Considering how many people get body piercings, it’s easy to assume that they are carefree and safe. And yes, they generally are. However, there are some risks involved, as there are in other body art techniques, that may have you thinking twice about getting another stud. Weigh the potential risks of infection and other ailments versus the aesthetic rewards, and decide for yourself if it is worth it.
Body Piercings History
Ear piercing has been practiced all over the world since ancient times. The oldest mummified body to date – the 5,300-year old Ötzi the Iceman found in a glacier in Austria – had an ear piercing that measured 7-11 mm wide. Earrings were found in graves dating back to 25,000 BCE. Nose piercings go as far back as 1,500 BCE in India. Today, nose piercings are especially popular in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as Middle Eastern and Arab countries. Lip piercing and lip stretching were originally associated with African and American tribal cultures and tongue piercing was practiced by the Aztec, Olmec and Mayan cultures. Nipple, navel and genital piercings are more modern, but still very popular, practices.
Modern Western piercing practices took off after World War II and became an emblem of the punk movement in the 1970s. In 1990s America, body piercing became very common across all groups of people.
Nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults have pierced ears, with only 7 percent of U.S. adults saying that have a piercing elsewhere besides their ears. About 4 percent report having a facial piercing that is not on the ear.
Pierced ears for many girls, is likely a 12th or 13th birthday gift from the parents – a symbolic coming-of-age practice. For other girls, it is something they don’t even remember having had done – they were too young to remember.
With so many people walking around with pierced ears, you’d assume that it is a quick procedure, done and over with after the initial puncturing and short-lived healing process. However, piercings come with risks, some severe. Here is what you need to know so you get the best body piercings possible, without the nasty side effects.
The risks involved with getting a piercing include infection (HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, staph, tuberculosis), pain, itching, swelling, tenderness, redness, tissue injury and scarring. Keloids, which are excessive scar tissue that forms around wounds, are 80 percent more likely to occur if ears are pierced after age 11. Allergic reactions can also occur. Most earrings contain nickel and can leak into the skin, causing an allergic reaction in people with nickel sensitivities.
When it comes to where to get a piercing, it’s helpful to consider the risks associate with different areas of the body. Tongue piercings can chip teeth and wear away at tooth enamel. There is also a high risk of bleeding and blocked airways due to tongue swelling. Genital piercings can make sex and urination painful. It can also make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. Upper ear piercings are riskier than earlobe piercings, because the skin in the upper ear area is closer to underlying cartilage. Nose piercings are also risky in that they hold bacteria more readily than earlobe piercings.
So, is it worth the risk? According to a Northwestern University research survey, 20 percent of body piercings lead to infections. Most infections are minor and will pass, but some severe infections have led to tissue loss and even brain abscesses.
Choose a body piercing place that is clean and well-trained on the procedure. Talk to the staff and see what kind of materials they use to pierce and how they prevent bacteria from getting into the mix.
After the procedure, follow all instructions given to you to keep the pierced area clean. You also have to make sure that you avoid situations in which the piercing doesn’t get tangled or attached to clothing or other objects, which can result in it tearing through the skin or becoming irritated.
The takeaway is that piercings can be dangerous, but they don’t have to be. Do your research and make sure you know the ins and outs of maintaining a piercing, from choosing an earring down to keeping the pierced area infection free!
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Tongue piercing from Shutterstock