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 and easy to get. Still, don't let the ease of getting piercings stop you from doing your research. Piercings carry risks and can cause complications. The decisions you make now — such as where you get the piercing and how you care for the piercing — 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 infection and other complications. Specific risks include:

  • 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, swelling, pain and 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 — including possible jewelry removal — 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, ask yourself whether you truly want to invest in body art. Also consider the location of the piercing and whether you'll be able to conceal the piercing if necessary — such as at the workplace. If you're unsure about the piercing or worry that you might regret it someday, give yourself more time to think about it. 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. 06, 2012 See more In-depth