Nostril piercing has one of the longest and richest histories of any type of body piercing. Having been practiced for over 4,000 years, nostril piercing originated in the Middle East, then traveled to India and beyond; 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 western civilization adopted it.
Why did people first start piercing their noses? How has the practice evolved over time as different cultures have adopted the tradition? We answer these questions and more here in our History of Nose Piercings.
Types of Nose Piercings & Basic Body Jewelry
A wide variety of modifications fall under the nose piercing umbrella. 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, threadless clicker rings, and occasionally barbells. Bent barbells and straight barbells are most commonly used in bridge piercings, and straight barbells are the preferred style for both rhino and nasallang piercings.
Origins of Nostril Piercing
The first written record of nostril piercing dates back over 4,000 years ago in the Middle East. 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 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 Mughal Empire carried the practice of nostril piercing to India in the 1500s. It then became a common practice in India 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). Indian women who choose to have only one nostril pierced have historically been more likely to pierce their left nostrils. According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian natural healing system, the left nostril is associated with female reproductive organs and fertility. Ayurveda medicine asserts that piercing the left nostril relieves menstrual pain and makes 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 US. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that nose piercings became more widely popular in the United States. In the 60s, hippies who had traveled to India brought the practice of nostril piercing with them back to the US. 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 a mainstream accessory in the US, Europe, and beyond. There are still plenty of conservative-minded people who frown on nose piercings, but that hasn't hampered the trend. In addition to young people, more business professionals in a variety of industries can be seen sporting nose jewelry. Even professionals who do not don the popular accessory are becoming more accepting of the practice.
Origins of Septum Piercing
Septum piercing, the practice of piercing the cartilage wall between the nostrils, has been common among tribal people and warriors throughout history. In fact, septum piercing is second only to ear piercings in popularity among tribal people. Many tribal people will stretch their septums so they can insert tusks, bone, wood, and other natural, hand-crafted objects. The reasons for getting septum piercings are just as diverse as the materials they use to create body jewelry. Historically, common reasons for piercing the septum have included enhancing beauty, showing dedication to a particular religion, and marking major life milestones. Some tribal cultures believe in piercing the septum as a rite of passage, such as when Native American boys reach the age of manhood. Others, like Australian aboriginees, believe septum piercings enhance one's physical appearance. Warrior tribes have favored septum piercings throughout history as a symbol of ferocity, 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.
Over the thousands of years septum piercing has been around, various cultures have demonstrated preferences for different types of septum accessories made from a wide variety of materials. For instance, in the ancient Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations of South America, gold and jade were the preferred septum jewelry materials because of their sacred significance: Gold symbolized wealth and power while jade was associated with strong maize crops, rulership, and the soul. Today, preferences for certain materials and body jewelry have become more varied and widespread. For instance, in Irian Jaya, people wear pig bone plugs as large as 25mm called "Otsj," while in India, Nepal, and Tibet, people prefer to wear "Bulak" in their septum piercings (also known as 'Nathori' in India). Fun facts: Otsj have also been carved from the bones of enemies slain in battle, and Bulak is sometimes so large and hefty that it has to be lifted and moved aside while eating.
Some cultures have demonstrated clear changes in style and preference over time. For example, in the past, it was more common for Bengali women to wear delicate gold "Nathori" rings than the nostril studs that have become increasingly popular since the 16th century. Other cultures have maintained similar styles throughout history, like the aboriginees of Australia, who wear long sticks or carved bones in their septum piercings to flatten their noses, a distinctive look that is considered to be highly attractive. Some styles, in fact, are so distinctive that they have become defining characteristics of certain tribes. The Nez Perc tribe of Native Americans from Washington State is so known for their septum piercing practices that it has become their own label; Nez Perk translates directly to "nose pierced" in French.
Today, septum piercing is also commonly practiced in western civilization. Although septum piercing isn't as popular overall as nostril piercing, the practice has found its way into 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
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 ends of sweet potato plants. However, in the US, Europe, South America, and other modern societies, it's now much more common for professional piercing artists to use sterile piercing needles. 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. This process is designed to ensure a healthy procedure and help prevent infection.
When choosing a piercing artist, conduct personal research and seek a reputable studio that is clean and sterile; you can talk to pierced friends for their recommendations, make an appointment for a consultation, or read online reviews. Ask your piercing artist 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. Also, make sure your piercing artist wears disposable gloves and changes 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.
Already pierced? 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.
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We offer a variety of articles and blog posts about 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