How body piercing is carried out 

Before carrying out a body piercing, make sure the piercer explains any risks or possible complications.

You'll usually need to sign a consent form to confirm that you wish to go ahead. Children under the age of 16 may need to have a parent or guardian with them.

The skin may be cleaned with soap and water and blotted dry, marked and checked by both you and the piercer before the piercing is carried out. The piercing equipment must be sterile.

Earlobe and ear cartilage piercing

During an ear piercing, a hole is made through the fatty tissue of the earlobe or the cartilage at the top of the ear, and an earring is inserted.

Most piercers will only use a piercing gun to pierce the earlobes, although some guns (squeeze guns) can be used on ear cartilage, and research has suggested that other piercing guns may be safe to use on these areas too. Piercing with a gun should not be done on any other part of the body.

Most piercing guns have sterile disposable cartridges to help ensure that the piercing is clean and sterile. If you don't want your ears to be pierced with a piercing gun, you can go to a professional piercer, who can pierce ears using a sterilised hollow needle.

Whichever way you choose to have your ears pierced, make sure it happens in a clean, no-smoking environment. The person carrying out the piercing should wash their hands first, clean the skin if necessary, wear surgical gloves during the process and throw them away straight after use.

If you feel at all unsure about the person who's doing the piercing or where it's being done, go somewhere else.

Other types of piercing

All other types of piercing should be carried out using a hollow needle, which is pushed through the skin and tissue of the body part being pierced. This ensures there are clear entrance and exit holes. A piece of jewellery, usually a decorative bar or ring, is then inserted into the hole.

Some other types of piercing are discussed in more detail below.

Belly button

A belly button piercing is usually made just above the navel. A curved bar is inserted through the hole and metal balls are screwed on each end.

Special care must be taken with a belly button piercing, as this area is difficult to keep clean and dry. You will need to wash the belly button with soap and water before the piercing. The piercer will also clean the area first with soap and water, if necessary.

Afterwards, you should wear any belts well below the area until it's fully healed. Expose it to air as much as possible, but don’t fiddle with it.


A hole is pierced through the skin or cartilage of the nostril. A nose stud is then inserted through the hole.


The tongue is clamped to hold it in position while it's pierced. A bar with a screw-on metal ball at each end is inserted through the hole.


In men, nipple piercings are made in either side of the areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple). In women, the base of the nipple itself is usually pierced.

Once the piercing is made, a thin metal ring or straight bar is then inserted.

Is it painful?

Many people claim that body piercing doesn't hurt, or that it only feels like a sharp prick .In some cases, however, a piercing that’s not done correctly can cause a persistent burning pain that may mean the piercing needs to be removed.

In the UK, it's against the law for someone to be given an anaesthetic injection before the piercing process.

Use of anaesthetic creams, wipes or sprays is not advised, because it increases the risk of infection.

After a piercing

After having a piercing, the area may bleed slightly. This should stop after a few minutes, although it may bleed again for short periods over the next few days.

There may also be some clear or whitish-yellow odourless discharge that forms a crust over the jewellery during the first few days after a piercing. This is normal and is not usually a sign of infection. Don’t touch any crust that forms, as it can help to protect against infection.

A new piercing can be tender, itchy and bruised for a few weeks after it is carried out.

It’s important to take good care of your piercing to reduce your chances of problems developing. This involves keeping the area dry and recognising the signs of infection. Read the page on caring for a body piercing for more information.

Page last reviewed: 26/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017