Just when you thought you were well-versed in piercings, a new one comes along. Enter: the smiley piercing. While this may sound like a piercing on your cheeks or dimples, a smiley piercing actually involves piercing a part of your upper lip.
Intrigued? We are, too, so we spoke with a professional piercer and dermatologist to learn more about them. Read on to learn everything you need to know about smiley piercings— from the type of jewelry you should use to the healing timeline.
Placement: Inside the mouth, through the flap of skin between your upper lip and gums
Pricing: Between $30 to $90, depending on the piercer
Pain level: 4/10
Healing time: 3-4 weeks for complete healing
Aftercare: Rinse with mouthwash after eating or drinking for 2-4 weeks; apply ice outside the lip if swelling occurs
What is a Smiley Piercing?
A smiley piercing is an oral body modification. Kelly explains that "a smiley piercing is an oral piercing under the middle of the upper lip on the 'flap' that connects the upper lip to the gum." King adds that it's technically known as "the upper lip frenulum," a thin piece of skin that runs from the inside of the upper lip to the gum. The piercing is performed with a needle, which goes through the flap underneath your lip, above your gums.
Like other piercings that are inside the mouth, a smiley piercing is a less visible one. As the name suggests, it will mostly be seen when you smile. Like a tongue piercing, it's hidden when your mouth is closed. How much you see of the piercing jewelry when your mouth is open depends on how large the jewelry is.
Pain and Healing Time
Meet the Expert
Jim Kelly is the body piercing training manager for Banter by Piercing Pagoda.
Dr. Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology.
While all piercings involve some discomfort, you may be surprised that a smiley piercing isn't terribly high in that regard. "There is generally minimal pain during a smiley piercing; the membrane the piercing goes through is incredibly thin with very few nerve endings," explains Kelly. "However, it may be uncomfortable to prepare for as the client has to be more active during the procedure than some other piercings, often washing their hands, wearing gloves, and holding up their upper lip so the piercer can access the piercing area with both hands."
According to King, you can expect a smiley piercing to heal in between four and twelve weeks, provided you don't have any complications. "Oral piercings heal much quicker than other piercings," he adds.
Cost of a Smiley Piercing
A smiley piercing can range in price from $30 to $90. You will likely be charged separately for the jewelry you choose, which is a common practice. You'll also want to plan on tipping your piercer: 20% is standard. Beyond that, you'll want to purchase items for aftercare, so you should also factor those in.
While your piercing is healing, you'll need to be extra diligent about oral care. "Rinse your mouth with saline solution twice daily, and brush your teeth with a mild toothpaste twice daily," King explains. "Use a non-alcohol mouthwash and rinse your mouth with water after eating. You'll also want to avoid touching and moving around the jewelry."
When it comes to your diet, King recommends avoiding alcohol, spicy and acidic foods, and foods that are hard, crispy, or crunchy while it's healing. She also suggests refraining from smoking.
Side Effects of a Smiley Piercing
- Swelling: If you experience swelling, Kelly says, "Use an icepack on the outside of the lip." He notes that "oral piercings can often swell more than other piercings."
- Wearing Down Your Gums or Teeth: This is something you should potentially anticipate. Kelly explains, "wearing jewelry long term in a smiley piercing will almost always cause gum wear in the area the jewelry sits. This generally starts at about a year of wear." King adds that "the jewelry could contribute to enamel damage or gum damage," and "if a piece of jewelry is worn that sits over the teeth for visibility, long-term wear can cause teeth to shift or wear down as well. If there is unrelated trauma to the face/mouth area, this piercing can increase likelihood of broken or damaged teeth."
- Infection: King tells us that infection and rejection of the piercing are possible. Proper care should prevent this, and the first thing to do if you sense an infection is to make sure you are rinsing with saline or alcohol-free mouthwash frequently enough. If this does not stop the infection, visit your piercer or a medical professional immediately. You may need antibiotics to stop the infection. If your body is rejecting the jewelry, see your piercer to have them remove it at once.
How to Change a Smiley Piercing
If you are going to change your smiley piercing yourself, King recommends waiting at least three months. "Rinse with salt water first and always ensure your hands are clean," she says. However, Kelly adds, "It may be difficult to manipulate the lip to do so on your own, so going to a professional piercer to help with the changeout is recommended."
What Type of Jewelry Is Used for A Smiley Piercing?
- Captive Bead Ring: This is a round piece of jewelry with a separate centerpiece, held captive by the tension of the jewelry's metal. It's commonly used for septum piercings. Also called a captive hoop or a ball closure ring, you'll remove the jewelry by removing the bead in the center. To put it in your piercing hole, you'll insert the metal and then add the bead to the center.
- Barbell: There are numerous shapes of barbell jewelry, but the one most often used for a smiley piercing is a curved barbell. This is a horseshoe shape and is also often used for septum piercings. The metal is shaped like a U, with balls at each side's end. These can be internally or externally threaded, depending on the jewelry. To use it, you remove the ball from one side, place it in your piercing hole, then screw the ball back in.
What Jewelry Material Is Used for A Smiley Piercing?
"Although there are risks of wearing 'hard' metal jewelry in this area, it is still recommended to do so for overall health and comfort," Kelly says. "Soft jewelry is generally not recommended because it is usually acrylic which is porous and can seep toxic plastics into the bloodstream."
- Titanium: Kelly says, "standard titanium jewelry is usually best."
- Gold: While you may be inclined to choose gold jewelry, it may not be the best option. "Gold can be worn but may react to saliva and change color or wear unevenly," Kelly says.
- Niobium: King suggests only hypoallergenic materials as they aren't likely to corrode—niobium is a common one.