Body Piercing


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What is body piercing?

Body piercing is when a hole is made in your skin or through a part of your body so you can add a piece of jewelry for decoration.

What parts of my body can I pierce?

The earlobe is the most common body piercing. Other common places to pierce include the eyebrow, nose, tongue, lip, belly button, nipples and genitals. Some people also pierce their ear cartilage (the hard part around the ear).

How is piercing performed?

For piercing earlobes, a single-use, sterilized piercing gun is typically used to insert an earring into the earlobe. For other parts of the body, a hollow needle is used to pierce a hole in the skin. The person performing the piercing then inserts a piece of jewelry into the hole.

What is an autoclave?

An autoclave is a type of sterilization machine that uses heat to sterilize all non-disposable piercing tools. The autoclave helps make sure that all tools are clean before they touch your body. It is an important piece of equipment in a clean, reputable piercing shop.

Are piercing guns safe?

Piercing guns are considered safe only if they are either single-use guns or guns that have sterilized disposable cassettes. A single-use piercing gun is best because it means that it is only used on one customer and then thrown away, which decreases the risk of infection. Piercing guns with sterilized disposable cassettes are also considered acceptable, but are more difficult to sterilize than single-use piercing guns.

Do not receive a piercing from a reusable piercing gun that does not have sterilized disposable cassettes. These types of piercing guns cannot be autoclaved, which increases the risk of infection.

You should also not have a piercing performed with a piercing gun on any other part of your body except your ear. Doing so can crush the skin and cause more injury than a piercing performed with a hollow needle.

How do I know if my piercing is infected?

If your piercing is infected, the skin around the pierced area may be red and swollen. It may hurt when you touch your piercing. You may have a yellowish, foul-smelling discharge coming from the piercing. If you have a fever or experience any of these symptoms, you should see your family doctor.

What increases my risk of problems from body piercing?

Many things can affect your body's immune system and your ability to fight infection. Be sure to tell the person piercing you if you have diabetes, heart problems, a weakened immune system or any other medical conditions. If you take steroids or blood thinners, talk to your doctor before you get a piercing.

How are infections treated?

It is very important to see your family doctor if you think you might have an infection. Delaying treatment can result in a more serious infection. Be sure to leave your jewelry in unless your doctor tells you to take it out. Leaving the jewelry in can ensure proper drainage and prevent an abscess (a collection of pus) from forming. In many cases, the infection can be treated without losing the piercing.

Minor infections may be treated with the following:

  • Over-the-counter medicines that you rub on your skin, such as an antibiotic ointment
  • A warm compress applied to the irritated piercing
  • Mild sea salt soaks

How can I prevent an infection?

Make sure you take care of your piercing. The person performing your piercing will probably recommend cleaning the area with warm water and soap twice a day, as well as using a liquid medicated cleanser and gently moving the piercing around. For a tongue or lip piercing, you will need to use an antibacterial mouth rinse after meals to prevent infection.

Who should perform my body piercing?

If you are going to have a piercing done, do some research to find a clean, safe piercing shop. Choose a professional with a good reputation to perform the piercing. The person doing the piercing should:

  • Wash his or her hands with a germicidal soap before doing the piercing
  • Wear disposable gloves
  • Use disposable or sterilized tools
  • Use a new needle to do the piercing

Do not pierce yourself or let anyone pierce you who is not a professional. This will help prevent infection. Select the body site and jewelry carefully. Avoid jewelry made or nickel or brass, which can cause allergic reactions. Look for jewelry made of titanium, 14-carat gold or surgical-grade steel.

Source

Complications of Body Piercing by DI Meltzer, M.D. (American Family Physician November 15, 2005, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20051115/2029.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 07/10
Created: 05/06

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