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Dermal piercings—also known as microdermal piercings or single-point piercings—are piercings that lie flat against the surface of the skin. The completely flat affect occurs because dermal piercings don’t have a separate entry and exit point; instead, a dermal anchor is installed directly under the skin. This anchor is around six or seven millimeters long, and the top of it sits on the surface layer of the skin, making it look like there are beads directly underneath the dermis. The jewelry is then installed by being screwed into the top of the post.
"It's actually a single point piercing that is anchored to hold tight to the surface of the skin with a beautiful gemstone or flat piece of jewelry on top," says Jessie Darling, a professional body piercer at Taunton Tattoo Company in Ontario, Canada. "Most commonly, dermals [sic] are placed under the eyes or [on the] collar bones, back dimples, arms, hips, or chest."
What makes dermal piercings so popular is that they can be placed on almost any flat surface of the body, making it easy to modify parts of the body that would otherwise be difficult to pierce. Be careful when looking to get a dermal piercing, however; some people actually mean surface piercings when they say dermal. The major difference here is that a surface piercing is a barbell that sits on the surface of the skin and has an entry and exit point. It’s created by pinching the skin, sticking a needle through it to create a “passageway” for the jewelry, and inserting a barbell into the flesh so both ends are visible while the middle sits below the surface of the skin.
Placement: Dermal piercings can be placed on any flat surface of the body, but are most commonly placed on the cheekbones, on the collar bones, back dimples, back of the neck, arms, hips, forearms, or chest.
Pricing: Between $70 and $100, though jewelry is an additional charge.
Pain level: 3/10, though this depends on the location of the piercing.
Healing time: On average, dermal piercings take between one to three months to heal.
Aftercare: Thoroughly clean the area once a day, pat dry with a clean piece of paper towel, then apply a fresh Band-Aid. Repeat for seven days.
Pain and Healing Time
Just like with any body modification, there is going to be some pain when it comes to dermal piercings. Unless your pain tolerance is extremely high, you will most likely feel some sort of discomfort—whether a pinch or a more visceral feeling.
"Dermal piercings feel like pressure," notes Darling. "Everyone is a little different, so pain levels may differ from others. Most of my clients say it wasn't as bad as they expected!"
It’s fairly dependent on where you choose to place your dermal piercing as well. Considering nerve placement, the different thicknesses of skin, and proximity to veins will be helpful when choosing a placement, as they’re all elements that affect how much a piercing will hurt.
On average, dermal piercings take between one to three months to heal; however, the length of time completely depends on how you care for it. While you should keep an eye out for possible signs of infection, it’s normal for a new piercing site to crust up and slightly swell.
Cost of Dermal Piercing
The cost of a dermal piercing is completely up to the studio, but a well-done one by a reputable and experienced piercer will generally cost you between $70 and $100. It’s important to note that many shops will also charge for jewelry on top of the actual piercing service, so be prepared to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 or more for good quality (and good looking) metal.
On top of the base and jewelry prices, there are a few more elements that need to be taken care of as well. Just like getting a tattoo, it’s standard and expected that you tip your piercer for their hard work—at least 20 percent, but more if you feel so inclined. There are also costs associated with aftercare, like saline solution and bandages.
The best way to get an accurate idea of how much a dermal piercing will actually cost is to call the shop ahead of your appointment and ask what they charge, as well as what they recommend for aftercare so you can be prepared before it’s even scheduled.
"I suggest to my clients thoroughly cleaning the area once a day ... pat dry with a clean piece of paper towel, then apply a fresh Band-Aid," says Darling. "This routine should be faithfully adhered to for seven days; beyond the seventh day, no Band-Aid is required, but proper hygiene is key for a happy and healthy dermal."
During the healing process, make sure that you keep the fresh piercing site covered for the recommended amount of time. Once you uncover it, it’s important to clean it twice a day with a sea salt or saline solution, making sure to gently wipe any crusty build-up, and pat the piercing dry with a new paper towel each time to stop any potential spread of bacteria. Don’t submerge the piercing site during the healing process either. If you can’t avoid it, like during showers, at least cover the piercing to ensure it doesn’t get wet.
The healing process can be hindered by elements you may not think of. Make sure not to let your hair get tangled in the jewelry if the piercing is near it; consider wearing it up during the healing process to ensure they don’t get tangled up. In terms of clothing, don’t wear anything tight around the piercing site so it can breathe and to decrease the risk of infection. Be careful of sports or high-energy exercise, as collisions are possible and extra sweat may mean a higher risk of infection. Keep hands off the piercing when not cleaning it, including not changing the jewelry until it has fully healed.
Common Areas on the Body for Dermal Piercings
As mentioned before, one of the best things about dermal piercings is their ability to be placed anywhere flat on the body. Some of the most popular areas to get a dermal piercing include the chest, lower back, thighs, cheekbones, back of the neck, forearm, hand, and even dimples. The nature of dermal piercings is that if you can imagine piercing it, you most likely can. You can spruce up a tattoo with a dermal piercing, highlight a facial feature you love, or even pierce your neck or wrist for some permanent jewelry.
The process of a dermal piercing is much simpler than it may seem. First, your skin is cleaned by the piercer to ensure no bacteria gets into the fresh wound, and a small mark is drawn to indicate where the jewelry will go. The piercer will quickly puncture the skin with a needle or skin punch to create an empty space (or “pocket") where the metal will sit. Then, the anchor of the jewelry is inserted into the small opening by the piercer—either by hand or with a small pair of forceps—until it’s completely under the skin’s surface. Once set, the top is screwed or placed on, depending upon the type you’ve chosen. The whole process only takes a matter of minutes; a good artist will probably spend more time sterilizing than actually piercing.
"The area is disinfected thoroughly, [then] marked with a marker to make sure you and I like the placement," says Darling. "We then use a tool called a dermal punch to remove a little (1.5 to 2 millimeter) pocket of skin. We then use a taper tool that allows us to create room for the anchor base to fit snug. Lastly, we place an anchor base with decorative top into our pocket and gently make sure it's sitting properly. You now have a dermal!"
- Infection: If the healing process is not handled properly, your new piercing could become infected. Signs that something has gone wrong include severe pain, hot-to-the-touch skin around the piercing site, yellow or green pus, severe swelling, a rash, or a bad-smelling odor. It’s not just the actual wound that shows symptoms; your jewelry may become displaced, hang or droop, or completely detach from its anchor. If any of these things happen to your dermal piercing, be sure to see a doctor immediately to ensure the infection doesn’t become worse.
- Tissue damage: If a piercing infection isn’t caught, there’s a risk of something worse happening. The primary major risk is tissue damage, which happens when the piercing isn’t installed properly. If it’s too deep in the skin, a dermal piercing may embed and pull skin layers together. A shallow piercing, on the other hand, may move around.
- Hypergranulation: Another possible issue is hypergranulation, which is a red bump that shows up around the piercing site due to too much pressure being placed on the site—either by jewelry that is too tight, non-breathable clothing, or something else.
- Scarring: This is also possible if you play with or remove your jewelry during the healing process. The best way to ensure nothing goes wrong during healing is to follow all directions, keep the wound clean, and get pierced by a certified professional in the first place.
How to Change the Jewelry
Once the piercing has healed, you’re more than welcome to change the external jewelry. If you feel confident in this process, you can try it yourself. Make sure to wash your hands and piercing thoroughly—with antibacterial soap and saline solution, respectively—before drying it. Unscrew the jewelry top counterclockwise, but never force it. If there’s any resistance, stop the process. Twist your new jewelry on in a clockwise direction and clean the site again. If your jewelry is stubborn or you’re unsure whether you’re doing it correctly, it’s recommended that you have your piercer change the jewelry to be sure it’s done safely and correctly.
No matter what it looks like, though, a dermal piercing isn’t permanent; your skin will eventually grow in such a way that pushes the anchor up to the surface and out. Whether this happens right as it heals or years later is up to your body and how you care for it. However, if you don’t want to wait for your body to naturally purge your dermal piercing, it is possible to have it removed by a professional piercer. Never take out a dermal piercing on your own.
"Dermals can last as long as you properly care for them," Darling says. "I have clients who have had dermals for over eight years. If you treat them well, they could last a very long time. But don't fret; if you have a dermal you don't want anymore, it can also be removed by a skilled piercer or your family doctor."
There are two processes for taking out a dermal piercing. The first is done by having a piercer gently massage the piercing area to dislodge the anchor from its location under the skin. Once it’s loose, the piercer will twist the anchor to break the skin and be able to pull it out. This process is generally reserved for newer piercings. For older or stubborn piercings, the piercer will make a small incision with a scalpel or tweezers (depending on the jewelry’s size) and pull it out of the skin. While professionals may use anesthetics to dull the pain, you should expect a removed dermal piercing to leave a scar if the skin has to be cut open to remove it
What Type of Jewelry Is Used for Dermal Piercings?
Dermal anchor: Although dermal piercings are small, they require a lot of different elements to be sure they’re properly applied to the skin. The first major part is the dermal anchor, which comes in flat-footed and rounded-base varieties. These are both acceptable, but a flat-footed anchor is more common and more widely liked because the foot is at an angle, making it less likely to let go of your skin and pop out than a rounded-base type.
Dermal top: The next element is a dermal top, which is the actual jewelry that is screwed on to the top of the anchor and is completely removable and interchangeable. While possible to change, however, getting a dermal top switched out is generally done by a piercer, so you can also consider magnetic tops—rather than screw-on ones—if you’d rather not have to go to a piercing shop every time you want to change up your piercing.
Diver: In some cases, you may see a dermal piercing with a diver, a pointed-end base with preset jewelry. This is inserted by being punched under the surface of the skin, rather than by needle, and cannot be changed once inserted.
What Jewelry Material Is Used for Dermal Piercings?
Regardless of whether your jewelry can be switched up, the metals most used for dermal piercings are titanium (or anodized titanium), surgical-grade stainless steel, and niobium. The most common and most recommended metal for any body jewelry is surgical-grade stainless steel—though it may cause irritation for those with more sensitive skin. Titanium (and anodized titanium) is the safest and best option for the latter, as it’s the least likely metal to cause irritation of any kind. Niobium is less common, but is sometimes used for its lightweight and hypoallergenic properties.