The Hole Story

The Hole Story – body piercing

Maia Weinstock

You’re sitting in a body-piercing studio, extremely psyched; you’ve finally gotten your parents’ permission to get your tongue pierced. When it’s your turn, you grip the chair, squeeze your eyes shut, and stick out your tongue. Suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your mouth. The piercer is puncturing your tongue with a four-centimeter-long needle! Soon, she replaces the needle with a “tongue ring” a metal rod with small balls at each end. You’re pierced!

But you’re not done yet. In the next few weeks you’ll need to adjust to the discomfort of having a metal rod in your mouth. You’ll relearn how to speak so others understand you, and take care not to chip or break a tooth on the tongue-ring. And if you don’t wash your mouth out regularly, small organisms bacteria will infect your tongue, causing swelling and more pain. Is piercing worth the hassle?

For many, the answer is yes. Today, teens are getting their bodies pierced more than ever–and in every place imaginable! In fact, body piercing is becoming a new art for many young Americans. But like any scarification (wounding) of the body, piercing poses risks. While most piercing is safe when done in a sterile (clean) environment, you must be very careful when deciding if, where, and how to get pierced. To learn more, check out these piercing facts.

Q What is body piercing?

A: Body piercing is the act of punching a hole in your body, usually in your skin or cartilage, the tough material that gives your nose, ears, and other body parts their shape. To keep the hole in place, you fill it with a stud or earring.

Q How much does body piercing hurt?

A: The initial piercing hurts about as much as getting an injection. But pain can linger in the area around the hole for days or weeks after the procedure. That’s because the wound becomes inflamed: blood flow increases to help it heal, causing the skin to become swollen and sore.

Q Do you bleed when you get pierced?

A: A little bleeding is normal, but the amount of blood you lose is usually small enough to wipe away with a tissue. However, if you consume aspirin or alcohol before the piercing, bleeding can be heavier since these substances thin the blood, causing it to flow at a faster rate.

Q Will the hole ever close up?

A: All normal-sized body piercings eventually close up if left unfilled by jewelry–except for those in the ear lobe, the “squishy” part of your ear. When healed, tissue on the inside of a hole in the ear lobe leaves a scar, explains Patrick McCarthy, president of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP). “You can usually just stick an earring through the hole and your ear lobe will reopen,” he says.

Q When does a new piercing heal?

A: How quickly a piercing heals depends on where it’s located and whether or not it gets infected. In general, ear and face piercings take about six weeks to heal. Tongues and nipples heal in about eight weeks. Bellybutton, or navel, piercings usually take the longest –often up to nine months! This is because clothing rubs against the piercing, which irritates the skin. Cartilage piercings also heal particularly slowly because cartilage can’t heal itself. “Cartilage doesn’t have its own circulation,” says APP secretary Bethra Szumski. Instead, it must wait for surrounding tissue to provide the blood it needs to heal. Soreness can also be prolonged if the area gets infected with bacteria. “Most piercing problems come from touching a wound with the same grimy hands you use to flush the toilet, hold money, or rub your eyes,” explains Szumski.

Q Can I get sick from being pierced?

A: Diseases–including potentially fatal ones–can be transmitted from one person to another if piercers use unclean equipment. That’s because the piercing apparatus comes in contact with blood. And blood can carry diseases like HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and hepatitis. If piercing equipment contains traces of infected blood, you could get sick. To avoid this, you must make sure to choose a piercer who uses sterilized equipment or “one-use” needles. And never allow anyone to pierce you with a “piercing gun.” This equipment can’t be sterilized!

Q Can wearing the wrong jewelry be dangerous?

A: Yes! In unhealed piercings, some jewelry can cause allergic reactions, or overreactions of the immune system to foreign substances.

Long-term swelling, itching, and burning are symptoms of an allergic reaction. To avoid such a reaction, use only jewelry made of platinum, niobium, titanium, 316L-grade stainless steel, or 24- or 18- carat gold. Steer clear of nickel jewelry–it’s the most likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Q Is piercing dangerous in other ways?

A: If done improperly, certain piercings can harm nerves, causing injury that can last for days–even for life. If your tongue is pierced in the wrong place, you could experience numbness or even loss of taste, warns Dr. John Ward of Shreveport, Louisiana. Facial nerves can also be pinched if an eyebrow ring sits too close to the bridge of your nose, causing partial facial paralysis. However, such cases are rare. “If you go to a trained piercer, these problems won’t happen,” adds McCarthy.

Q How old do I have to be to get pierced?

A: Each state has a law regulating how old you must be to get pierced in a piercing studio. In general, teens between 15 and 18 years of age can get pierced with a parent or guardian’s permission. “The main reason for such regulation is that you must be responsible enough to take proper care of your piercing,” Szumski says. Of course, there are always people willing to pierce anyone to make a quick buck. But chances are, they use unclean piercing methods. Better to wait and be safe.

Q How do I find a safe piercer?

A: First, check out the APP’s Web site, which lists dozens of safe piercing studios ( Make sure the studio you choose has an autoclave, a device that sterilizes piercing materials. Also, check that the studio has an up-to-date piercing license. And make sure the piercer provides appropriate after-care. Most of all, use your instincts. Think of body piercing as a medical procedure. If a studio doesn’t look as clean as a doctor’s office, it’s probably not a good place to get pierced!

Body piercing is a common practice in cultures around the world. It is often performed as a ritual, or for spiritual reasons. This man from Thailand pierced his cheeks for a public celebration last fall. His piercing is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity.


Should it be legal to get your body pierced before you’re 18 years old?


I think you should be able to get pierced, but your parents should have something to say about it. My ears are pierced, and I’m getting my navel pierced, too. It’s a way to express myself.

Loren Massimino, 13 Bridgeport, CT


I don’t think it should be legal to get pierced until you’re 21 .You might look back when you’re older and realize that you didn’t really want the piercing.

Adam Jimenez, 12 Lacey, WA


It depends on what part of your body. If it’s just your ears, I think yes. But I wouldn’t pierce my body until I was older because it’s something nice to look forward to.

Kendra Lawrence, 14 Jackson, SC

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