29 June 2002

Is Body Piercing Safe?

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

So Just How Bad Is the Piercing Scene?
Well, the American Dental Association opposes oral (tongue, lip, or cheek) piercing and calls it a public health hazard. The American Academy of Dermatology has taken a position against all forms of body piercing with one exception: the ear lobe (they also don’t object as strenuously to belly button piercing, but we’ll get to that later). And both the U.S. and Canadian Red Cross won’t accept blood donations from anyone who has had a body piercing or tattoo within a year because both procedures can transmit dangerous blood-borne diseases.

If you choose to have a body part pierced, you run the risk of the following:

  • Chronic infection
  • Prolonged bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Hepatitis B and C (which can be fatal)
  • Tetanus
  • HIV (although there are no documented cases of this)
  • Skin allergies to the jewelry that’s used
  • Abscesses or boils (infected cysts that form under your skin at the site of the piercing, which you may have to have drained with needles)
  • Permanent holes in your nostril or eyebrow
  • Chipped or broken teeth
  • Choking from mouth jewelry
  • A speech impediment

Think about your mouth – warm, dark, and moist – the perfect haven for bacteria to form, which is exactly what can happen when you have your tongue pierced. Or your eyebrow – the skin there is extremely thin and can be sensitive. And the end of your nose is made of cartilage which, if it gets infected or has a blood collection, can wither away because blood can’t get to it properly.
And of course, part of the appeal of piercing is the pain and suffering factor. Which is good, because most shops don’t use anesthesia.

What About Ears and Belly Buttons?
So why is your ear lobe OK to pierce? Because it’s made of fatty tissue and has a good blood supply – and all of that blood can protect you in the event of an infection. Your belly button has good blood flow, although belly button piercing isn’t officially endorsed by any health care organization.

Still Interested?
If you aren’t sufficiently turned off and want to go for it anyway, there are some things you can do to make piercing safer. Make sure the shop where you get your piercing:

  • is clean
  • avoids the use of piercing guns, which aren’t sterile
  • uses needles once and disposes of them in a special container
  • sterilizes everything that comes near the customer in an autoclave (this is a sterilizing machine that hospitals use on their instruments)

In addition, the piercer should wear disposable gloves and a mask – which he or she changes with each customer.
And if you do get pierced, make sure you take good care of the piercing afterward – don’t pick or tug at it, keep the area clean with soap (not alcohol) and don’t touch it without washing your hands first. If you have a mouth piercing, use antibacterial mouthwash after eating.
So think long and hard before you get anything other than your ears pierced. Most importantly – don’t pierce yourself or have a friend do it – it doesn’t get much less sterile than your bedroom on a Friday night.

Note: All information on TeensHealth is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.