A lingering fad in the 80's with an uncertain period in the early
90's when earring-sidedness implied a sexual preference, body
piercing has since surged into mainstream acceptance and continues
to gain increasing popularity in diverse niches - the emerging
pubescents, the X'ers, the aging baby boomers, the fringe conservatives
in midlife crisis.
Say hello to Generation P, the pierced
Suddenly ubiquitous, body piercing has
been in use since antiquity: the Mayans with its religious ritual
of tongue piercing, the buccal labrets worn by Aztecs of higher
caste, the Egyptian pharaoh's pierced navels as a sign of royalty,
and the Roman soldiers' nipple piercing for virility and loyalty
to the emperor. In the Alaskan Tlingit people, nose piercing
was a status symbol. On the other end of that historical spectrum,
piercing is considered taboo or unacceptable in some cultures
Today, body piercing is both protest
and fashion. For some it provides a benign continuum for social
protest. For most, it is a fashion statement, the accouterment
of "cool" without the permanence of tattoos, from the
simple and elegant to the absurd and bizarre. For some, it is
the extremist expressive art form. For a few, it is a journey
into its stimulatory possibilities.
Although the ear is most commonly pierced,
no area is exempt. Barbells, rings, studs and labrets now dangle,
decorate and pierce the common and intimate parts of the anatomic
landscape: lips, tongue, eyebrows, nose, nipples, navels, the
penis and scrotum, the clitoris and vaginal lips.
As popularity has zoomed, so have complications.
The fad has spawned an unregulated industry of "studios,"
many manned by untrained "experts" with inadequate
grasp of the essentials of anatomy and the gamut of potential
complications. Perhaps, 50% might even be done by children on
children, who after failing to get parental permission turn to
their friends or pierce themselves.
The explosion in piercing's popularity
was associated with an astounding rise in nickel allergy. By
1993, 25% more people had nickel allergy compared to 1985. 13%
of 8- to 15-year old girls with pierced ears have nickel allergy
compared to 1% in those with unpierced ears. Among nickel-allergic
women, 95% have pierced ears.
AN EXTREME FORM OF PIERCING
A radical and fringe form of body
piercing - implants - has emerged, and fortunately, has not caught
on. It involves the insertion of small beads or 3-D art implants
(rings, crosses, barbels) and a variety of transdermal implants.
Beware, It is a much more complicated process requiring professional
skills in a sterilized environment.
AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
• Piercing has gone from "in"
to "mainstream" fashion statement. And so often, fashion
turns into a folly of the past. And alas, piercings leave scars
and holes—relics of your past that might hamper your employability.
And with the popularity of multiple facial/ear piercings, later
regrets might not be amenable to expensive plastic surgical efforts.
• Since the late 90s, estimates for body modification (tattoos and piercings) among US adolescents range from 10% to 25%. (7)
People heal at varying rates and
healing time varies widely by site, from 3 weeks to a year: Tongues
heal in 3 to 6 weeks; ears, lips and eyebrows in 6 to 8 weeks,
nipples in 8 to 16 weeks; and navels and other areas because
they are covered by tight waistbands or exposed to repeated trauma,
may take up to nine months or longer. Piercing of the cartilage
along the top of the ear heals more slowly than pierced earlobes.
Typical Healing Times
Penile meatus (Prince Albert)
(front to back)
(side to side)
If constantly itchy, red, sore
or oozing pus, the piercing is likely infected. Infectious complications
are common, 10-25% in earlobe piercings, usually Staphylococcus
aureus; rarely, bacteremia and endocarditis can occur. In piercings
involving the auricular cartilage, Pseudomonas infections may
develop and require extensive surgical intervention. Body piercing
has also been implicated in the transmission of tuberculosis,
hepatitis B, C and D, tetanus, toxic shock syndrome, and even
HIV. Neisseria Meningitis has been implicated in a bacterial
infection arising from a tongue piercing.
• Probably the most common complication
of piercings, presents as draining, itching and crusting around
the jewelry, entrance and exit holes.
• Metal allergy is usually due to nickel
contained in 316L stainless steel and certain gold alloys. In
such cases, titanium, stainless steel or niobium may be hypoallergenic
• Tongue piercings can chip and crack the teeth and damage the gums. Tongue swelling may occur that can interfere with chewing and swallowing.
Keloids, scarring, migration or
rejection can occur. Early consultation with a physician is suggested.
1. Always wash hands
thoroughly before handling the piercing site.
2. Cleanse the area twice daily.
3. Remove dried matter on jewelry and around piercing
sites with a moist cotton swab.
4 . Soaking the area in salt water can facilitate
healing and help loosen crusty formations.
5 . Avoid the use of rubbing alcohol or hydrogen
peroxide—they may discolor the jewelry, dry out the skin and
6 . Three times a daily, pour water over the site
and apply a small amount of antibacterial soap. Gently massage
into the area.
7 . Carefully work the jewelry back and forth 5 or
8 . After 2-3 minutes, rinse the area thoroughly
to remove all cleansing solution and dry carefully.
9. Avoid over-use of antibiotic ointments as they
block the air from the pierced area.
10. For tongue and lip piercings, use a saltwater rinse or an
antibacterial mouthwash after each meal or snack.
1. Limit ear piercing to the lobe.
Piercings of the ear cartilage can result in more difficult infections.
2. Because of sterilizing concerns, use of sterile disposable
hollow needles is preferable to ear-piercing guns.
3. If infection develops despite post-piercing care, consult
a physician for early definitive treatment.
4. Wherever possible, seek reputable, trained, certified or licensed
piercers. Inexperience is associated with higher complications.
- In a pilot survey for the prevalence
data on body piercing and tattooing, among 32 people with body
piercing and/or tattoos, 13 had piercings and tattoos, 11 had
tattoos only, and 6 had piercings only. In these 32 respondents,
there were a total of 199 body piercings and 105 tattoos. Of
the latter, 2 have been removed and 5 were kept covered.
- Alcohol may play a role in the decision for piercing or tattooing
& shy; 28 of the 32 consumed a mean of 6 alcoholic beverages
- Intimate or genitalial piercing may involve a pseudosexual
relationship with the piercer.
• Marker for Risk Taking: A 2002 study assessed tattoos and body piercing as markers of risk-taking in 484 adolescents for behaviors as eating disorders, illegal drug use, sexual activity, and suicide. (7)
• Antisocial Activity / Risk Behaviors: A review of 23 published studies suggest that body piercing may relate to high-risk behaviors and psychiatric symptoms such as suicidal thoughts. Body piercing ranged from 6.8% to 14% in the general population and from 4.3% to 51% among teenagers and young adults. Piercing was more likely in females. It was found associated with antisocial activity, with a wide range of potentially harmful behaviors: alcohol use, smoking, drug use, high-risk sex, Russian roulette and problem gambling.