and again. This is totally wrong advice. There is no advantage to moving piercings during healing – all it will do is prolong the healing process.
Sea Salt Solution
Forget about antibiotic or antiseptic lotions. Generally speaking, you don’t need any of them. For external piercings, all that is needed is to soak your piercing in a warm sea salt solution (sea salt mixed with boiled water that has cooled down to lukewarm or close to). This will also help to dislodge any “crusties” that may form around your wound during healing.
For piercings inside the mouth, you can use diluted mouthwash such as Listerine. Some say that you should use a non-alcoholic mouthwash so that your mouth does not dry out. In my view, it is worth using an alcoholic mouthwash because the alcohol will kill bacteria. So long as you dilute it, you should not end up with a dry mouth. The fact is, a mouth piercing will heal very easily without any extra treatment at all, anyway.
In Case Of Infection
You will know when you have an infection because pus is likely to form, a dark yellow or green substance with a nasty smell. The wound site will also be inflamed, red and may be sore to touch.
If this happens then clean the wound site as best as you can and go see your piercer immediately. If the infection is severe (looks very bad and/or quite painful) then you may want to see your doctor to get a course of antibiotics because you do not want it to spread via your bloodstream and become systemic.
Seeing Your Piercer
If in doubt about anything during your healing process, just go see your piercer. Any good piercer will not mind having a look at your piercing for free and should mention this at the time of piercing. All good piercers take an active interest in your piercings healing.
Are you thinking about getting a body piercing? Want to know some of the most popular piercings to get? Here are some of the currently most common piercings that people are wearing at the moment.
It is too early to tell whether these will gradually fall out of fashion but stretched earlobes are a very popular look right now. People with these earlobes usually wear tunnels (you can see right through them) or plugs (solid material).
They can be stretched as far as the earlobe will allow until the point at which there is a risk that it could break. Ideally, you should stretch from a small size gradually (about a size every month) and only up to around 10 mm. Though it varies from person to person, your ears will typically be able to shrink back to original size if you no longer want to have stretched ears, so long as you don’t stretch past this diameter. If you go higher than this then they may or may not shrink back. Everyone is different.
You can take a short cut and get your ears pierced with a bigger needle to start with but this also means that your ears will always have a visible hole and will never be able to shrink back to much smaller than the size at which they were pierced.
This piercing has been popular with women for many years now. It is best to get pierced with a curved bar as starter jewelry rather than a ring (rings are less common these days anyway). This piercing has a high chance of rejection which can cause scarring.
Men and women alike enjoy getting this piercing. It tends to be hidden during work and may be revealed in your spare time so it is good for showing an exciting but non-sexual side of yourself.
Nipple piercings are notorious for taking a while to heal. They can take up to a year to stop weeping and fully heal.
The tongue piercing has been popular for many years. It is a unique piercing because the tongue is nothing more than a muscle covered in skin. It is usually pierced in the centre but these days many people are trying different variations such as “venoms” which are two piercings on either side of the tongue, equidistant from the centre-line.
The septum is the part of your body that separates your nose into two chambers which are then called nostrils. Though there is cartilage here, this is avoided by piercers as it makes healing difficult. Instead, they go through the “sweet spot” where there is no cartilage towards the front of your nose.
Chances are that you have met many people with septum piercings but have never known because there are many people wearing a retainer which flips up inside the nose and cannot be seen by anyone else.
Cheek piercings go through your natural dimples or where they would otherwise occur. These piercings swell greatly after being done and the aftercare period is not easy. They also leave behind permanent marks, even if you remove the jewelry and the piercing closes up. This is one of the most radical piercings due to its permanent effects on the body and how obvious it is to other people so make sure that you have thought it through before getting this piercing.
The labret piercing is the one that you see underneath people’s bottom lips. Though a stud shows on the front, the back should be a flat disc for comfort. Even so, it can still cause gum erosion in some.
Genital piercings among men and women alike are not at all uncommon. The most popular genital location pierced for women is the clitoral hood – the jewelry then lies on top of the clitoris and gives added stimulation. Some women also like to get their labia pierced for mainly cosmetic reasons.
The most common piercing for a man is the Prince Albert. This is a ring that goes through the urethra and emerges out of the underside of the penis. Other less common piercings are the ampallang and the apadravya. These are bars that go through the glans transversely or vertically.
Stretching one’s ears has become extremely popular over the last three years or so. Some people are happy with a small stretch of, say, 10mm while others develop and interest in stretching their ears to a very large diameter. For example, many people aim for “double zero gauge” which is equivalent to 10.4 mm. Others aim even higher, to diameters of an inch and more.
The problem with such stretching is that human skin is not infinitely elastic. There is a point beyond which the ears will not retreat to their original size. Many people are aware of this when they start stretching and are willing to accept the risk. However, the vast majority of people who stretch their ears are young and in either school or college. Many of them later regret their actions when they find it difficult to get a job due to their stretched ears.
Although attitudes are slowly changing, many in society view those with stretched earlobes with suspicion or see them as oddities. Even if the hiring manager has no problem with stretched earlobes, they may be against company policy if, for example, you have a lot of client contact. This is understandable as a company has to think about their bottom line and it is not in their interest to hire someone who will not be able to make as many sales as a person without stretched ears.
Luckily, ear reconstruction surgery is now more widely available. Originally intended for women with earlobes that had split due to heavy earrings or an accident, it is now commonly also done for those with large stretched earlobes that they no longer want.
You have two choices if you want to get your ears reconstructed. The first is to see an experienced piercer who has over time become experienced with a scalpel for various other body modifications and is now doing a trade in reconstructing earlobes. These practitioners are few and far between but you can find them by looking around on the internet. Check out BME blog and various large piercing forums such as those at BodyJewelryShop. Eventually, you should be able to find one that is within an hour or so travelling distance from you. Make sure to see their portfolio so you can see how good they are at this type of reconstruction work.
The other option is to see a cosmetic surgeon. Cosmetic surgeons are well experienced with scalpels and have done formal medical training. Ideally, you should find one who has done several such procedures before rather than a surgeon whose specialism lies elsewhere and rarely performs these types of reconstructions.
In either case, the procedure is fairly similar. First, the area will be numbed using a standard local anesthetic such as lidocaine or similar. Various cuts will be made as necessary and then sutures will be created (stitches) to hold together the separate parts of your earlobe. I have actually had this procedure done myself and I can tell you that it feels surreal while it is being done but not painful or uncomfortable.
The sutures will need to be taken out approximately two weeks later. Until then, you should take good care of your wound. Some surgeons advise to keep the area dry but I found this impossible so instead I washed it daily. If you do this then the most important thing is to make sure it dries after washing. I recommend that you put a towel over your pillow for the first week because blood will seep from your wound at first.
The results are generally very good. Scars form at the boundary where an incision heals. If the stitches held the two edges of skin together neatly then you will have almost no scar. On the other hand, if the skin edges were not held tightly together then you will have a bigger scar. Ultimately, you will have some degree of scarring as it is nearly impossible to avoid. Some say that applying vitamin E oil over a scar regularly can help it to heal.
Your ears may be sore to the touch for several months after the operation so if your partner likes to suck your earlobes then you may wish to warn them against it!
Stretching your ears (often erroneously referred to as “gauging”) is very popular at the moment. Guys and girls alike are stretching their lobes to all manner of sizes. One of the downsides to stretching is that it takes time, of the order of around one month for every size increase. One way to avoid this if you do not already have your ears pierced (or they closed long ago) is to get a large gauge ear piercing.
Most people with piercings know that the gun is a rather inefficient and somewhat unsanitary method of piercing ears. Instead, a needle can be used to pierce the ear in the setting of a piercing studio. The larger the needle, the larger the size of jewelry that can be fitted through it. Generally speaking, large gauge ear piercings can be done up to a diameter of around 5 millimetres or so. Much larger than that and you are getting into territory where you might consider scalpelling instead.
The larger the gauge of the needle then the less you have to stretch. However, there are some things to bear in mind as I know all too well from personal experience.
First, the large the gauge of the needle then the thinner the surrounding earlobe that is left. This is relevant if you have small earlobes but negligible if you have large ones. Having said that, I have relatively small earlobes and was happy to get them done at 5mm.
Second, whatever the diameter of the initial piercing is, you should consider that it will only shrink a little if you ever take your piercings out permanently. My initial piercing was done at 5 mm and when I eventually took my piercings out in order to try and get a corporate job, they shrunk but left a visible hole of around 2 to 3 mm diameter. This can vary from person to person depending on how thick their earlobes are. All in all, you should consider large gauge ear piercings to be “permanent”, in the sense that they will never totally close up from around 2 or 3 mm upwards. This may sound obvious but you would be surprised at how little anecdotal data there is on large gauge ear piercings and follow-up experiences.
In theory, healing time for large gauge ear piercings is no more than for a simple, narrow gauge ear piercing. However, in my own case, it took over a year to heal completely, even after switching the jewelry from titanium to glass. They only finally healed up when I removed them and let them air heal, though they shrank a little in the process. Having had a regular, narrow gauge ear piercing done in my youth, I personally think that large gauge ear piercings are slower healers.
Earlobe Reconstruction Surgery
More and more people are considering earlobe reconstruction these days. A large gauge ear piercing will not leave huge holes like most candidates for such surgery but instead much smaller ones. If you ever decide that you want to get them sewn up then you can see either an expert piercer who has experience of such reconstruction (make sure you see a portfolio) or a cosmetic surgeon.
Bear in mind that any such surgery will leave scarring but this should fade with time, though it could take years for them to almost fully disappear. Some report that scar fading can be accelerated using vitamin E oil though others report that can actually make scarring worse. If necessary, scarring can be hidden using concealing makeup such as Dermablend.
The tongue piercing is a totally different piercing to any other. It is one of the only ones where a muscle (and not just skin) is actually pierced. As it is an oral piercing it heals very quickly. A great many people, even those with lots of other piercings, are scared to get this piercing as they fear a deadly infection or other complication or simply cannot put a finger on why they cannot bring themselves to do it.
Many oral piercings go through muscle tissue. For example, labret and cheek piercings go through muscle tissue. But the tongue is a unique organ and is nearly all solid muscle as there is no fat tissue. But its location is also an advantage as a constant supply of saliva helps to keep it clean and heal quickly.
Culturally, tongue piercings are normally associated with young women from early teenage years through to their twenties. It is often first done as a dare or a shared initiation between groups of friends. It also has an unfortunate reputation among the mainstream of being a sex aid for performing oral sex on a man. Sadly, this myth persists and it prevents many men getting this piercing as they would face ridicule from their friends.
If you are considering this piercing, I advise you to go ahead and do it anyway as you only live once. As it remains hidden most of the time, nobody will make any immediate judgements when they meet you.
When you go to get a tongue piercing, the piercer will get you to wash your mouth out with antiseptic solution or some other similar mouthwash. They will then mark a dot on your tongue where they intend to pierce through and ask you if it is OK.
If the frenulum on the underside of your tongue continues almost to the tip of the tongue then this can limit how far back you may want the piercing. Most piercers will either not pierce beyond it or will pierce the bottom hole to one side of it. In my view, there is no harm in going straight through the frenulum but few piercers would do this unless you insisted on it. There is nothing wrong with a piercing closer to the tip of the tongue than further back but it is more likely to cause dental problems. Another limiting factor is the veins on the underside of your tongue. Some people have especially prominent veins but all good piercers can normally avoid them or massage them out of the way.
The piercer will clamp your tongue and then pierce it from below or above. Either technique is considered acceptable. He or she will then insert a barbell that is quite long, around 1.5 inches so. This is to accommodate the swelling that will start within a few hours as the tongue reacts to being pierced.
Swelling normally reduces within a week though in my own case it took a good two to three weeks for it to do so. After the swelling has gone down, you should visit your piercer to get a shorter bar as this will reduce the chances of chewing on your piercing which can chip enamel and even break huge chunks off teeth. It will also be much more comfortable. You should rinse your mouth with mouthwash several times a day (dilute it if it is too strong).
Your piercing will secret “lymph” during the healing period. This is a sticky white to light yellow liquid that oozes out of the piercing. It is not pus and it does not smell awful like pus would. The best way to get rid of this lymph is to take a q-tip/cotton bud and pick up and draw out the lymph by rotating the end of it. After 4 to 6 weeks, your piercing should stop secreting lymph and it will be healed.
One downside of a tongue piercing is that you cannot easily leave the jewelry out for long periods. How long depends on the person but this piercing closes up more quickly than piercings on the outside of the body. If you need to take out your piercing for an x-ray/CT/MRI scan then you can replace it with a plastic retainer or plastic bar.
The septum piercing is one of those piercings that at first, to most people, seems a little weird or “off” in an inexplicable way. Many say that it reminds them of the ring through a bull’s nose. However, this piercing soon grows on many people and they want to have it. It can look great with a small hoop, especially on girls. You can also opt for a tusk or crescent instead which tends to be favoured by some guys. Then there is also the option of a retainer which many people prefer and was first seen by the mainstream when Scarlett Johansson got her septum pierced back in 2006.
The septum piercing is definitely one to do for yourself rather than to please other people. It is an unconventional piercing and one where you might initially have to put up with a little flak or odd looks, even from your close friends, if they have never seen one up close before. One of the major advantages about this piercing is that with the use of a retainer, you can actually flip the ends into your nostrils and it can remain completely hidden! Many “conventional” people wear this piercing and keep it hidden for work but then reveal it when they want to be themselves. Some keep it hidden all the time and it still provides them with a great deal of satisfaction.
Contrary to what many people think, this piercing does not actually go through the cartilage in the centre of your nose. For this reason, you should definitely seek out an experienced piercer who knows what they are doing because some do not and will pierce it incorrectly. Going through the cartilage means more pain and troublesome healing, let along entirely wrong placement and functionality.
If you put a finger into each nostril and then feel forwards then you should find a small “sweet spot” where there is just skin. This may be so small that you wonder if it even exists. A good pierced will locate this spot first before piercing through it, often with the assistance of a clamp.
The pain factor on a septum piercing is really not that high at all. It can be compared to pulling a hair out of your nostril fast. So it is intense and extremely fast and the pain is not excruciating. What you will find is that, just like pulling a hair out of your nostril, your eyes will also water after the piercing is done. If your eyes are closed during the piercing then they will water when you open them!
Starting off, I recommend getting a septum retainer put in. These are usually silver coloured due to being titanium or stainless steel (I recommend titanium for all new piercings if the piercer has it). You can also get black (or other) coloured jewelry which is known as PVD titanium, basically titanium that has been surface treated. If you are worried about concealing it then you really do not need to go for the black colour unless your nose turns upwards prominently.
As with all piercings, you should limit movement during the healing period. You should not flip the retainer up or down every day. It is better to leave it in one position for the duration of the healing. Healing is very fast, around 6 to 8 weeks. You will really notice the healing process when after a few weeks the jewelry starts to feel or move slightly differently.
Septum piercings can be stretched like any other piercing. Something to bear in mind is that the hole can stay open permanently so if you are stretching past two or three millimetres then beware that the hole could be visible when viewing from the side and may not close.
In the last few years it has become extremely common to stretch piercings. Skin is supple and easily stretched over times as many people have found out in other ways. Done slowly and carefully, you can stretch your piercings to quite large sizes though your own anatomy will usually be the limiting factor.
Piercings to Stretch
By far the most common piercing to stretch is the earlobe. Most people who do stretch theirs in this way got their original piercing in the mainstream fashion, using a gun at a store in the mall, for example. In terms of versatility for stretching, nothing beats the earlobes.
The other parts of the ear cannot be easily stretched. That’s because cartilage will not stretch like a fleshy earlobe will. If you want a larger cartilage piercing then you are better off getting a dermal punch or similar.
Most other piercings are not normally stretched but there are exceptions. Male genital piercings are often stretched because larger gauge piercings are more comfortable and reduce the so-called “cheese wire” effect. Some people also like to stretch facial piercings such as the septum, the labret and even the tongue.
How to Stretch
The fistula that forms around a healed piercing continues to undergo changes over time so stretching should not be done on a freshly healed piercing. Instead, you should wait at least six months and ideally one year.
Stretching should be performed one size at a time and the new size should be worn for a month before attempting to stretch to the next size. The best way to stretch the piercing when putting the new jewelry in is to use a taper and to lubricate it well. Some people are able to stretch without a taper if they use plenty of lubrication. For example, some people stretch their earlobes under a warm shower.
When you reach the larger sizes you will find quite large differences in diameter between adjacent gauges of piercing jewelry. Till then you will likely have been stretching at no more than one millimetre per stretch. At the larger gauges, you should try to approximate a similar step in size by winding PTFE tape around your plugs to obtain a smaller step size. This is the same tape that plumbers use.
Permanence of Stretching
Stretching a few sizes above an initially small piercing is unlikely to be permanent. However, you will reach a stage where your skin is no longer elastic and a hole will always be visible through your piercing. This differs from one person to the next and there is no single rule applicable to all. Generally speaking, pierced ears will be stretched permanently and not regain their original shape when you reach around 10 mm diameter.
When you decide to stretch your piercings, try to remember these consequences. Many young people throw caution to the wind and take high risks that they may later regret, especially if they attempt to obtain a professional/office job. It is possible to get ear reconstruction surgery but it is not cheap and the results, though usually very good, are not perfect.
Getting your body pierced is not something to be taken lightly. You need an expert piercer who knows what they are doing, will place the piercing correctly and minimise the risks involved (especially infection). It does take a little research to find one but, once you have, you will probably return to that piercer for the rest of your life.
Reputation/Word of Mouth
A piercer’s reputation is everything and all piercers know that they will get most of their business via word of mouth. Some piercers do advertise and it can bring in new customers but most rely on repeat visits or referrals.
The best way to find out who is a good piercer is to ask those friends of yours with piercings where they got them and if they would they go back again. The worst mistake that you can make is to visit a piercer on impulse such as while on vacation.
Sometimes, you may get lucky, but there are a surprising number of bad piercers out there and you could fall victim. Remember, piercers in most countries are unregulated. Even where they are, this will only be for hygiene and says nothing about their actual abilities as piercers.
Some piercers will do work for cheap or even for free if they are just learning or are apprentices. There is nothing wrong with getting such piercings if you understand the risks and if these risks are somewhat mitigated by the professionalism of their mentor and the studio.
Ideally, you should get pierced by someone who has many years experience. This is especially important if you are getting something more unique and where you have a greater need for a perfect result e.g. genital or unusual piercings.
Every good piercer should have a portfolio showing some of their work. Just ask for it and flick through the photos. They may also have one on their web site which would save you walking in and requesting to see it. Bear in mind that a portfolio will only show good results and never any bad ones.
Willingness to Answer Questions
A good piercer is always willing to answer your questions. Getting pierced is a big deal and many people are apprehensive about it and need their questions answered before going ahead.
If your piercer grows impatient when you ask questions, take that as a warning sign and do not get pierced by this person. Just imagine if you have problems with healing further down the road or even want to complain? Stay away from such uncooperative piercers. They are rare but they do exist.
Some piercing studios will put hygiene certificates on the wall if they are compelled to have them by the local authority. This tells you that they have reached some minimum standard of cleanliness but the problem is that you don’t really have any idea how clean a place must be to get such a certificate.
You are better off walking in and looking around. Are items left around when not in use or are they put away in drawers? Do the work surfaces look old and worn or do they look new and spotless? If you can, try looking for piercing videos on the internet. Even in this day and age, some piercers ask people to hold clamps with their hand and other similar hygiene no-nos.
My favourite piercing studio is absolutely spotless. The reclining chair looks new and is covered in a thick plastic. You can tell by the way the light gleams off it that it is cleaned regularly. Nothing is left out of drawers. Even the floor looks clean. A piercing studio should be as clean as the best hospitals.
It is a sad fact of life but many people with piercings are discriminated against, especially when it comes to trying to gain employment. If you have several piercings then the more “professional” a job is, the more of an effort you have to make to conceal your piercings. In an ideal situation, you can simply take them out. Unfortunately, many piercings close up quickly and you cannot regularly take our jewelry for 8 hours or more on a daily basis. And if you have new piercings that are still healing then they must remain in until your body forms a fistula around them.
How you hide your piercings varies greatly depending on the type of piercing you have, where it is located and how socially acceptable they are. Women have advantages over men as they can use their hair or makeup to do so. It is also more socially acceptable for women to wear many types of piercings than it is for men.
Stretched earlobes are easily hidden by hair if yours is long enough. If not, then a great solution is to wear plugs that look like regular earrings from the front. This works well for ears that are stretched to a fairly low diameter e.g. 5 mm. A great example of this technique is to wear glass plugs. If you need to only temporarily (and not regularly) close your earlobes up then something I have done in the past is to use liquid glue that is used to hold false eyelashes in place. When it comes to removing it, do so only with very warm water (e.g. in the shower) or else it will hurt.
Facial piercings are more problematic. If you cannot remove them then you may want to consider wearing jewelry that is less obvious. For example, a labret stud can be replaced with a flesh-toned disc though some may still notice it. A tongue stud can be replaced with a clear ball or with a bioplast retainer. A ring through the septum can be replaced with a retainer that can be flipped up and inside the nostrils. Unfortunately, very little can be done if you want to conceal eyebrow and cheek piercings.
If you decide to wear flesh coloured jewelry then the addition of some concealing makeup can help to make your piercing almost oblivious to anyone looking at you. One of the best concealers you can get for this purpose is Dermablend. It works so well that it can even be used to hide tattoos. I know of people who have used it very effectively to conceal a flesh coloured nose piercing retainer.
Even piercings that are not on the face can sometimes be problematic. Nipple rings can show through a shirt although women have an advantage here due to the padding of a bra. Men can conceal them by wearing surgical tape or a similar dressing over them.
As you can see, hiding piercings is not impossible and in most cases something can be done. If all else fails and you cannot hide one or two of your piercings then just carry on as if there is nothing different about yourself. Often, you can help to change people’s wrong perceptions of those with piercings by demonstrating to them that your piercings do not affect your ability to do your job and do not make you abnormal in any way.