Introduction 

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

Body piercing is especially popular with teenagers and young people. It’s a fairly safe procedure, as long as it’s 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 council for further information.

Don’t try to carry out body piercing yourself. This can be very dangerous, as there’s 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

Bacterial infection is the main risk associated with body piercing. A build-up of pus (abscess) sometimes forms around the piercing site, which can be 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 from body piercing.

Read more about the risks of body piercing.

How body piercing is carried out

The skin may be cleaned with soap and water, and blotted dry before it’s marked up and checked by both you and the piercer. The piercing will then be done with sterile piercing equipment.

Generally, only earlobe piercings are carried out with a piercing gun, by either a jeweller or a professional body piercer, although some guns may be used on ear cartilage. Guns should not be used on any part of the body besides the ears.

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. 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 looking for signs of infection.

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

You may be advised to use a salt water solution or other wound wash to clean the area and dry it out. Strong surgical spirits and cream-based products should be avoided, because they can irritate the skin and trap bacteria.

Read more about caring for a body piercing.

Age restrictions

There is no legal age restriction on most body piercings, but performing genital or female nipple piercing on someone under the age of 18 could be considered an offence.

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

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

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: 08/07/2015

Next review due: 08/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 26/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017