Body mods faqs

We really need one of these. Long gone are the threads of “how long does it take for the top of my ear to heal?” and “will having a sharp pointy metal stick poked through my skin hurt?”. Sorry, the order of this is currently a bit mixed up, I shall reshuffle when I have a moment. With help of others, this will hopefully soon include information on tattoos and other body modification.

How old do I have to be to get a piercing?

In the UK you usually have to be 16 before anybody will pierce you, although if your parents are fine with it, you can bring them along with you and they may give their consent. The only exception to this is genital piercing, for which you must be 18 years of age. Remember to take ID with you as most places will want to see proof of age before piercing you.

Where should I go to get my piercing?

Please, please, PLEASE go to a professional. Do not attempt to pierce yourself, unless you actually are a piercer! Look around, do some research and ask others that have been pierced. It isn’t just how you look that could affected by a dodgy piercer, it’s also your health so make sure you do your homework. A few signs of a poor piercer are as follows...

If they don't ask for ID and you are underage, it's worth doubting whether or not you should be getting pierced there.

Ask to see where you will be getting pierced before you part with your cash, if they aren’t willing to show you around and be friendly, it makes you wonder why. After all, this person is going to be putting sharp things in your body.

You want to see their needles and jewellery come out of SEALED packs or out of an autoclaver (a machine that completely cleans and sterilises piercing equipment). If you see your potential piercer pick up anything that’s just been lying around with the intention of putting it into you skin, run. Your piercer MUST wear gloves.

Don’t go to places that only pierce (or are only supposed to pierce) ear lobes, to get your ear cartilage pierced. Or even worse, nose or belly button. Places that do this don’t always have the correct license and almost certainly don’t have the correct equipment and experience to undertake such things. Getting your ear cartilage pierced with a piercing gun (which is common in places that specialize in ear lobe piercings) could crack or shatter the cartilage, and can also lead to keloid scarring. Due to the fact that these piercings have become more popular in recent years, businesses want to cash in on it, which is understandable but still, it’s not worth it.

Simply, use your common sense. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable eating off the surfaces in the piercing studio. If your answer is no, then you should reconsider where you get a piercing. Everything should be absolutely immaculate, I cannot stress this point enough!

How long will it take for my piercing to heal?

Different piercings take different lengths of time to heal, depending on where they are placed on the body. Cartilage piercings are often the piercings that take longest to heal, and it's not uncommon for healing to take more than a year in the more complex cartilage piercings such as industrial/scaffold piercings and orbitals. Navel piercings also take longer to heal than most people realise. Standard lobe piercings will take approximately 6 weeks to feel comfortable, but full healing can take longer. Below are some very rough guides of the healing periods you can expect for some common piercings (mostly taken from the BME Wiki).

  • Helix (the top of the ear - cartilage) - 6-12 months
  • Eyebrow - 3-6 months
  • Navel - 6-12 months
  • Female Nipple - 6-12 months
  • Male Nipple - 6-8 months
  • Lip - 2-4 months (lower lip piercings tend to heal quicker than upper lip, and cheek piercings take significantly longer to settle down)
  • Tongue - 2-3 months
  • Genital - varies from 1-2 months for piercings through thin membranes such as VCH and HCH, to over 6 months for deeper male genital piercings

As you can see, healing times can vary dramatically. Everybody is different and the healing time of your piercing can be affected by how well you look after it (see aftercare!), what jewellery you were pierced with, your general health and simply what kind of skin/cartilage you have.

How do I look after my piercing properly?

Aftercare for piercings is really very simple. Clean them twice a day with a salt solution, made up of 1 teaspoon of salt and a pint of water. If you have oral piercings, you can use an anti bacterial mouthwash. My piercer recommended Dentyl pH, an antiseptic, alcohol-free mouthwash. Use this after every time you eat, drink or smoke for the first week or two. Don't use Listerine, as it can cause some discolouration of the tongue. For the aftercare of surface piercings, I have used savlon spray and salt solution, although anymore help in this area would be greatly appreciated. Same goes for navel and eyebrow piercings, both of which I know little about.

While aftercare is not difficult, it is very important. Infection and serious complications can come about if a piercing is not properly cared for. Be sure to research not only body piercing aftercare, but also the common body piercing complications. Being well informed about piercings will ensure that no problems appear.

Is my piercing infected?

There is a difference between your piercing healing and it being infected. Swelling (rather annoyingly) can indicate both, and therefore isn’t really a good measure of whether your piercing is having a bad day or if you have a real problem. A better indication is to see if your piercing is pussing, white, yellow, even greenish are all normal indications of an infection. If this happens, go to your piercer asap. Do not take out the piercing until instructed to as this could cause further problems by the piercing closing and trapping an infection inside itself.

If you can feel something hard under the piercing, and it is also swollen or hot, and sometimes even pusses, then you could have abscess. Again, follow the “go to your piercer” advice.

If you find you have a bump next to your piercing, that is red and inflamed, then it’s possible that you may have a follicular cyst.

If there appears to be a lump around the piercing that doesn’t hurt, and seems to just be extra tissue, you could well have a keloid, although many people use this term incorrectly, when a lot of the time it’s simply a case of your piercing having a bad time.

These three symptoms all indicate that a trip to your piercer is a good idea!

Will my piercing hurt?

IMO, this is a bit of a daft question. Having a sharp metal object pushed through your skin is obviously going to be painful, although different kinds of piercings hurt more than others depending on their location. In general, cartilage piercings hurt more, given the structure of cartilage. Lobe, eyebrow, oral (with exception of the tongue) and so I hear - navel, all appear to be on the same level of the “ouch” scale. Tongue, understandably, as it is in fact a muscle, hurts a lot

Some piercers will offer you some kind of local anaesthetic although there has been recent debate as to whether this should be allowed. Some say that freezing spray can make the skin around the area of piercing behave in an unusual way which can affect the piercings appearance once the skin has returned to normal.

What kind of jewellery should be in my piercing?

Initially you are likely to have jewellery that looks to big for the piercing, this is to accommodate any swelling that may occur and you shouldn’t really worry about it. You shouldn’t have to keep it in for too long. The kind of jewellery you want to start with, should be either titanium or PTFE. This is because the human body likes this kind of jewellery the most, and are the most unlikely to give you a bad reaction. While on the topic of jewellery types, should you get a surface piercing, you MUST make sure you have the correct SHAPE of jewellery. Otherwise you will be left with hideous scarring as the body simply rejects the foreign object. You want to ask for a SURFACE bar, which is not simply a curved barbell. These are prone to rejection because they are constantly fighting against your skin to stay in. A similar thing goes for nylon bars also used in surface piercings. This link from BME very clearly explains how important it is to have the correct jewellery when having a surface piercing.

How can I hide my piercing from my boss/parents/family?

It is possibly to buy retainers for piercings which enable you to almost hide a piercing. Personally I wear them in my lip and either my boss thinks I have some sort of peculiar face markings, or she hasn’t spotted them. They are simply clear or flesh-coloured pieces of jewellery that keep your piercing open but not visible. Those that work with food may find it more difficult to use retainers as it is not only the visual aspect that prevents them from wearing jewellery, but also the hygiene aspect (and the possibility of a bit of jewellery flying off into some food!). For a similar reason, you should never wear a tongue retainer while eating, as it is very easy to swallow them.

There are 3 common materials for retainers to be made from: acrylic, glass (quartz or pyrex) and Bioplast. Acrylic is only suitable for fully healed piercings, whereas glass and Bioplast can both be autoclaved and can therefore be suitable for a healing piercing.

How do I stretch my ear piercing?

Ear stretching, originally a tribal practice, is now incredibly popular throughout the world. In most cases, people start with a small, usual sized ear lobe piercing and gradually make it larger with bigger jewellery. It is possible to stretch with a taper, or by just replaced smaller jewellery with larger pieces as times goes on. It is important to wait until your piercing is fully healed before embarking on a stretching adventure, as you want it to be able to cope. Piercers often suggest three times the healing period is a suitable length of time to wait before stretching a piercing, although as always with body piercing, this varies from person to person. Stretching too quickly can result in the piercing tearing and causing GREAT damage. It is possible to stretch other body piercings such as the septum and ear cartilage. I have experience with stretching my ear cartilage, and it’s an incredibly lengthy process, more than lobes. The key to stretching really is just to be patient.

A chart showing jewellery sizes in millimetres, gauges and inches can be seen here. When stretching, you should leave a reasonable amount of time between each size (6 weeks is often recommended as a minimum) and ensure that you don't skip sizes.

If I stretch my piercing will it go back to normal?

This depends on four factors:

  • Where the piercing is - cartilage is far more unlikely to go back to normal because of its structure, whereas lobes are more likely to go back.
  • How it was stretched - if it was stretched carefully and slowly, it will be more likely to go back, than if it was hurried into stretching.
  • How big it has been stretched to - the bigger, the more unlikely it is to return to its usual size. 6-8mm is often given as 'the point of no return' but many people have success in shrinking piercings that have been stretched significantly larger than that. On the other hand, some people find their lobes don't go back to normal even if they've only been stretched to 4mm.
  • How long it has be stretched for - the longer, the more unlikely it is to heal.

Generally, stretching should be considered at least semi-permanent. There are no guarantees that a piercing will go back to normal after being stretched to any size (unless you're happy to pay to get them stitched back up!).