The lowdown on body piercing: Dermatologists study, offer checklist

In one of the most comprehensive health examinations of body piercing, researchers have found that the wildly popular fashion statement is relatively safe although about 20% of piercings become infected.

Northwestern University dermatologists analyzed the overall safety, complications and medical consequences of piercings, focusing on the ear, nose, mouth, nipple, navel and male and female genitalia. They found infections, although treatable, were the most common complication, followed by allergies, loss of blood, scarring and interference of medical procedures, such as X-ray or ultrasound.

The study was undertaken because of a project at the Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago that’s exploring the use of magnetic tongue studs to assist people with quadriplegia in using computers and operating wheelchairs. But the safety of a tongue stud is an important question.

“Who knows what other anatomic sites for piercings could be used in the future?” Dr. Julia Minocha, a co-author of the paper, said in a news release. “If a sensor in the tongue can be used to drive a wheelchair, other devices that we haven’t even thought of yet might also work.”


The authors of the study noted that there are scant regulations on who can perform piercings and no validated guidelines for health and safety. To conduct their study, researchers visited piercing parlors to talk with industry professionals and watch them work.

The study resulted in nine tips to consider before getting a piercing:

  1. Do you have a preexisting infection?
  2. Do you have a history of asthma, hives or severe allergic response?
  3. Will you have to remove the piercing for work or contact sports?
  4. Do you have a predisposition to hypertropic or keloid scarring?
  5. Do you have the right anatomy for the piercing you want?
  6. Has your piercer been adequately trained?
  7. Does the piercer take a complete medical history, including a history of allergies, systemic diseases, particularly inquiring about cardiac disease, unregulated diabetes mellitus or other conditions that may predispose to infection?
  8. Does the piercer use appropriate, site-specific materials, such as nickel-free jewelry, to minimize the risks of allergy, infection, migration and rejection?
  9. Will you receive clear oral and written aftercare instructions? For tongue piercings, it is important to avoid aspirin for seven days and all other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for at least one day before a piercing procedure and for seven days after the event. Aspirin and NSAIDS are known to increase bleeding.

The study appears in this months’ issue of the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.

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