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Body Piercing

Body Piercing & What to Expect

A body piercing is exactly that — a piercing or puncture made in your body by a needle. After that, a piece of jewelry is inserted into the puncture. The most popular pierced body parts seem to be the ears, the nostrils, and the belly button.

Which one thing are you most likely to do to find out if a tattoo artist follows basic hygiene requirements?

If the person performing the piercing provides a safe, clean, and professional environment, this is what you should expect from getting a body part pierced:

Before You Pierce That Part

If you're thinking about getting pierced, do your research first. If you're under 18, some places won't allow you to get a piercing without a parent's consent. It's a good idea to find out what risks are involved and how best to protect yourself from infections and other complications.

Certain sites on the body can cause more problems than others — infection is a common complication of mouth and nose piercings because of the millions of bacteria that live in those areas. Tongue piercings can damage teeth over time. And tongue, cheek, and lip piercings can cause gum problems.

People with certain types of heart disease might have a higher risk of developing a heart infection after body piercing. If you have a medical problem such as allergies, diabetes, skin disorders, a condition that affects your immune system, or a bleeding disorder — or if you are pregnant — ask your doctor about any special concerns or precautions you should take beforehand. Also, it's not a good idea to get a body piercing if you're prone to getting keloids (an overgrowth of scar tissue in the area of the wound).

If you decide to get a body piercing:

Also, if you plan to get a tongue or mouth piercing, make sure your teeth and gums are healthy.

Find a Safe & Sanitary Piercing Shop

Body piercing is regulated in some states but not others. Although most piercing shops try to provide a clean and healthy environment, some might not take proper precautions against infections or other health hazards.

If you decide to get a body piercing, do a little investigative work about a shop's procedures and find out whether it provides a clean and safe environment for its customers. Every shop should have an autoclave (a sterilizing machine) and should keep instruments in sealed packets until they are used.

Ask questions and make sure:

It's also a good idea to ask about the types of jewelry the shop offers because some people have allergic reactions to certain types of metals. Before you get a piercing, make sure you know if you're allergic to any metals. Only nontoxic metals should be used for body piercings, such as:

If you think the shop isn't clean enough, if all your questions aren't answered, or if you feel in any way uncomfortable, go somewhere else to get your piercing.

Some Health Risks

If all goes well, you should be fine after a body piercing except for some temporary symptoms, including some pain, swelling at the pierced area, and in the case of a tongue piercing, increased saliva. But be aware that several things, including the following, can go wrong in some cases:

Depending on the body part, healing times can take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year. If you do get a piercing, make sure you take good care of it afterward — don't pick or tug at it, keep the area clean with soap (not alcohol), and don't touch it without washing your hands first. Never use hydrogen peroxide because it can break down newly formed tissue. If you have a mouth piercing, use an alcohol-free, antibacterial mouthwash after eating.

If you're thinking of donating blood, be aware that some organizations won't accept blood donations from anyone who has had a body piercing or tattoo within the last year. This is because both procedures can transmit blood-borne diseases you may not realize were passed on to you at the time of the piercing.

If your piercing doesn't heal correctly or you feel something might be wrong, it's important to get medical attention. Most important, don't pierce yourself or have a friend do it — make sure it's done by a professional in a safe and clean environment.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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