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California State University, Long Beach
Health Resource Center, Student Health Services
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Body Piercing

Body piercing has been practiced in almost every culture around the world for thousands of years. According to anthropologists, body piercing and other body art (tattooing) can be a method for group identification, body beautification, or even showing marital or financial status. In the recent past, body adornment with piercings has become quite fashionable.  

If you are thinking about getting a piercing, there are several factors to consider. There are health concerns involved with body piercing, including:

Allergic reactions to metal Excessive bleeding Damage to the nerves (for example you may lose feeling at an area that gets pierced) Keloids (thick scarring at the piercing site) Dental damage (swelling and infection of the tongue, chipped/broken teeth, choking on loose jewelry) Skin infections Bloodborne diseases if the equipment is contaminated with infected blood (hepatitis B & C, tetanus, and HIV)

Making a decision about the location of the piercing on the body should be based on the following questions to ask yourself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What does it mean to me?
  • How will I feel if people see my piercing?
  • How long am I willing to wait for it to heal? Healing times vary depending on the body location. (See healing times chart)
  • How much am I willing to spend on a quality piercing? Remember that good piercings are not cheap and cheap piercings are not good!

So if you still want to get a piercing, you have to make some important choices. First, choose your piercer carefully by getting recommendations from friends and other people you trust. Look at the piercers portfolios and watch them work. Meet with the piercer before you decide to find out if you like their work, their personality, price and professionalism. Find out if the piercer has been properly trained and uses hygienic procedures. A piercer should NEVER use a gun for piercing!!!

Questions to ask the piercer before making the decision:

  • Does the piercer wear gloves?
  • Does the piercer use sterile, nondisposable equipment?
  • Does the piercer remove needles from the packaging in front of the client?
  • Does the piercer sterilize the station between clients?
  • Are they recognized by the Association for Professional Piercers (APP)?
  • Do they have a permit from the L.A. Public Health Department to operate?

The APP  is the industry standard for piercers. They set the standards for piercing studios and abide by all cleanliness guidelines and federal regulations. If the salon has an APP license, then you can have confidence about  hygienic practices.. However, it is important to note that the APP license expires. You should also look to see if the studio has a permit from the public health department. The Los Angeles Public Health Department has a variety of permits that the body art studio must have in order to operate and be deemed as safe for piercing. Many other states do not have regulations or permits for body art salons.

Does the studio have the proper set-up?

According the APP, a studio should have five rooms. There should be a main room, which includes a counter and a merchandising area, a waiting room for the piercees and a room where the piercing takes place. There should also be a bathroom and a separate room for sterilizing. If anything looks dirty to you in any of those rooms, find another piercing salon. The salon should be willing to show you all of these rooms and should prepare for your piercing in front of you. That includes washing his or her hands, obtaining sealed packages of needles and opening them in front of you. If the piercer touches anything in the room other than you or the equipment while gloved, he or she should change their gloves before proceeding.

Here are some questions you should consider before settling on a salon:

  • Does the studio have clean walls and a clean bathroom?
  • Does the staff smell like they haven't showered or the counter area looks like it has two years of dust on it?
  • If so, walk out. There are plenty of clean studios out there and you shouldn't risk your health just to say that you got pierced at “Dirty Harry's Piercing Parlor."

The truth about ear piercing guns

One of the few regulations that has become strictly enforced in many states relates to the piercing gun. Many states are deeming them illegal because they cannot be sterilized and therefore do not meet the criteria for APP.

What do the health professionals think of all of this?

The American Dental Association opposes tongue, lip and/or cheek piercings and deems them public health hazards. The American Academy of Dermatology is against all body piercings with the exception of the ear piercing because there is enough fatty tissue in the ear lobe as well as good blood supply to ensure that any serious damage will not be done.

Jewelry Selection

It is also important to consider what kind of jewelry you want to put on your body. Most of us want something that is “fashionable” and “eye catching”, but be careful. If it is too thick or too wide, your body might reject it. To determine what fits your body and what doesn’t, look at the width (diameter) or gauge of the ring, as well as the length of the bar. A good piercer will know what is appropriate. The other factor to take into consideration is the thickness of the jewelry. For any piercings below the neck, the gauge should be no smaller than a 14 gauge. It is also important to make sure that you are not allergic to a certain metal. Some people are allergic to certain types of silver, so find out exactly what the jewelry is made of to avoid any allergic reactions.


Once you have been pierced, the studio should provide you with an aftercare sheet that is thorough and detailed. It should tell you how to take care of your piercing If it tells you to clean it with ointment or hydrogen peroxide, run!

The APP recommends using either mild liquid antimicrobial medicated soap or salt water soaks to clean body piercings. The salon should be able to answer any questions that you might have and should be able to provide follow up advice. During the healing process for oral piercings you should replace your toothbrush with a new one and keep it extra clean to avoid a bacterial infection. Also, don't share plates, eating utensils or cups, keep anything dirty away from your face and if you have an oral piercing, avoid excessive talking and oral sex for the duration of the healing process. Applying ice to the piercing can help the swelling to go down and taking Ibuprofen is okay as long as it is taken as prescribed.

Be wise about getting a piercing and make sure that you check out the entire facility before you make the decision to use their services. Some states are starting to ban all minors from getting any piercing or tattoo, and other states are beginning to have stricter guidelines about parental consent for minors receiving piercings.

Healing Times

Ear Lobe - 6 to 8 weeks

Ear Cartilage - 4 months to 1 year

Eyebrow - 6 to 8 weeks

Nostril - 2 to 4 months

Nasal Septum - 6 to 8 months

Nasal bridge - 8 to 10 weeks

Tongue - 4 weeks

Lip - 2 to 3 months

Nipple - 3 to 6 months

Navel (belly button) - 4 months to 1 year

Female genitalia - 4 to 10 weeks

Male genitalia - 4 weeks to 6 months

It is suggested that you talk to your doctor before getting anything pierced if you have one of the following conditions: Heart valve disease, heart murmur, diabetes, hemophilia, auto-immune disorder.

Obvious skin or tissue abnormalities that may include but is not limited to rashes, lumps, bumps, scars, lesions, moles, freckles and/or abrasions.

*If you want to pierce surgically altered or irregular anatomy, it may be wise to consult a health professional before piercing your body.

Would you like to donate blood in the near future?

If so, the United States and the Canadian Red Cross will not accept blood donations from anyone who has had a body piercing within a year because the procedures can transmit dangerous blood borne diseases.


Association of Professional Piercers. (2005).

Body Piercing (2004). Retrieved from

Los Angeles Public Health Department (1999). Retrieved from

Myers, J. (1992). Non-mainstream body modification: Genital piercing, branding ,burning, and cutting. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 92 (21), 267-306.

Polosmak, N. (1994). Mummy unearthed from the pastures of heaven. National Geographic, 186(4), 80-103.

Saunders, (1989). Customizing the body: The art and culture of tattooing. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.