Body piercing 

Introduction 

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.

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

Page last reviewed: 14/02/2013

Next review due: 14/02/2015

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Comments

The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Catsarefun said on 09 May 2014

Some of the information in this article is incorrect.
First of all, a cartilage piercing should never be performed with a gun. Piercing guns forcefully insert the jewellery and can cause excess trauma to the piercing site, and can cause cartilage to be damaged; it can even shatter or collapse. The studs use in a piercing gun are generally unsuitable for healing a cartilage piercing as well.
Many guns are made up of acrylic components that can not be autoclaved, and are not completely sterile. They also force the stud on the back of the piercing, which does not leave enough room to accommodate for swelling of the piercing and can cause excess irritation.
Some of the aftercare information is also incorrect. The piercing should not be left uncleaned for the first three days of the piercing unless it is a surface piercing or dermal anchor. Although products such as alcohol, creams/lotions and peroxide should never be used, saying that sea salt should be avoided completely is incorrect, as sea salt soaks are the best way to clean and soothe pain and irritation of a piercing, and should be used routinely throughout the initial healing time and occasionally after the piercing is healed.
Considering that you are a healthcare service, I am disappointed that some of the advice and information provided in the above article is incorrect and may cause people to be mislead and have problems with a piercing.

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Concerned49 said on 29 June 2013

Is there a minimum age for a child to have their ears pierced. I know of a couple who are planning to have the ears of their four month old baby daughter pierced. Surely this is wrong?

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User540429 said on 22 March 2011

I am so glad to see that the NHS has taken a stance to provide some good knowledge based information for the general public to view to fully consider the aspects and possibilities of any body piercing. So long has passed where the body piercers are left to their own devices and a lot of people walk in unaware of any risks. Though this does not apply to a lot of body piercers (myself included), some inexperienced practitioners are out there.

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