Ears, Nipples, Nose: Everything You Need to Know About Body Piercings
PIERCING AS A WAY OF SELF-EXPRESSION or a symbol of social status has existed as long as, for example, a tattoo and other body modifications. And although any such interventions come with risks, with a competent approach they can be minimized. We figure out how to get pierced without complications – in a variety of areas.
Why do people get pierced
Piercing is one of the oldest body modification practices that has existed in different civilizations and is loaded with many meanings in addition to the usual decorative. For example, the Maya pierced different parts of the body – earlobes, nostrils, lips, tongue – to make sacrifices to the gods. In India, nose piercing is associated with a woman’s marriage – and according to another version, it should help to cope with painful menstruation. Tutankhamun ‘s ears were pierced ; earrings are mentioned in the Bible, and genital piercings are mentioned in the Kama Sutra. Some traditions have survived to this day. For example, girls of the Mursi people living in the southwest of Ethiopia, in adolescence, have their lower lip pierced and a wooden plate inserted into it; a woman with a puncture is highly respected in the community.
Today, piercing is also done for a variety of reasons: for someone it is a way to regain control over the body, for someone – a tribute to fashion, for someone – an opportunity to express involvement in a certain group of people. So, according to a 2013 survey of 195 American college students, the leading motives for piercing were self-expression and the opportunity to feel unique. Punctures can be associated with adolescent rebellious behavior or the search for new sensations in sex . Realtor Anna, who has pierced tongue, navel and ears, notes that she always did piercings in happy moments, so that he would remind of them; and the journalist Oksana, who pierced her nipples, explains that she was primarily motivated by the desire to decorate her body.
Another survey noted that motivation can range from wanting to be trendy to self-harming behavior. Some observations show that piercings can indeed go hand in hand with self-harming tendencies, although most often this applies to people with multiple piercings. In another study, a survey was conducted among 432 people with tattoos and piercings – on average, participants had nine modifications. It turned out that the motivation for punctures was different for people who experienced sexual violence: they were more likely than others to say that they wanted to help themselves through a traumatic experience in this way. People with more than ten body modifications showed a kind of addiction – they felt that they could not stop.
Be that as it may, body modifications came out of the underground and became familiar to many. The ministries of health of different countries are increasingly raising the issue of regulating this area: salons must undergo inspections and obtain licenses, and customers must know what to look for. A 2017 clinical report states that it is important to keep in mind the hygiene aspects of the studio where the procedure is performed, and that while public acceptance of body modifications is growing, employment difficulties for people with visible tattoos and piercings are not ruled out.
What is the danger
According to 2019 data, 23% of piercing people had medical complications. Undesirable consequences include suppuration as a result of an introduced infection, irritation, allergic reactions, mechanical trauma, and others. Infections are perhaps the main problem, because any puncture is tissue damage that can take a long time to heal, and microorganisms can get into the wound from the skin surface. At risk are people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus: it may be more difficult for their immune system to cope with trauma and bacteria, says Alexander Latyshev, a surgeon at the Rassvet clinic .
The most common causative agents of infection are Staphylococcus aureus, group A streptococcus and pseudomonas . The infection can be recognized by its typical symptoms: swelling, redness around the wound, burning sensation, throbbing, tenderness, and even pain in the area of the puncture. Of course, suppuration is also a signal that a doctor is needed. In the medical literature, cases of infective endocarditis are mentioned – inflammation of the endocardium, the inner layer of the heart lining the chambers and heart valves, due to an infection that has entered the bloodstream. First of all at-risk group includes people with heart disease, but suffer are those who have never encountered them. So if, after a week or two after the puncture, there is an increase in temperature that is not associated with a cold, weakness and malaise, then you should immediately consult a doctor.
It is important that during the procedure, the master uses sterile instruments and treats the puncture site with an antiseptic. Advisor to the Russian Association of Professional Piercers, chief piercer in the St. Scalpelburg Arseniy Andersson recommends always finding out how the equipment is sterilized in the salon. Usually, a special autoclave or dry-oven is used for these purposes. The first one works with the help of steam, which, due to the high pressure inside the gadget, completely covers the surface of the instrument. In the second case, just hot air is used – this method is more suitable not for piercing devices, but for an instrument without internal cavities, since the heating inside and outside is uneven. The autoclave should be B- or S-grade, adds the piercer. Instruments should be sterilized before and after use, and stored in a clean, dry place; sometimes special autoclave bags or a UV camera are used for this.
Andersson recommends giving preference to masters who are members of professional piercer associations (the Russian one is called RuAPP): membership in such an organization is impossible without the knowledge and tools necessary for safe work. It would seem that the risks and the need to comply with the rules of asepsis and antiseptics should be clear to everyone without unnecessary explanations – but in Wales in 2015 there was an outbreak of serious skin infections, which was associated with visits to tattoo and piercing parlors, which were not distinguished by good hygiene. Many of the clients of these salons were under the age of sixteen (and did not give their real age before the procedure).
How to care
Among the general recommendations for caring for a fresh piercing is washing the piercing with antiseptics or saline. Doctor Alexander Latyshev recommends using chlorhexidine or miramistin – but it is better to refuse iodine, peroxide and soap with triclosan, fragrances and dyes . It is better to treat the wound not with cotton swabs that leave fibers, but with gauze, and blot it dry with a paper napkin or a clean towel. However, the recommendations change depending on the place: Russian piercers suggest using antiseptics and covering or sticking the puncture in the early days, and in European countries you can hear that there is nothing better than saline in a spray and the ability to heal in the air. Brian Skelly , member of the ASTM F04 Medical and Surgical Devices and Implants Committee , says that if the master has completely cleaned the skin and the instrument, then the wound cannot be called contaminated, which means that additional cleansing is also not needed.
Barcelona piercer Angel Armengol notes that swimming pools are dangerous for fresh piercings, chlorinated water can cause severe irritation of the wound. When swimming in the sea, there should be no problems, but a high concentration of salt can lead to unpleasant sensations, and it is better to once again rinse the puncture with saline. Pets can be dangerous: Small particles of wool from the air or furniture tend to stick to the wound – and this can cause irritation and infection. Awareness is important: if you forget about the piercing, then there is a risk of catching and pulling the earring with a towel, underwear, a backpack strap (even through clothes) or injuring with a blow while playing sports. By the way, you can train right away, only then you need to wash off the sweat well in the shower, rinse the puncture with saline and air dry. To prevent the wound from getting wet, after washing, you can use a hairdryer at low power and temperature. Sleeping on the puncture side can contribute to crushing and injury.
It is important not to touch, twist or change the earring until the puncture has healed. Otherwise, constant trauma will lead not only to pain and redness, but also to the proliferation of granulation tissue, when a volumetric formation appears under the skin (popularly – a “bump”). It is also not necessary to remove and disturb the thin crust that has appeared. Do not get any body creams, sprays, lotions, deodorant vapors or perfumes on the puncture site; during healing, it is better to prefer a shower to a bath. It should be borne in mind that the piercing will most likely not heal quickly, and even when it seems that the wound has completely healed, this may not be the case .
No matter how unexpected it may sound, after earlobes one of the most favorable types of piercing is a piercing of the nasal septum: it is easier to pierce the mucous membrane than the skin, it regenerates faster, and the nasal cavity constantly cleans itself. It takes six to eight weeks to heal (as for earlobes). The same applies to punctures on the genitals – they heal relatively quickly, although at first you need to be careful with hygiene procedures and sex and do not forget about condoms. The most problematic piercing is on the auricles, because even if during the day a person shows awareness and does not touch the jewelry with his hands, a hat, glasses or a comb, few people succeed in not sleeping on one side, and as a result, such punctures can heal seven- nine months or longer.
What to look for
A good master will spend a lot of time with you talking not only about preferences, but also about habits and lifestyle. According to Angel Armengol, most clients worry about a few seconds of upcoming pain, but do not think about the healing period, which can take six months, a year or even longer. It is very important to understand whether the puncture is compatible with habits and whether you are ready to change something – for example, not sleeping with your pet or not going to the pool for six months. Those who regularly wear a motorcycle or bicycle helmet will find it difficult to heal a puncture in the cartilage of the ear; people who are keen on rock climbing are unlikely to work with navel or nipple piercings. For swimmers, piercing is a bad idea at all: chlorinated water will simply prevent the wound from healing.
Informed consent is an important preliminary step. It must be documented: you sign a paper or electronic form and receive a copy of it. This is a confirmation that you received full information about the possible risks and care for the puncture, asked all your questions and received answers to them. If you feel like thinking, take a break to come back with an answer later.
As for the puncturing process itself, it is preceded by markup. With a special dye (for example, an antiseptic gentian violet) and a thin instrument (it can be a wooden toothpick), the master marks the points of entry and exit of the needle, evaluates the markings with you in front of the mirror, and discusses your wishes. After that, the area of skin or mucous membrane is thoroughly disinfected and the actual puncture is performed with sterile instruments; all sterile packages must be opened before your eyes. Usually, there is an indicator on the package itself or inside it that the sterilization was successful, that is, heating to the desired temperature has occurred. Piercing anesthesia is usually not used – and the use of a skin cooling spray should be a red flag. These products “freeze” the surface of the skin, making it more difficult to pierce, and this has a negative effect on healing, which is usually harder than the puncture itself.
It is normal to keep in touch with the piercer after the procedure, to come for a check-up and contact in case of any doubts . Therefore, it is better to choose a master with whom you can keep in touch. If you have any questions, but you cannot contact your piercer, or you doubt his competence, you can contact the closed group on Ask a Professional Piercer on Facebook , whose experts are carefully selected by administrators.