There are specific risks associated with certain body piercings, but is the process of being pierced generally a risky business? Can getting the piercing you want put you in danger? The answer depends primarily on the piercer you choose and the environment in which they work, but you can also minimize your risks by choosing a piercing that fits your lifestyle, selecting the safest type of jewelry available for the piercing you want, and performing proper piercing aftercare. Let's take a closer look at how each of these factors can minimize or altogether eliminate the dangers of piercings.
Choosing a Piercer
One of the most important things you can do in your efforts to minimize your piercing risks is to pick a reputable, professional piercer who works in a sterile environment. Before settling on a piercer to perform your piercing, do a little research online. Look at the portfolios of well-rated piercers in your area to see how their work measures up. Try to find photos of clients both right after being pierced and post-healing to make sure the artists you're considering have performed the piercing you want successfully in the past. Once you've narrowed down your choices to a couple piercers, visit their shops to scope out their work environments, talk to them, and make sure you have a good rapport with each other. You're not looking for a new best friend, but it is important to work with a piercer who puts you at ease and emanates professionalism.
The piercing shop you choose should meet a few basic criteria. You'll be in good hands if you can answer yes to each of these questions:
- Do they have the appropriate licenses and/or certifications? To minimize your piercing risks, you should choose a piercer with proper credentials. A reputable piercer should be totally above-board, which means having a prominently-displayed business license and any certifications required by your state. (Note that a business license will typically be in the shop's name rather than an individual employee's name.) Ideally, the piercer you choose should be certified in bloodborne pathogens and first aid/CPR, at minimum. If they're also certified by the APP (Association of Professional Piercers), that's an added bonus, but APP certification shouldn't be a deal breaker.
- Is the shop clean and tidy? Look around as soon as you enter a shop. If you see a plethora of dust, dirt and grime or trash strewn about, think twice about getting pierced there. A shop isn't sterile if it isn't clean, and a sterile environment is the key to minimizing the dangers of piercings.
- Does the shop use thorough sterilization methods and sterile disposables? An autoclave is the single best sign that a shop is using an appropriate sterilization method, but chemical baths that are used appropriately and dry heat sterilizers are sufficient alternatives to an autoclave steam sterilizer. If the shop you're considering has an autoclave, ask to see their latest spore test results. They should be testing their autoclave monthly and keeping a record of third-party monitoring of their equipment. If a shop can't produce such records, it's questionable as to whether their autoclave is performing optimally. You should also make sure the piercer wears gloves while performing modifications, and look for signs that they're using sterile disposables like new piercing needles in sterile packaging. All of the tools used during the piercing process should be removed from sterile packaging in front of you at the beginning of the piercing process. If needles, piercing tapers, clamps, and other piercing tools are already sitting out, unwrapped, when you sit down to get pierced, get back up and leave.
- Do you feel comfortable with the piercer and shop? If something doesn't feel right--even if you can't quite pinpoint what it is that seems off--you shouldn't go forward with the piercing process. It's best to listen to your gut, wait, do more research, and find a shop and piercer that puts you at ease than to ignore your internal warning bells and move forward just because you're dying to have the piercing you want right now.
Picking a Piercing That Fits Your Lifestyle
Most of the time, people pick the piercings they get based on criteria like the look of a piercing and the types of jewelry available. You should absolutely get piercings that you feel will enhance your appearance and allow you to wear body jewelry you love, but those shouldn't be the only factors you consider when choosing a new piercing. It's important that your piercings fit your lifestyle, too. For instance, if you love, love, love to wear skinny jeans and other tightly-fitting clothing, a belly button piercing and surface hip piercings may not be great options for you. Tight clothing would put constant pressure on such piercings during the healing process, potentially delaying healing or spurring a variety of piercing problems. Likewise, a football or field hockey player may want to avoid facial piercings and other piercings that could get snagged during game play or irritated by constant sweating and friction.
Talk to your piercer about your lifestyle before getting a piercing and see if s/he has any concerns about how it may impact the success of the piercing. If you're willing to make any sacrifices your piercer suggests, like wearing loosely-fitting clothing while your belly button piercing heals or keeping your long hair tied up while your industrial piercing heals, then there's no reason you can't get any piercing you want with minimal risk.
Other Ways to Minimize Piercing Dangers
As mentioned earlier, some piercings are riskier than others, but choosing the right piercer and jewelry and performing proper piercing aftercare can make a positive difference. Review the list of riskier piercings below and get tips for minimizing the dangers associated with these piercings.
- Lip & Tongue Piercings - When you get a piercing that puts jewelry in constant contact with your teeth and gums, you have to take measures to protect your oral health. During the healing process, chew slowly and gently while eating to avoid chomping down on metal starter jewelry and cracking a tooth. If your jewelry sits against your gums, you should also choose jewelry that's less likely to cause gum recession. Soft, flexible PTFE straight barbells and BioPlast labret studs make ideal jewelry for oral piercings and facial piercings with an oral side. You can also swap out your metal balls, captive beads or other decorative ends for dental-grade acrylic balls that will be gentler on your teeth and gums. The fit of your jewelry is also very important with such piercings. Your starter jewelry will be extra long or have a wider-than-desirable diameter to allow room for swelling, but long-term it's more likely to harm your oral health; replace it with closely-fitting jewelry as soon as your piercer gives you the all-clear.
- Cheek Piercings - As with lip piercings, cheek piercings have an oral side that can negatively impact your oral health if you don't choose the right kind of jewelry (i.e. cheek piercing barbells with flat backs or long BioPlast labret studs). More importantly, though, cheek piercings performed by an inexperienced piercer can damage your parotid ducts, which are responsible for regulating saliva flow. Once damaged, the parotid ducts can never be fully repaired. If your piercer were to puncture one or both, you could end up with saliva running down the outsides of your cheeks constantly or worse. You'd have to get a doctor to cauterize the tissue, which would likely leave you with nasty piercing scars. For these reasons, it's very important to choose a piercer who has successfully performed dimple piercings in the past, who can talk to you about the cheek piercing process in an educated way, and who can locate your parotid ducts and avoid them.
- Surface & Dermal Piercings - Surface piercings and dermal piercings are more prone to migration and rejection than double-sided piercings like ear piercings. There are ways to minimize those risks, though. You should wear loosely-fitting clothing while your piercing is healing, so you don't put undue pressure on it, snag it or otherwise irritate it. The types of dermal tops you choose for your dermal anchor or surface barbell during the healing process can also make a positive difference. Opt for flat tops that will sit flush against your skin or healing posts until your surface or dermal piercing has fully healed. If you accidentally dislodge a dermal anchor, see your piercer right away rather than trying to solve the problem yourself. It's also extremely important that you perform regular, thorough dermal piercing aftercare. Doing so will minimize the chances of migration or full-on rejection, help you avoid piercing problems like hypergranulations, and allow your dermal or surface piercing to heal fully and well. Once it's healed, you'll be able to wear any dermal tops you want and switch them as often as you like, but you shouldn't try to change your tops prematurely.
- Genital Piercings - One of the biggest dangers of genital piercings stems from impatience. Of course you'll be dying to take your new piercing for a test drive in the bedroom, but you need to wait until it's fully healed. Having sex prematurely, playing with your jewelry, or letting a partner's mouth come in contact with your genital piercing before it's fully healed is a recipe for disaster. Protect your genital piercing from bacteria by keeping it clean and avoiding oral sex and intercourse during the healing process, and you'll be able to enjoy it for many years to come. When you do finally try it out in the bedroom, take things slowly. Men should wear condoms at first, both to protect their genital piercings and to ease their partners into having sex with new piercings in the mix, and women may want to ask their partners to use dental dams during oral sex initially.
Most new piercings will benefit from the suggestions above. If you practice religious aftercare, avoid tinkering with your jewelry during the healing process, protect it from bacteria, wear clothes that let your healing piercing breathe, and replace starter jewelry with well-fitting body jewelry at the appropriate time, your new piercing should heal beautifully. As long as you don't let a hack who works in an unsterile environment pierce you, the only real danger of getting pierced is not respecting the fact that piercings are wounds that need to be properly cared for to heal well.
More Helpful Piercing Info
We offer a wide variety of piercing resources to give you all the information you need to choose the right piercings for you, select a safe piercing environment, properly care for your new piercings, choose the best jewelry, and more. You can visit our online photo gallery to see piercing pictures and get ideas for your next piercing, learn about other people's piercing experiences or post stories and questions of your own in our forum, read educational articles in the Piercing Information, Body Jewelry and Aftercare sections of our Information Center, watch videos to learn how to modify your jewelry to better suit your needs, shop for new body jewelry and aftercare supplies in our Retail store, and more on our site.