If you're considering getting a lip piercing, you may have some questions you want answered before you take the plunge. For instance, what lip piercing options are available to you? Can lip piercings harm your oral health? What's the best type of lip piercing jewelry? How long do lip piercings take to heal? If you like large-gauge lip piercings, should you stretch from a smaller gauge, get pierced at a larger gauge, or have your lip punched? What does lip piercing aftercare entail? We answer these questions and more in this blog post, Everything You Need to Know About Lip Piercings.
Types of Lip Piercings
Most types of lip piercings don't actually pierce the lips themselves; instead, they're usually placed horizontally through the skin immediately above the upper lip or below the lower lip, with two exceptions: vertical labret piercings and lowbret piercings. Vertical labret piercings are placed vertically through the lower lip so that the top ball sits centrally atop the lower lip and the bottom ball sits centrally below the lower lip. Lowbret piercings are placed horizontally through the skin below the lower lip, but further down than most lower lip piercings--usually immediately above the point where the inner-lower lip meets the gum line.
The other types of lip piercings from which you can choose include upper lip piercings, lower lip piercings, and "bites", which are pairs or sets of four lip piercings. If you just want one lip piercing, you might consider these options:
- Horizontal Lower Lip Piercing - A lip piercing that punctures the skin beneath the lower lip horizontally to the ground, so that one side of the jewelry is in the mouth and the other side is visible. Horizontal lip piercings are typically placed on the left or right side of the lower lip; when centered, they're called labret piercings. Captive rings, circular barbells, labret studs, and labret lip loops can all be worn in horizontal lower lip piercings.
- Labret Piercing - A horizontal lower lip piercing placed centrally beneath the lower lip. Labret studs are the most popular style of jewelry worn in labret piercings, but captive rings, circular barbells and lip loop labrets can also be worn in labret piercings. Those with stretched labret piercings can wear plugs, too.
- Medusa Piercing - A horizontal upper lip piercing placed through the central upper lip tissue, called the philtrum. Labret studs are the only ideal jewelry for Medusa piercings.
- Monroe Piercing - A horizontal upper lip piercing placed through the skin above the right or left side of the upper lip. Monroe piercings--which are also called Madonna piercings or Crawford piercings--get their name from the way they mimic these stars' upper lip moles. Labret studs are the best type of jewelry to wear in Monroe piercings. If you want your Monroe piercing to look like a mole, you can get a BioPlast labret stud with a flat, black end.
Nearly all of the different types of lip bites piercings you can choose from are comprised of either two or four of the individual types of lip piercings detailed above. Bite piercing options include:
- Angel Bites - Angel bite piercings are actually a pair of Monroe piercings; one is placed through the skin above the upper lift to the right of the philtrum, and the other is placed to the left of the philtrum. Labret studs are the best type of jewelry for angel bites piercings.
- Canine Bites/Shark Bites - Canine bite piercings, also known as shark bite piercings, include two upper lip piercings and two lower lip piercings that are placed through the outer sides of the upper and lower lip in a rectangular pattern. The four puncture points mimic the pattern a larger animal's bite would create, which is why this arrangement of lip piercings is known as either canine bites or shark bites. You can either wear labret studs in all four piercings, or use labret studs in the two upper lip piercings and hoops or circular barbells in the two lower lip piercings.
- Cyber Bites - When you get a Medusa piercing and a standard labret piercing simultaneously, this arrangement is known as cyber bites piercings. You can either wear labret studs in both piercings, or wear a labret stud in the upper lip piercing and a captive ring, circular barbell or lip loop labret in the lower lip piercing.
- Dolphin Bites - This arrangement is actually a pair of horizontal lower lip piercings placed closely together through the skin beneath the central lower lip. You can wear labret studs, circular barbells, captive rings, or labret lip loops in dolphin bites piercings.
- Joker Bites/Dahlia Bites - This is a pair of lip piercings placed through the skin to the right and left of the corners of the mouth. These bites get their name from the way they elongate a person's smile, making them look like the Joker from the Batman comics. The alternate name of "Dahlia Bites" comes from the Black Dahlia murder, in which the corners of the victim's mouth were cut. Although some people wear captive rings in joker bites, labret studs are really the most ideal jewelry for this type of lip piercing, because they're less likely to get in the way when you eat and talk.
- Snake Bites - This pair of horizontal lower lip piercings placed through the left and right sides of the lower lip gets its name from the way the two piercings mimic the bite marks a snake's fangs would make. You can wear labret studs, captive rings, circular barbells, or lip loop labrets in snake bites piercings.
- Viper Bites/Spider Bites - These are horizontal lower lip piercings placed closely together beneath the right or left side of the lower lip. These bites get their name from the way they mimic the smaller, tighter bite of either a spider or a viper. You can wear labret studs, circular barbells or captive rings comfortably in spider bites piercings.
Large Gauge Lip Piercing Options
If you like the idea of wearing large gauge lip piercing jewelry, like a labret plug, you have a few options for getting to your desired gauge. You can either stretch a smaller lip piercing slowly over time, get pierced with a larger-gauge needle initially, or have your lip punched instead of pierced. There are positive and negative sides to each option.
There are a couple benefits to starting out with a standard size lip piercing in the 16g - 12g size range and slowly stretching to larger gauges over time. The biggest advantage to stretching is that you don't have to guess what gauge jewelry will look best on you. You can just slowly stretch until you get to the gauge that looks most attractive and stop there. The second benefit is the ability to remove a labret plug or other large gauge jewelry later and either let your lip piercing fistula (piercing hole) shrink back to a smaller size or retire your lip piercing altogether with minimal scarring.
If you want to stretch a lip piercing, you'll need to wait until your initial lip piercing has fully healed. You can then stretch to the next largest gauge using one of two methods. The wrapping method is the gentlest way to stretch. Just remove your lip ring, wrap it with a single layer of stretching tape, reinsert your jewelry, wait a week or so, and then add another layer of tape, continuing in this manner until you reach your desired gauge. Alternatively, you can go up a full gauge at a time, but you'll need to wait one-and-a-half times as long as it took for your lip piercing to heal initially before stretching again. As you work towards larger gauges, you may need to use a piercing taper and/or a drop of water-based lubricant to insert jewelry in the next largest gauge.
Whichever method you use, it's a good idea to massage a drop of emu oil into the skin around your lip piercing twice a day for a week leading up to a stretch. Emu oil enhances the skin's natural elasticity, making it easier to stretch and minimizing the chances of the stretching process causing microscopic tears in your skin that could make you more susceptible to developing a lip piercing infection.
Piercing at a Larger Gauge vs. Punching
If you're really passionate about starting out with a larger gauge lip piercing, you have two options: you can either ask your piercer to use a large gauge piercing needle, or you can have the tissue punched out with a dermal punch. Getting pierced with a large gauge needle is always a superior option to punching, because needles part the skin whereas punches permanently remove a circle of flesh. If you decide you don't like the look of such large gauge jewelry in your lip piercing, it will be easier for you to scale down to a smaller size if you had your lip pierced with a large gauge needle instead of having it punched. Those who opt for the dermal punch method are also more likely to end up with significant scarring if they retire a lip piercing.
Protect Your Oral Health With the Right Lip Ring
Most lip piercings have a facial side and an oral side, with the exception of vertical labret piercings, which are entirely external. With all other types of lip piercings, there's a risk of your jewelry damaging your teeth and/or gums--particularly early on, while you're wearing an extra-long starter labret stud or wide-diameter lip ring. It's important for your starter jewelry to be large enough to accommodate any swelling that occurs, so the jewelry doesn't press into your skin and cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection. However, you have to be super conscious of your jewelry when you eat so you don't chomp down on it and crack a tooth. If you get a lower lip piercing, you may find that a captive ring or a circular barbell is a safer option than a long metal labret stud during the healing process. Better yet, get a niobium lip ring that's softer and more flexible than steel and titanium lip rings.
Once your lip piercing is fully healed--which can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months, depending on what type of lip piercing you get and how well you care for it--you can replace your starter lip stud with jewelry that's less likely to negatively impact your oral health. BioPlast labret studs are soft, flexible, and much gentler on teeth and gums than metal labret studs, which can cause your gums to recede and compromise the security of your teeth if the oral side of your jewelry is in constant contact with your gums. Long-term, it's much better for your oral health to wear BioPlast labret studs or lip rings with dental-grade acrylic balls.
Lip Piercing Aftercare
Most lip piercings take between 6 and 8 weeks to fully heal, but Joker bites, Monroe piercings and Medusa piercings can take 3 months or more to heal. Healing times vary by person, depending how diligent you are with your lip piercing care and whether or not you experience any lip piercing problems.
While your lip piercing is healing, it's important to take care of your physical health overall. Eat nutritiously, get sufficient sleep every night, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, practice good hygiene, and avoid other people's germs, smoking, aspirin, alcohol, excessive amounts of caffeine, and elicit drugs. Alcohol, aspirin and too much caffeine should be off-limits for at least two weeks after you get a lip piercing, because these things can thin your blood and make it harder for your body to form clots. You'll have to avoid wet kissing, oral sex, soaking in communal water, and eating or drinking after other people to protect your immune system from foreign bacteria. If you're a smoker, you should try to quit before getting pierced, because smoke can dry out lip piercings and nicotine slows down the body's ability to heal. If you can't quit entirely, do your best to minimize your nicotine intake by using low-dose nicotine patches or lozenges, or an e-cigarette filled with low-dose nicotine e-juice.
There are a few other specific things you should and shouldn't do while your lip piercing is healing. You should do the following:
- Spray the external side of your lip piercing 3-6 times a day with a saline-based rinse like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray.
- If your lip piercing has an oral side, rinse your mouth with an alcohol-free sea salt mouthwash 3-6 times per day, particularly after eating.
- Protect your lip piercing from trauma. Brush your teeth and floss gently to avoid banging or snagging your lip ring, and don't play with your jewelry.
- While adjusting to having a lip ring, chew food slowly and carefully. Eat soft foods like oatmeal, Jell-O, macaroni and cheese, soup, and yogurt during the first 1-2 weeks after getting pierced.
- Carefully remove crusties (dried lymph) by saturating them with piercing aftercare spray and gently wiping them away with a clean tissue.
- If the skin around the outside of your lip piercing becomes dry, moisturize with tea tree oil-enhanced sea salt solution rather than using creams, oils or balms that could clog your fistula, trap in bacteria and make you susceptible to infection. (See the "Cleaning Your Lip Piercing" section below for guidance on addressing dry skin.)
Here are the things you should avoid while your lip piercing is healing:
- Do not twist, turn or slide your jewelry to loosen crusties. You could push bacteria into your fistula and trigger an infection to develop.
- Don't touch your jewelry at all unless you really need to, and then only with freshly-washed or gloved hands.
- Don't use alcohol-based mouthwash at all while your lip piercing heals. Alcohol is drying, and it can delay the lip piercing healing process. It's much better to just use sea salt-based piercing aftercare sprays and oral rinses, but if you feel you need something extra, you can add an antiseptic piercing rinse to your daily cleaning routine.
- Don't French kiss anyone, engage in oral sex, share food or drinks with other people, chew on foreign objects like pen caps, or soak/swim in communal water, since all of these things can expose your lip piercing to harmful bacteria that could cause a lip piercing infection. Additionally, kissing, oral sex, chewing on foreign objects, and soaking in chlorine-filled water could generally irritate your lip piercing.
- Don't take aspirin, drink alcohol, or consume excessive amounts of caffeine during the first two weeks of the lip piercing healing process. New lip piercings are prone to occasional bleeding, and these things can thin your blood and make it harder for your body to form clots.
- Do not apply any creams, oils, balms, or ointments to the skin around your lip piercing if it becomes dry and/or cracked. These things can clog your fistula, trapping in bacteria and potentially causing an infection to develop. See the "Cleaning Your Lip Piercing" section below for alternative ways to moisturize dry skin around a healing lip piercing.
- Don't wash the skin around your lip piercing with soap. Soap, like alcohol, is drying and can delay the healing process. It's okay if some soapy water washes over your lip piercing when you're washing your hair or the rest of your face, but you shouldn't soap up your piercing directly.
- Do not change your lip ring prematurely! Unless you experience a piercing problem that can be remedied with a jewelry change, you should keep your starter lip ring in until your piercing is fully healed. Even then, you may want to have a piercer change your jewelry for you the first time, since your fistula will still be tender and it may be hard to insert new jewelry yourself.
Sea salt solution is the gentlest and best cleanser for a healing lip piercing. You can either buy sea salt-based piercing aftercare products or make your own sea salt solution. Either way, you should rinse the external side of your lip piercing with sea salt solution 3-6 times per day, swish your mouth with a sea salt mouthwash 3-6 times per day, and do two 5-minute sea salt solution soaks every day while your lip piercing is healing.
To do full sea salt solution soaks, you'll need cotton balls and either homemade sea salt solution or an external rinse like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray and an oral rinse with a sea salt base. Soak a cotton ball with sea salt solution, hold it against your piercing for 30 seconds or so, throw it away, and apply a freshly-soaked cotton ball. Repeat until you've saturated the external side of your piercing for a full 5 minutes. Next, swish a mouthful of sea salt mouthwash around for 30-60 seconds, spit, and repeat until you've rinsed your mouth for 5 minutes total. Doing this twice a day and rinsing the inside and outside of your piercing briefly 3-6 times a day (morning, midday, night, and after meals) will make the lip piercing healing process go much more smoothly.
Homemade Sea Salt Solution
You can make your own sea salt solution at home with a cup of sterile water and 1/4 teaspoon of a high-quality sea salt like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Sea Salt From the Dead Sea. Either buy sterile water or boil tap water for 5 minutes to sterilize it. Measure out 1 cup in a heat-safe container, and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt until it's fully dissolved. The solution can then be used orally and externally once it's cooled to a comfortable temperature.
If the skin around the outside of your lip piercing becomes dry or starts to crack, it's important to re-moisturize it. Oils, creams and balms might seem like a good way to moisturize your skin, but they aren't good for healing lip piercings. Instead, you should use tea tree oil, which is a natural moisturizer as well as an antiseptic.
Tea tree oil is too strong to apply directly to a healing piercing, so you'll need to dilute it in sea salt solution. If you make homemade sea salt solution, you can add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to each cup of solution you make. (Tip: Buy our Recovery Piercing Aftercare Sea Salt & Tea Tree Oil Combo Pack to save money on quality sea salt and tea tree oil that you can use to make homemade sea salt solution.) Alternatively, you can moisturize your skin by adding a single drop of tea tree oil to a cotton ball soaked with a product like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray before applying it to your piercing. Do not swish your mouth with sea salt solution containing tea tree oil; it's for external use only.
Addressing Lip Piercing Problems
The most frequently-reported lip piercing problems include excessive swelling, infection, red piercing bumps, and piercing scars. Most of these issues can be avoided, or at least remedied, with diligent lip piercing aftercare. However, sometimes a jewelry change is also necessary to solve the problem.
Before getting a lip piercing, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the potential problems you may encounter so that you can act promptly and effectively if you experience one of these issues. Check out the "Identifying & Addressing Lip Piercing Problems" section of our full Lip Piercing Care guide to learn everything you need to know about remedying the most common lip piercing problems.
Lip Rings & Lip Piercing Resources
We offer an extensive selection of labret studs, captive rings and other cool lip piercing jewelry options, as well as additional articles and resources to teach you everything you could possibly want to know about lip piercings. Check out the links below to read more about lip piercings, shop for lip rings, talk to our online community members about lip piercings, view lip piercing pictures, and more.
- Shop for Labret Jewelry
- Shop for Captive Lip Rings
- Shop for Circular Barbell Lip Rings
- Shop for Plugs for Stretched Lip Piercings
- Visit Our Lip Piercing Forum
- View Lip Piercing Pictures
- Read About Lip Piercing Care
- Read Our Lip Piercing FAQs
- Read About Lip Piercings & Lip Rings