From your ears and eyebrows to navels, nipples and genitals, there are lots of unique ways to express yourself these days with body piercings—whether it be for personal, cultural or artistic reasons.
But before you (or your child) lend an ear or other body part to someone with a needle, you’ll want to get brushed up on some important dos and don’ts, like how you should get pierced and who should perform it. If you don’t, you could end up with some gnarly, and even dangerous, consequences such as an infection.
10 dos and don’ts for body piercings
1. DO: Go with a hollow needle not a piercing gun
When it comes to getting pierced, go with a sharp, hollow needle versus a piercing gun.
“Sharp, hollow needles are less painful and safer than using piercing guns,” Dr. Kronborg said. “Places like Claire’s and other retail shops don’t have the same health care standards, proper training requirements and restrictions that you’ll find at a doctor’s office or tattoo parlor that use needles versus a gun.”
A trained piercing professional will pierce your skin with a sterile razor-sharp hollow needle that will safely remove the section of skin without causing damage to the surrounding tissue. It’s less painful (and less shocking) than a piercing gun and allows for a much more natural healing process.
2. DO: Be aware of any medical issues or previous reactions
If you have a health problem, uncontrolled diabetes, bleeding or clotting disorders or a bloodborne virus, your chances of infection are higher. Talk to your doctor to consider your risks. If you smoke, are anemic or pregnant, you could also be at risk for infection.
“Sometimes during pregnancy, abdominal, genital and nipple piercings can be rejected by the body, which could lead to tearing and scarring,” Dr. Kronborg said.
If you’ve had a prior allergic reaction to piercing materials, it may be a good idea to stay away as well. You will want to discuss allergies to things like latex and metals with your piercer before the procedure.
3. DO: Think about where you want to get pierced and the implications
An eyebrow or labret (lip area) piercing may be cool in your 20s, but it may not be hip or accepted at your 9-to-5 office job in your 30s. As well, if you plan on taking them in and out for work (or to hide from certain family members), you can also increase your chances for infection.
Healing will also be impacted by where you place your piercing. The area around it is going to be tender and sensitive through the healing process, so you’ll need to pay special attention to it. Surface piercings and piercings of the cartilage will take a long time to heal. Oral piercings and ear piercings, on the other hand, are very fast healing if well cared for.
Another thing to consider is your lifestyle. “If you’re very physically active, a navel or belly button piercing might not be a good choice,” Dr. Kronborg said. “All the jostling and trauma increases healing time and the risk of infection.”
4. DO: Follow all recommended care instructions
You’ll want to do extensive research on what is involved with aftercare and ask your piercer to clarify any questions you may have. Be aware that some aftercare instructions are different depending on the part being pierced, so only get a piercing if you’re committed to the aftercare. You don’t want an unpleasant infection.
“As a general rule, use soap and water twice a day to keep the pierced area clean,” Dr. Kronborg said. “For oral piercings, it’s best to use alcohol-free mouthwash after eating and ice to reduce swelling.”
5. DO: Consider the possibility of removal
You may eventually decide to remove your piercing someday, so carefully consider the possibility of potential scarring or permanent changes to your body, as is the case with ear gauges that permanently stretch out your earlobes.
In rare cases, sometimes the body can also reject a piercing. If you notice your piercing is moving, you may want to remove it so that it doesn’t leave a scar.
6. DO: Think about the timing of your piercing
While you’re out drinking with friends, that may not be the best time to stumble down the street for a piercing (or a tattoo, for that matter). “Alcohol thins your blood and can cause more bleeding and bruising to the area you’re getting pierced,” Dr. Kronborg said. “This increases the risk of pain, swelling and infection as well.”
You also may want to consider getting your piercing after your period and hold off until after a vacation or a high stress situation. Exposure to salt water, heat or extreme cold can be very hard on a new piercing. You’ll want to stay out of pools, hot tubs, lakes and other bodies of water until your piercing has healed. “The piercing can always wait for a more opportune time, giving you more time to think about it,” Dr. Kronborg said.
7. DON’T: Use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and ointments
Alcohol or hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin and delay healing, and antibiotic ointments can prevent the oxygen necessary for healing from reaching the area and attract dirt, which can lead to infection.
8. DON’T: Fiddle with your body piercing
It may be tempting to turn, touch or move the piercing, but once you’ve cleaned it, leave it alone. “The less movement in the freshly-pierced area, the more chance of complete and quick recovery,” Dr. Kronborg said.
9. DON’T: Take out the piercing until it’s completely healed
You should never swap out your jewelry before your piercing has completely healed. Doing so can lead to infection, scarring and even a rejection of the jewelry.
10. DON’T: Delay getting in touch with your doctor if you have complications.
If there is too much redness, swelling at the site, continued pain or you notice pus developing, contact your health care provider, or visit Banner urgent care.