So you've tried the faux lip ring, and now you're ready for the real thing. But ask yourself, "How much do I really know about lip piercings?" We're all in support of your creative self-expression, but we urge you to take a few seconds to go over the important things before making such a serious commitment (hint: the aftercare is no joke).
As cool as lip rings are, there are a few facts you'd probably like to know about beforehand to make you feel a bit more comfortable going into your piercing appointment. So, we reached out to a celebrity piercer to get all the answers for you. Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric Tattoo in LA knows more than most when it comes to body piercings. Ahead, his expert advice for what you should know before getting your lip pierced.
Meet the Expert
- Brian Keith Thompson is a professional celebrity piercer and the owner of Body Electric Tattoo in Los Angeles.
Placement: Popular placements include under the bottom lip, centered on the indent beneath the nostrils, side of the upper lip
Pricing: $30-$40, not including the cost of the jewelry
Pain Level: 4/10
Healing Time: Two to three months
Aftercare: Practice good mouth hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day, rinsing with alcohol-free mouthwash 3-5 times daily, not smoking, and avoiding alcohol.
What is a Lip Piercing?
A lip piercing is, well, a piercing on your upper or lower lip. One of the reasons a lip piercing is always such a popular choice is thanks to the sheer amount of style options available and ways to customize them. No placement is better than the other, but there might be one that better suits your personal style.
According to Thompson, there are several popular placements: First, the labret, which is typically underneath the bottom lip in the center, but can also exit out the middle of the bottom lip (a vertical labret). Next, you have the philtrum (aka Medusa), which is in the center of the indentation underneath your nostrils. You also have side-lip piercings, and when those are on the upper lip, they're often referred to as Monroe or Madonna, depending on the side of the face.
Pain and Healing Time
A lip piercing is going to hurt, but it's tolerable. Like most body piercings, the procedure itself will be quick, and the biggest concern will be the aftercare. Of course, with the sensitive nature of the piercing placement, you'll need to be extra careful not to snag, bite, or otherwise accidentally bump or move your jewelry in your new piercing. This type of friction can might not only prolong the healing but also cause unnecessary added discomfort.
Brace yourself, because the healing time for a lip piercing is around 2 to 3 months, depending on your body and how you heal. "With your mouth, you’re talking, eating, and drinking all day long, so it can be a tough one," Thompson says. "You’re healing a fistula, and that’s a tunnel of scar tissue being built around the jewelry, so it takes time. The body's going to seal off the exterior first to prevent bacteria, then it’s going to start healing inwards, so it takes a while."
As with any piercing, there are important steps to keeping the area clean and preventing infection. Says piercer Cozmo Faris, "Use an alcohol-free mouthwash three to five times a day to flush the inside of the piercing. These flushes should happen anytime after the person eats or drinks. For the outside of the piercing, a sterile saline wound wash such as H2Ocean or Neilmed should be used twice daily to irrigate the area; a five-second saturation should do the trick followed by letting the area air-dry."
Possibly the most important thing to do to encourage the healing process? Be patient. "As it starts healing outwards, you’ll think it’s healed. But what you don’t realize is it’s still healing internally, so you stop taking care of it, then it regresses," says Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and Attending Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. In other words, be diligent about taking care of the area for the first three months, and help out your immune system by eating right, staying hydrated, and avoiding stress.
Side Effects of Lip Piercing
- Infection: Since you're dealing with your mouth, which has a lot of bacteria, there's great potential for infection. And since lip piercings are often on the outside of your skin and inside of your mouth, you'll want to keep both ends of the piercing clean. Brush your teeth after every meal and use alcohol-free mouthwash.
- Swelling and inflammation: "While some swelling is normal, proper aftercare of the piercing will keep it under control and help it heal," says Sobel. If you smoke cigarettes, try to stop. "Alcohol and smoking will cause more inflammation," Thompson says. "If you can’t abstain for a few weeks after getting it pierced, I’d say wait for a time when you can."
Thompson says to keep the outside of your piercing clean like you would any other body piercing: with soap and water. He recommends Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Unscented Baby-Mild Pure-Castile Soap ($8) or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($16) for sensitive skin. He also suggests using the NeilMed NeilCleanse Piercing Aftercare ($15) to help keep the area clean.
How to Change Out Lip Piercings
There really is no straightforward answer to this question because everyone is different. "After you heal something, some people can leave it out for days and weeks, and some people can only leave it out for a few minutes before it closes," Thompson says. "It really depends on your body."
If you're worried about how quickly your lip piercing will close up, it's probably because you're looking to swap out your jewelry for something a little more your vibe. That's totally understandable, but the longer you wait for the initial change you want to make, the better. "You want to wait at least six weeks, but I would say eight to 10 weeks is even better." But if you're dying to change yours sooner and you had your original piercing done with a post, there is a tiny glimmer of hope. Thompson says as long as the post stays in, you can change the top whenever you want.
What Type of Jewelry is Used for a Lip Piercing?
- Gauges: For the fastest, most seamless healing process, Thompson recommends piercing with a 16 or 18 gauge and using a titanium or gold metal.
- Studs: "People do anchors in their lip, surface barbells, studs on the top, bottom, center, side—there are a lot [of options]," Thompson says. "Most piercings heal better with a stud."
- Hoops and rings: If you do choose to go with a hoop or a ring, Thompson recommends using a larger size. "The lip is red because it’s very vascular, so it tends to swell. Your body’s not going to reject a lip piercing, but it’s too much tissue the hoop is going through."
What Jewelry Material is Used for Lip Piercing?
- Stainless Steel: "Stainless steel is actually the best metal to use for lip piercings because your body can adapt to it quite easily and it doesn’t usually become infected," says Sobel.
- 14 karat Gold or Platinum: Other safe bets for the area are high-quality precious metals such as 14 karat gold or platinum, according to Sobel. He notes, "Many people have allergies to certain types of metal. It seems obvious, but definitely take into consideration your allergies and select metals accordingly. Stay away from nickel."
Center for Young Women's Health. Body piercing. Updated February 5, 2020.