Body Piercing

Young women's version of this guide

People 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. Many 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 to get a piercing, ask your parents, trusted adults, and friends what they think.

What are teens saying about body piercing today?

Ask other teens who have been pierced what they thought of the entire 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 allow an unlicensed piercer do it because you can end up having 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 and/or abrasions (where you want to get pierced)
  • You have diabetes, hemophilia, auto-immune disorders congenital heart disease , 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 unacceptable
  • 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 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. Although infection may still occur, the risk of infection can be lowered if you take good care of your piercing and if the piercer washes his/her hands, uses gloves, and sterilizes equipment.

  • You CAN get and/or spread a serious infection (including Hepatitis Bor 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. Your body may reject the jewelry if it is either too thin or too heavy or if you’re allergic to the metal.

Some people who have not looked at the pros and cons about getting a piercing may regret their 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 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 damages 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 health risks.

Body Piercings & Healing Times

Pierced Body Part:Healing Time:
Ear lobe6 weeks
Ear cartilage4 months to 1 year
Eyebrow6 to 8 weeks
Nostril2 to 4 months
Tongue4 to 6 weeks
Lip2 to 3 months
Nipple6 weeks to 6 months
Navel (belly button)9 months to 1 year
Female genitalia4 to 10 weeks
Male genitalia6 months to 1 year

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 the studio was a licensed piercing studio. Some states make piercers get a license, while other states do not. This means 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) developed 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? Be sure to ask if the instruments are new or 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 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 (created February 5, 2009 and revised May 28, 2019) 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”.
  • Jewelry made from steel that is ISO 10993-6, 10993-10, and/or10993-11 compliant.
  • The APP does not recommend the use of jewelry that contains nickel for new piercings.
  • Titanium (Ti6Al4V ELI) that is ASTM F136 compliant or ISO 5832-3 compliant.
  • Titanium that is ASTM F67 or ISO 582-2 compliant
  • Solid 14 karat or higher yellow, white, or rose gold that is nickel and cadmium free
  • Solid platinum alloy that is nickel-free
  • Niobium (Nb) that is ASTM B392 compliant. Including commercial grade 2 Nb and commercial grade 4 Nb
  • Fused Quartz glass, lead-free borosilicate of lead-free soda-lime glass
  • Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that is ASTM F754 compliant
  • Any plastic material that is ISO 10993-6, 10993-10 and/or 10993-11 compliant and/or meets the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Class VI material classification

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.  However, they 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.

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:  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, ibuprofen, 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 well 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 antibacterial liquid soap and water 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. You do not have to turn your jewelry around the piercing.
  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. Avoid over cleaning. This will likely break down your skin and delay healing.
  8. Do NOT use antibacterial ointments because they don’t allow air to get to the area and they trap bacteria.
  9. Do NOT use hydrogen peroxide, Betadine®, Hibiclens®, Bactine® (and other products containing Benzalkonium Chloride or BZK), rubbing alcohol, or strong antibacterial soaps because they can irritate the skin around the piercing and prevent the tissue from healing.

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 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.
  • 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 (such as Biotene® or Toms®), or a warm salt water rinse.
  • Avoid kissing or contact with other’s body fluids like saliva or semen while you are healing.
  • Avoid sharing cups, plates and utensils (forks, knives, spoons, etc.).
  • Eat small bites of healthy food. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals help your body heal.
  • Don’t eat spicy, salty or acidy foods or liquids 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.
  • Continue seeing your dentist for regular checkups and when 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.
Body piercing is a big decision. We hope that this guide answers your questions and helps you understand all of the possible risks, so that you can make a decision that’s best for you. If you do decide to get a body piercing, we hope that you will follow the safety guidelines for after-care. Go to a reliable salon/piercer, buy the right kind of jewelry, keep the site clean and see your health care provider if you have symptoms of an infection.