Body Piercing

Asian man with long hair

Body piercing is a serious decision. Before you decide what to do, ask other teens who have piercings what they think about the whole process.

Questions you might want to ask include:

  • How much did it cost?
  • Was it painful?
  • How long did it take to heal?
  • If you had the chance to do it over again, would you?

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 and/or abrasions (where you want to get pierced)
  • You have diabetes, hemophilia, an auto-immune disorder, certain heart conditions, or other medical conditions that might interfere with the healing process
  • You have a job or participate in an activity that would make having a piercing risky
  • A licensed professional piercer feels that it would be a bad idea

If you’re wondering if it’s safe for you to have an oral or body piercing, you should talk to your primary care provider and/or your specialist health care provider (for example, your cardiologist).

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).

  • You CAN get and/or spread a serious infection (including Hepatitis B or C, HIV), and other infections if the piercing equipment has not 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)

Some people who have not looked at the pros and cons about getting a piercing may regret the decision. You should never feel pressured into getting a piercing.

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 the possible 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.

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 don’t. 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 here.

What should I look for in a piercing salon?

When you go into a salon, look around. Make sure that there’s a certificate on the wall that says the piercer is registered with the APP. The shop should be kept clean and sanitary, the lighting should be good so that the piercers can see well while working, and the staff should 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. Make sure your piercer provides after-care instructions.

What do I need to bring to the piercing salon?

You may need to bring a copy of your birth certificate. If you’re 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 done.

What kind of jewelry should I buy?

The Association of Professional Piercers has revised the minimum standard for jewelry for new piercings (created February 5, 2009 and revised April 4, 2017) and recommends the following:

  • Jewelry made from steel that is ASTM F-138 compliant or ISO-5822-1 compliant
    • 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“.

    All threaded or press-fit jewelry must have internal tapping (no threads on posts).

    For body jewelry purposes, surfaces and ends must be smooth, free of nicks, scratches, burrs, polishing compounds and metals must have a consistent mirror finish.

    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, titanium, or niobium. All of these cost more than implant grade stainless steel.

    Gold jewelry should be at least 14 karat or higher (solid gold, cadmium and nickel-free white, yellow, or rose gold) for new 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 (Ti6Al4V ELI) that is ASTM F136 compliant or ISO 5832-3 compliant and Titanium that is ASTM F67 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).

    Tip: Look for a salon that has a wide variety of jewelry to choose from. The salon shouldn’t 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; straight or curved with removable beads on either end. This type of jewelry is often used in the tongue, eyebrow, nipple, and navel. 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 and is most often used for navel, nipple and high ear piercings.
    • 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 two 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:

    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.

    • Rinse the pierced skin after exercising, since sweat may irritate the piercing.
    • Avoid touching and/or playing with the jewelry, friction from clothing, and rough cleaning.
    • 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, your phone, ear buds, glasses, hats, and bike helmet. Be careful when using hairspray 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 a pool or lake until your piercing has healed. If you must swim, cover the piercing with a waterproof bandage such as Clean Seals™ (which you can buy in most pharmacies).
    • Avoid direct sunlight, tanning beds, sand, tanning oils, and lotions as they can burn and irritate the piercing (which can cause scarring).
    • Try to lower your stress, avoid smoking, drugs and alcohol as they can negatively affect healing.

    How do I care for a piercing in my mouth?

    • Rinse tongue or lip piercings after every meal, snack and before bed (4-5 times a day) during the entire healing period. Rinse for 30 to 60 seconds after eating with an antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash, or a warm salt water rinse.
    • Avoid kissing or contact with other’s body fluids like saliva while you are healing.
    • Avoid sharing cups, plates and utensils (forks, knives, spoons, etc.).
    • Eat small bites of health food. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals help you body heal.
    • Don’t eat spicy, salty or acidy foods or drinks while you are healing.
    • Avoid hot drinks such as hot chocolate, coffee and tea.
    • Eat cold foods and drinks as they lessen swelling. Be extra careful when eating crunchy foods.
    • 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.
    • 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.

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