Pierced earlobes have been in vogue for a long time, but these days some people are going to new extremes, with trendy followers of fashion piercing their eyebrows, navals, tongues, and more.
Body piercing involves some pain and can lead to difficulties, particularly with areas other than earlobes. Piercing should be performed by a doctor or other health-care professional or by a trained body piercing professional. The procedure must be done properly to minimize risks and sterile equipment is essential to prevent infection of the site and the transmission of hepatitis or HIV. If you are undergoing piercing, you may first want to get a tetanus shot and a hepatitis vaccination.
Safe piercing requires a new, sterilized, disposable needle. Don't agree to the use of a "gun," which is difficult to sterilize. Be sure that the practitioner puts on a fresh pair of latex gloves before starting. The jewellery inserted should be nonallergenic (stainless steel or gold, for example), because irritations often occur from a sensitivity to nickel and other metals found in inexpensive jewellery. Also, the jewellery must be the correct size for the particular body part: too thick may cause an abscess; too thin may cause tearing.
Physicians advise against piercing the ears of babies and young children, who are highly susceptible to infection.
After the piercing
You can speed up the healing process and reduce the risks of complications by taking care of the pierced area. Leave studs in earlobes for the first few weeks, rotating them frequently to keep them from sticking. Clean around the studs twice daily with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, and then apply antibiotic ointment. After several days, simply wash the area with soap. The care of other external body parts is basically the same, but some areas can take much longer to heal (see chart, below).
Infection and scarring are particular dangers with the upper ear and the nostril because these areas consist primarily of cartilage and have little blood flow. If the area becomes infected, consult a physician immediately; you may require treatment with antibiotic drugs. Signs of infection include unusual discomfort as well as crusting, swelling, redness, and discharge.
If you like the look of piercing but not the pain and risks, try clip-on or magnetic jewellery. With the latter, a small but powerful magnet holds an outer stud in place. This type is good for ears, but problems can occur with the lip, nose, and tongue. Plus the studs won't stay in most navals. Clip-on rings fit easily on the nostril and upper ear.
Healing Times and Risks
Earlobe - 1 to 2 months - Infection
Eyebrow - 1 to 2 months - Black eye
Lip - 1 to 2 months - Uncontrollable drooling caused by damage to salivary-gland ducts
Tongue - 1 to 2.5 months - Swelling, soreness; long-term risks of numbness, loss of taste, speech problems, chipped teeth
Upper ear - 1 to 3 months - Serious infection, scarring
Nostril - 2 to 3 months - Serious infection, scarring
Naval - 2 to 12 months - Infection