People have been piercing their noses for a variety of reasons for more than 4,000 years, giving nose piercing one of the longest and richest histories of any type of body piercing. The practice of nostril piercing originated in the Middle East and traveled from there to India and beyond, yet it took thousands of years to become a common practice in western civilization. Likewise, septum piercing was practiced among tribal and warrior cultures around the world for thousands of years before being adopted by western civilization.
Why did people first start piercing their noses? Where did septum and nostril piercing originate? How has the practice changed over time as different cultures have adopted the tradition? We answer these questions and more here in our History of Nose Piercings.
Definition of Nose Piercing & Nose Rings
Nose piercing is the practice of piercing one or both nostrils, the septum, the nasal bridge, or the tip of the nose with a needle so that jewelry can be inserted. The most common types of nose piercings are nostril piercings and septum piercings. Other types of nose piercings include bridge piercings through the nasal bridge between the eyes, rhino piercings placed vertically at an angle through the tip of the nose, nasallang piercings placed horizontally through the nostrils and septum, and high nostril piercings. The term "nose ring" most commonly refers to jewelry worn in nostril piercings, which may include labret studs, hoops, nostril screws, or nose bones. Septum jewelry includes septum tusks, horseshoe-shaped pinchers, hoops, and occasionally barbells. Bent barbells and straight barbells are most commonly used in bridge piercings, and straight barbells are the preferred style of jewelry for both rhino piercings and nasallang piercings.
Origins of Nostril Piercing
The first written record of nostril piercing dates back to the Middle East 4,000 years ago. Nostril piercing is also referenced in the Bible, indicating that it was still a common practice in the Middle East nearly 2,000 years later. The Biblical book of Genesis describes Abraham's son Isaac giving his future wife, Rebekah, a golden "Shanf", which is Hebrew for "golden earring" or "nose ring". The practice of men gifting golden nostril rings to their future wives is one that continues to this day among the Bedouin tribes of the Middle East and the Berber and Beja tribes of Africa. These treasured gifts are intended as a form of insurance that represents financial security; should a woman's husband die or divorce her, she can sell her nose ring to provide for herself. Additionally, the size and value of a gifted nostril ring indicates how wealthy a man's family is--or in some cases, the wealth of a woman's family, since there are also some Middle Eastern and African tribes that include nose rings as part of daughters' dowries.
From the Middle East, the practice of nostril piercing was carried to India in the 1500s by the Mughal empire, where it became a common practice that persists to this day. Indian women will either pierce their left nostrils or both nostrils and wear "phul" (nostril studs) or "nath" (nose rings) in them. Indian women have historically been more likely to pierce their left nostrils when only having one side pierced because of beliefs stemming from the ancient Indian natural healing system, Ayurveda. Since the left nostril is tied to the female reproductive organs and fertility in Ayurveda medicine, the theory is that piercing the left nostril will relieve menstrual pain and make child birth easier.
Nostril rings were first introduced to western civilization around 1913, when the French singer Polaire sported a left nostril piercing during a tour of the U.S. However, it wasn't until the 1960s and later that nose piercings became more widely popular in the United States. In the 60's, hippies who had traveled to India brought the practice of nostril piercing with them back to the U.S. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, punk rockers and goths adopted nose piercing as a defiant symbol of rebellion against conservative values and a physical declaration of personal independence.
Today, nose rings are quite common in the mainstream of the US, Europe and beyond. There are still plenty of conservatives who frown on nose piercings, but that hasn't hampered the trend. In addition to young people, progressively more professionals in trades as diverse as business to medicine are adopting the practice of nose piercing now.
Origins of Septum Piercing
Septum piercing, which is the practice of piercing the cartilage wall between the nostrils, has been a common practice among tribal people and warriors throughout history. In fact, septum piercing is second only to ear piercings in popularity among tribal peoples. Many tribal people will stretch their septums so that they can insert tusks, bone, wood, and other larger natural objects. People's reasons for getting septum piercings are just as diverse as the materials they use to create septum jewelry. Beauty, religion, and marking major life milestones have been some of the most common reasons for septum piercing historically. Some tribal cultures believe in piercing the septum as a right of passage, such as when Native American boys reach the age of manhood. Others, like Australian aboriginals, favor septum piercing as a means to enhance one's physical appearance. Warrior tribes have favored septum piercings throughout history because of the fierce look this type of piercing offers, particularly when large pieces of bone are worn as septum jewelry. In parts of India and Asia, women with septum piercings were once deemed more worthy of marriage. Other ancients believed that septum piercing could enhance the sixth sense of brainwave focus, located above the end of the nose.
Various cultures have preferred septum jewelry made of certain materials through time, and septum jewelry has different names in each culture. In the Mayan, Aztec and Inca cultures of South America, gold and jade were the materials of choice for septum jewelry, because of the sacred significance of these materials. Gold symbolized wealth and power, and jade was associated with strong maize crops, rulership and the soul. In Irian Jaya, pig bone plugs as large as 25mm called "Otsj" are the most highly-regarded type of septum jewelry. "Otsj" are also sometimes carved from the bones of enemies slain in battle instead of being crafted from pig bones. In New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, pig tusks are the most popular type of septum jewelry. In India, Nepal and Tibet, people wear "Bulak" in their septum piercings, which are also called "Nathori" in India. "Bulak" are sometimes so large that it can be hard to eat without lifting the jewelry during meals. In the past, it was more common for Bengali women to wear delicate gold "Nathori" rings with dangling teardrops that would slide along the bottom of the rings than it was for them to wear the nostril studs that have become increasingly more popular since the 16th century. The Nez Perc tribe of Native Americans from Washington state were literally named for their nose piercings, which have been popular among many Native American tribes throughout history. ("Nez Perc" translates to "nose pierced" in French.) In Australia, aboriginals wear long sticks or bone in their septum piercings to flatten their noses--a look they find most attractive.
Today, septum piercing is also commonly practiced in western civilization. Although septum piercing isn't as popular overall as nostril piercing, the practice has been widely adopted by the mainstream in recent years. In the US and Europe, men are somewhat more likely to favor septum piercings, whereas women are more likely to have their nostrils pierced.
Modern Day Nose Piercing
Although there are still primitive cultures that perform septum and nostril piercings with natural tools, like the Bundi tribe of Papua New Guinea who use the thin end of sweet potato plants to perform septum piercings, it's now much more common for sterile piercing needles to be used. In the US, Europe, South America, and other more modern societies, professional piercers will clean the skin to be pierced, apply an antiseptic, unwrap a sterile piercing needle, pierce the nostril(s), septum and/or bridge of the nose, and then insert sterile starter jewelry that's typically made of surgical steel, titanium or hypoallergenic BioPlast.
When choosing a piercer to pierce your nose, you should scope out their work environment to make sure it's clean and sterile. Ask if they use an autoclave steam sterilizer to sterilize jewelry and piercing tools. If they use another method other than an autoclave, dry heat sterilizer or chemical bath, you should look for a different piercer to perform your piercing. Also make sure your chosen piercing artist wears disposable gloves and that they change them frequently throughout the piercing process. All sterile piercing needles should be removed from their packaging in front of you, and your piercer should either sterilize your starter jewelry or remove it from sterile packaging in front of you, too. For more tips on choosing a reputable piercer, check out our APP Tips for Choosing a Piercer and Choosing a Piercer articles.
If you're in the market for a new nose ring for your nostril, septum, bridge, rhino, or nasallang piercing, check out our selections of nostril rings, septum jewelry, bent barbells, and straight barbells by clicking the links below.
|Nose Bones, Nostril Screws & Fishtails||Labret Studs||Nose Hoops|
|Septum Jewelry||Bent Barbells||Straight Barbells|
We offer a variety of articles and blog posts on nose piercings and nose rings in our Information Center, as well as nose piercing pictures in our online photo gallery and nose piercing threads in our forum. Click any of the links below to view these additional nose piercing resources.
- Nose Piercing FAQs
- Nose Rings & Nose Piercing Info
- Septum Piercing Aftercare
- Choosing Your Ideal Nose Piercing Jewelry
- How to Bend a Fishtail into a Nose Screw
- Nostril Piercing Pictures
- Septum Piercing Pictures
- Facial/Oral Piercings Forum
History of Body Piercings PainfulPleasures.com Article
Nose Piercing: Historical Significance and Potential Consequences Jamanetwork.com Article by Dr. Barry Ladizinski
Nose Piercing Wikipedia.org Article