Piercings: How to prevent complications

Piercings might be more common than ever, but don't take piercing lightly. Know the risks and understand basic safety precautions and aftercare steps.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

From ears to lips to bellybuttons, piercings are popular. But they also carry risks and can cause complications. Where you get a piercing and how you care for it can help you prevent infection and speed the healing process.

Know the risks

A piercing is the insertion of jewelry into an opening made in the ear, nose, eyebrow, lip, tongue or other part of the body — usually without anesthetics.

Although earlobe piercing is generally less risky than other body piercings, any type of piercing poses a risk of complications, including:

  • Allergic reactions. Some piercing jewelry — particularly pieces made of nickel — can cause allergic reactions.
  • Oral complications. Jewelry worn in tongue piercings can chip and crack your teeth and damage your gums. Tongue swelling after a new piercing can interfere with chewing and swallowing — and sometimes breathing.
  • Skin infections. A skin infection — which might cause redness, pain, swelling or a pus-like discharge — is possible after a piercing.
  • Other skin problems. Piercing can lead to scars and keloids — raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.
  • Bloodborne diseases. If the equipment used to do the piercing is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases — including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus and HIV.
  • Tearing or trauma. Jewelry can get caught and torn out accidentally, potentially requiring stitches or other repair.

Medication or other treatment might be needed if you develop an allergic reaction, infection or other skin problem near the piercing.

Make sure you're ready

Before you get a piercing, think carefully about it. Consider the location of the piercing and whether you'll be able to conceal the piercing if necessary — such as at work.

If you're unsure about the piercing or worry that you might regret it someday, consider waiting. Don't allow yourself to be pressured into getting a piercing, and don't get a piercing if you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Mar. 04, 2015 See more In-depth