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

Ears. Lips. Bellybuttons. Eyebrows. Piercings are popular, especially among adolescents and young adults. But piercings can cause complications. Find out how certain safety precautions, the placement of your piercing and how well you care for it can affect your risk of infection and proper healing.

Know the risks

A piercing is the creation of an opening in a part of the body for the insertion of jewelry. It's rarely done with a numbing agent (anesthetic).

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. This might cause redness, pain, swelling or a pus-like discharge after a piercing.
  • Other skin problems. Piercing can lead to scars and raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue (keloids).
  • 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.

You might need medication or other treatment 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 let yourself be pressured into getting a piercing, and don't get a piercing if you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If you're sure you want to get a piercing, talk to friends who have them. Find out if they have suggestions or regrets.

March 06, 2018 See more In-depth