Introduction 

If you decide to have a body piercing, make sure you find a reputable, licensed body piercing shop or piercer.

Piercing of the ears, nose, belly button and tongue are especially popular among teenagers and young adults. They are all fairly safe procedures, as long as they're performed by a licensed specialist and care is taken by the piercer and yourself to avoid infection.

Finding an approved piercer

Most local councils keep registers of approved piercers who have passed hygiene and safety standards, and who are regularly inspected by health and safety officers.

Contact your local borough, city or county council for further information.

Do not try to carry out body piercing yourself. This can be very dangerous as there is a high risk of infection or scarring.

If you've already found a body piercing shop, take a look around before you go ahead with the piercing. Check for any potential health risks. You should be able to answer "yes" to all the questions on our safety checklist

Possible risks

Nowadays, bacterial infection is the main risk associated with body piercing. Sometimes an abscess (build-up of pus) forms around the piercing site, which can become very serious if left untreated.

All professional body piercers in the UK use sterile instruments, so it's very rare to catch conditions such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS through body piercing.

Read more about the risks of body piercing.

How body piercing is carried out

The skin is disinfected with an alcohol solution and allowed to dry before it is pierced using sterile piercing equipment.

Only ear piercings can be done with a piercing gun, by either a jeweller or a professional body piercer. Refuse a piercing if the piercer intends to use a gun on any other part of the body.

All other types of piercing must be carried out using a hollow needle, which is pushed through the skin and tissue of the body part. You'll normally feel a quick, sharp sting while the skin is being pierced.

After a piercing, the area may bleed slightly and it may be tender, itchy and bruised for a few weeks.

Read more about how piercings are carried out.

Avoiding infection

Follow the specialist's advice after you've had your piercing. This will usually involve keeping the area clean and dry, as well as recognising the signs of infection.

Do not touch or fiddle with the area and do not turn the piercing. If a crust develops over the piercing, do not remove it – these form naturally and are the body's way of protecting the pierced site.

Read more about caring for a body piercing

Healing times

Healing times for the most common body piercings are as follows:

  • earlobe – six weeks
  • top of the ear – at least three to four months
  • belly button – up to a year
  • tongue – one to two months
  • nose – two to three months

Body piercing

More than a quarter of people experience complications after having a part of their body pierced, including swelling, infection and bleeding. Members of the public talk about their experience.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Age restrictions

There is no legal age restriction on most body piercings, but performing genital or nipple piercing on someone under the age of 16 could be considered an offence.

Some local authorities and piercing businesses may have their own regulations concerning age limits and consent for body piercings.

Page last reviewed: 14/02/2013

Next review due: 14/02/2015