Even though body piercings are not as permanent as tattoos, you still want to take some care when deciding where and how to get pierced. After all, body art makes a statement and can be part of your identity. There are so many different types and styles to choose from, not to mention locations on the body. And the typical pain levels, risks, and healing times differ between different types of piercings. Knowing these factors can help you make the right decision and best prepare when deciding on a new piercing.
A piercing is also an investment and carries the potential for infection, so it's important that you go to a hygienic and reputable studio and adhere to all the proper aftercare instructions to properly clean your new piercing. So, while it might seem like getting something as small as a little piercing should be simple, as it turns out, there's a lot to think about. After all, you want to stay healthy and safe, have a successful piercing experience, and enjoy your new body art for years to come. So, to help us cover all the must-know information about body piercings, we turned to a professional body piercer and a dermatologist.
Keep reading for our complete guide to body piercings.
Meet the Expert
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, practicing at the Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Center.
- Sheena Rose is a professional body piercer at Salt & Light Tattoo and has over 13 years of experience.
- Cozmo Faris has been a professional piercer for over 12 years. He is also a Byrdie Beauty & Wellness Review Board Member.
Ear piercings run the gamut from traditional piercings to edgier ones, which is probably why earrings are so popular. An orbital piercing, for example, runs from side to side rather than front to back, with two pierced holes instead of one. Some pierce the cartilage, which may take longer to heal, while others are in the fleshy parts. “Various cartilage piercings on the ear, including Daith, snug, helix, and conch, have various healing timeframes and pain thresholds. Generally speaking, [expect about] four to 12 months for healing,” says Rose. Cartilage piercings are also more prone to infection since cartilage has less blood supply to help fight germs.
- Lobe (including Orbital): “The earlobe piercing is the easiest piercing to get in terms of pain and healing,” says Rose. “It is with minimal discomfort, and healing can take four to six weeks.” With that said, Rose does advise against using rubbing alcohol and peroxide, and wearing face masks that go behind your ears. “The contact from the masks cause pressure, introduce bacteria, and cause irritation, which interferes with healing,” she says. “Use ones that tie around the head, gators, bandanas, or anything other than the strings.”
- Helix and Helix Orbital: Along the curled outer edge of your upper ear cartilage.
- Conch: The conch is at the large opening of your ear and, it might be one of the riskiest for damage to the cartilage and possible infection.
- Daith: A cartilage piercing of the innermost cartilage fold.
- Rook: Along the inner ridge of ear cartilage that runs down the center, parallel to the outer rim.
- Tragus and Anti-Tragus: The rounded protuberance of cartilage just outside the ear canal.
- Industrial/Scaffold: A two-hole piercing, the jewelry includes a long-spanning bar.
- Snug/Anti-Helix: Along the vertical inner cartilage ridge.
If you’re interested in an edgier look, you might consider a facial piercing. Rose says that for any piercing site—facial or otherwise—the pain level experienced is individual because everyone’s threshold and sensitivity are different. “I’ve had clients who have said they felt only pressure to those who are more sensitive and jump,” says Rose. “Each piercing can be tender for a few weeks and even a few months depending on if they are impacted such as [during] a tight hug or caught on an article of clothing.”
- Erl/Bridge: Across the bridge of the nose.
- Dimple/Cheek: Pierced through to the inside of your mouth.
- Septum: This pierces the soft tissue of the center of your nose.
- Nostril: Through the soft cartilage of the nostril.
- Eyebrow: These are surface piercings.
Oral piercings certainly can tick off the “edgy aesthetic” box, and they can also be more inconspicuous than most facial piercings, which has its advantages. “Although oral piercings are not comfortable, they are not as painful as one would suspect,” notes Garshick. “That said, they are at an increased risk of infection, so it is important to be mindful of proper aftercare and proper oral hygiene, including teeth brushing, flossing, and frequent rinsing in the mouth.”
In addition to cleaning the outside of the piercing daily, Rose recommends using a “saline spray for the outside of an oral piercing and either a saltwater mixture or Biotene to be used after eating, drinking, or smoking for two weeks.” While oral piercings tend to heal fairly quickly—in about four weeks if you're not a smoker—they can be painful for some time.
- Tongue: This may be a painful piercing, as the tongue has many nerve endings.
- Tongue Web/Frenulum: The thin strip of connective tissue under your tongue.
- Frowny: Through the thin connective tissue under the bottom lip.
- Smiley/Scrumper: Through the thin connective tissue above the upper lip. It can be painful.
- Lip: Most piercings are both external and oral.
- Snake Bites: Two symmetrical lower lip piercings, more like fangs than bites.
- Medusa/Philtrum: The indentation between your upper lip and nose; it's both an oral and lip piercing.
- Monroe: In the area of a beauty mark, through the upper lip into the mouth.
- Labrets and Lowbrets: Under the center of your lower lip, through to the inside of your mouth.
The body itself offers a large canvas for nearly endless piercing possibilities. But, keep in mind that certain areas of the body will require more healing time and also may have a risk of rejection or migration. “The skin on the body tends to heal slower than the skin on the face, so it is normal for a body piercing to take longer to heal,” explains Garshick. “Additionally, areas that have more nerve endings are often more sensitive and can be more painful, which includes genital and nipple piercings, [but] belly button piercings tend to be less painful as there is more tissue.” Surface piercings may also have a higher risk of rejection or migration. “Common risks are bumps, irritation, and swelling, and less common are actual infections,” notes Rose.
- Navel/Belly Button: This requires a lot of aftercare as it is a very germy area, and you'll need to be diligent for three to four months.
- Nipple Piercings (M+F): Healing takes at least six months.
- Nape: A horizontal surface piercing on the back of the neck with balls at each end.
- Sternum/Cleavage: This has a higher risk of rejection.
- Madison: A surface piercing at the clavicle has a higher chance of rejection.
- Dermal Anchors/Micro-dermal Implants: Protruding implants.
- Corset Piercings: Parallel rows of piercings you can connect with string or ribbon. "These piercings are typically just for play and are immediately removed after pictures are taken," Byrdie review board member and professional piercer Cozmo Faris says. "They are not piercings that people heal and keep."
Selecting the Right Piercing Artist and Studio
Getting a new piercing is exciting, but you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money and endure the pain of a piercing only to have it end in disaster. Take your time and find a really good piercing artist that you can feel confident in.
In addition to reading reviews online, here are a few tips to help you find the right piercing artist and studio:
Visit several studios.
If you have several studios in your area, visit as many of them as you can, or even travel out of the area to find others to compare.
Check the portfolio.
Rose says to take a look at examples of piercings the piercing artist has done in the past. Do they look well placed? Do lobe piercings look even?
Ask your friends.
If your friends have had a good experience, they will probably recommend their artist. And if they've had a bad experience, they'll warn you not to make the same mistake. Also, many people love to talk about their body art, so don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from strangers with oh-so-craveable piercings.
Rose says that many states do not regulate the body art industry, so it’s up to the consumer to find a reputable shop with great piercers. “When researching a shop, look for reputable places that use single-use sterile equipment, implant grade metals, and have clean autoclave spore tests,” she says. The forceps, needle, jewelry, and any other metal equipment should be removed from an autoclave bag, with gloved hands, in your presence. And, under no circumstances should you be pierced anywhere on your body with a piercing gun, squeeze piercer, or any other object other than a clean, sterile, body-piercing-approved needle.
“It is important to find a piercing studio that is clean, uses sterile tools, and takes proper care when performing piercings,” notes Garshick, who says this includes washing hands and wearing gloves prior to performing the piercing. “Additionally, it is best to use earrings that are implant grade stainless steel, titanium, 14- or 18-karat gold, or niobium. It is important to avoid earrings with nickel, cobalt, or white gold, as [these metals] can make the skin itchy and red,” advises Garshick. Lastly, many piercers will use some kind of pen to mark your skin before inserting the needle. It should be brand new and then thrown in the trash after they are finished.
You can also see if your board-certified dermatologist performs piercings because that can be a very clean, safe, and professional option.
Body Piercing Aftercare
Our experts say that, in general, the aftercare for a piercing is similar no matter where it is located. "Most piercing professionals agree that the best aftercare is a twice daily saline soak to gently remove any debris that may build up, followed by patting dry with a clean paper towel," Faris says. "Otherwise, the piercings should be left alone and not touched."
Rose says that additional important aftercare instructions are to keep your hair up and away from your piercing for a few weeks and avoid swimming for at least 30 days to minimize the risk of infection. “Avoid sleeping on the piercings, if possible. If [you’re] not able to, simply using a travel pillow can help alleviate any sleeping discomfort,” she notes. “[And] avoid wearing face makeup for a couple of weeks as that can promote bumps and irritation.”
Lastly, Garshick says to always make sure your hands are clean when caring for your piercings. She adds, “It is important to leave the earrings in for at least six weeks to prevent the piercings from closing.”
When to See a Doctor
“After a piercing, there are various skin conditions that can occur, including an infection, which may require topical or oral antibiotics; allergic reactions as a result of something used at the time of the piercing, to the earring itself or something being used during the aftercare such as Neosporin; and hypertrophic or keloid scar formation, which can be treated with cortisone injections,” explains Garshick. She says that if you experience pus, drainage, redness, tenderness, pain, warmth, or significant itching, it may be a sign that something is wrong. It is wise to contact your dermatologist or GP to determine if any treatment is needed. “Some piercing sites may be prone to keloids or scarring, so if you are noticing any bumps around the piercing site, it is always best to have this checked out sooner rather than later to determine the etiology and see if any treatment would be helpful,” advises Garshick.
She recommends that you follow up with a doctor as soon as possible after getting a new piercing, even if your piercing seems fine. This will reduce the potential complications and make sure the piercing heals properly.
Gabriel OT, Anthony OO, Paul EA, Ayodele SO. Trends and complications of ear piercing among selected Nigerian population. J Family Med Prim Care. 2017;6(3):517-521. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.222045
Association of Professional Piercers. Safe Piercing FAQ.