Everyone has an opinion on nipple piercings. Maybe you have one of your own. Maybe you want one. Maybe the thought makes you want to cross your arms and protect your breasts at all costs. Or maybe, like us, you just have a voyeuristic fascination with the whole thing.
Still, celebrity piercer Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric tells us, “I’ve pierced cardiac surgeons’, OB/GYN’s, and professional's nipples in every field you can imagine." Thompson is a piercer to stars like Beyonce, Jessica Alba, FKA Twigs, and more, which makes him the perfect person to answer our every last questions on the subject.
If you're ready to have every single question about nipple piercings answered right here, right now, start scrolling (and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling...because we asked everything).
This is a huge trend in L.A. right now. When did the uptick happen? Is the piercing more popular among men or women?
“There are far more women getting pierced than men ever since Kendall [Jenner] got hers done here [at Body Electric]. It’s been popular over the past few years, but nothing like after Kendall did it. But you gotta give some credit to Rihanna, too. She definitely contributed to it. I told you before: It feels like I've pierced every nipple in Los Angeles — twice.”
Are most people doing one nipple or both?
“More women are doing both right now, which is a big shift from last year when women were just doing one and it was the men doing both."
I’ve never met a nipple I couldn’t pierce...
-Brian Keith Thompson
Pick one: barbells or hoops?
"Barbells are way more popular. They’re more subtle under clothes and they heal faster because they don’t move around as much,” says Thompson. Barbells also allow for more room for swelling: “I like to allow at least an eighth of an inch on each side of the nipple, between the ball.” This allows for the fluctuation. Plus, it’s easier to accidentally hit or pull a hoop than a barbell. One more thing while we’re on the subject: You want to go with an internally threaded barbell, not an externally threaded one, which means the bar is smooth and won’t create irritation and tiny cuts while going in or out of the piercing.
What kind of metal is best? How much should the piercing and ring cost in total?
Thompson prefers titanium for those that want to save some dough because it’s hypoallergenic and rarely problematic. Obviously, gold (white, rose, or yellow) or platinum is great, too, if you want to splurge.
You can also go for stainless steel, but Thompson notes that not all stainless steel is created equal: Cheap options (often imported from overseas) can be under £20, but they can have a good amount of nickel mixed in, which is a common culprit of allergic reactions. Stick to medical grade or implant grade stainless steel if you go that path.
A quality titanium or implant grade stainless steel barbell with the piercing will run you about £50 or 60 in most cities — less in smaller towns, more in bigger cities. Solid gold can be upwards of several hundred with the piercing. And platinum? If you have to ask, you can't afford it.
Let’s talk about pain — how bad is it really?
Thompson calls it “totally tolerable,” but spend enough time on Reddit boards and chatting with those who have experienced it and you’ll find it’s considered one of the most painful piercings. But, it’s also incredibly fleeting. “”It’s like one, two, done,” Thompson says. “It’s short-lived pain.”
How long does it take to heal?
On average, it’s between a few months and a year (six months is the most common answer), but some nipples, unfortunately, cannot tolerate the piercing and never heal. (The warning sign yours is rejecting the piercing? A red streak across your nipple. You want to get the jewelry out before it fully rejects, because if you let it get pushed too far, “you’re going to have a terrible scar.”)
However, that doesn’t mean the healing process is a nightmare. “The first few days, they’re going to be very tender, then they start feeling good, fast,” he says. But whatever you do, don’t think you were the exception and have healed nipples in a few weeks: “People start feeling good, so they stop taking care of them, they start touching them, they let their significant other play with them,” Thompson says. This is a big mistake that can lead to problems, so stay diligent for the first year, or risk having major issues.
Can you pierce any nipple? Even small, inverted, or flat nipples?
“I’ve never met a nipple I couldn’t pierce,” Thompson says. Yep, that includes all the types mentioned above. He notes that inverted nipples are almost as common as flat ones — and he pierces plenty of ‘em. Piercing an inverted nipple can actually cause it to become pushed out, while flat nipples will become slightly more raised. Small nipples are a breeze; he just opts for a smaller barbell.
If you wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking the water, don’t let it touch your nipple until it’s healed.
Those very concerned about flat or inverted nipples can request a suction device that pulls the nipple out, making it easier — although it’s not really necessary, Thompson says. "Your piercer can simply work the nipple out with their fingers," he says. (If that made your stomach turn, prepare yourself for what's to come.)
Do pierced nipples stay hard forever?
“No, the nipple will not stay erect, but it will be more pronounced."
Is there anything you have to avoid after you get pierced?
Keeping it clean and free of foreign bacteria is of paramount importance for the first few months. That means you (and your S.O.) should limit touching, and avoid pools, spas, hot tubs, bodies of water, and even showers in countries with water sanitation limitations. Translation: If you wouldn’t feel comfortable drinking the water, don’t let it touch your nipple until it’s healed.
What’s the actual piercing process like?
Obviously, all places work a little differently and it's very important to make sure you go to a reputable piercing studio with clean conditions, good reviews (check Yelp and Google the shit out of your piercer), and an experienced staff — but you already knew that. Having said that, know your experience shouldn’t be too far off from how it works at Body Electric. Here’s how it goes down.
After you pick your jewellery and sign the proper forms, the piercing room will be closed for privacy. First, the jewellery is sterilised with a machine. The nipple is cleaned with alcohol and a surgical scrub, then it’s dotted with a marker before you are asked to lie down on the piercing table — just in case you pass out. "Nine times out of ten, the client wants a horizontal piercing," Thompson says.
Then, the nipple is clamped. “Some piercers don’t use clamps on the nipple, but I do because it makes the whole process a little faster,” Thompson says. A few deep breathes and in goes the needle. (If they pull out a piercing gun, put on your top and run!) Your piercer will then put your jewellery in, apply pressure to stop any bleeding, and place a bandage over the piercing.
Is bleeding normal?
Yes, bleeding is totally normal and common both at the time of the piercing and during the first week, Thompson says — but it doesn’t happen to everyone. If you're bleeding after a week, or more than you would from a small cut, call your piercer and explain what's going on.
What should you expect for a few days after?
Your nipples may bleed for the first week and you can expect them to be incredibly sore. You’ll quickly realise how often your nipple lightly brushes random things — because it’s going to hurt. It will get crusty and require daily cleaning.
What’s the most common follow-up call you receive after you pierce someone's nipple?
“That they’re swollen more than we foresaw and they need to come in and put a longer post in their barbell,” Thompson say. Luckily, it’s easy to swap the posts, if only until the swelling goes down. You need to come in fast if your nipple is swollen past the ball or risk other issues.
How do you care for a nipple piercing?
Gentle soap and warm water applied very gently once per day in the shower, then just allow the piercing to air-dry. Different piercers recommend different formulas, but Thompson sends everyone home with a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap in Tea Tree or Baby Unscented (for sensitive skin). You can pick this up at most health food stores.
We can't stress this next part enough: Don't touch it! That means no turning or touching the barbell — at all! Don't let anyone else touch it, either. Wear a soft cotton bra (like a bralette or comfy sports bra), and just try to forget about it for a few weeks, short of monitoring the healing and washing it in the shower.
It’s normal for nipple piercings to get crusty, so many people opt for a daily sterile saline bath. Grab a bottle of sterile saline and a shot glass, or try Thompson's DIY: Mix half a teaspoon of sea salt in a large mug of warm water until dissolved, then fill a shot glass or smaller mug with the mixture, cup over the nipple and let it soak for as long as you like. “You can’t [overdo] this — it’s great for speeding up the healing process,” Thompson says. Still getting crusty after six months? Try upgrading your jewellery; it could be a light allergic reaction.
Avoid rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ointment, or anything else you may use to treat a wound. Repeat after us: Soap, saline, soft bras — and no touching! Cleaning piercings is really important, read our full guide to piercing cleaning.
How do you know if your nipple is infected and you need to see a doctor, or if it’s just irritated or healing slowly?
Thompson notes that an infection is not as common as you might think, and most irritation is likely from an allergic reaction to cheap jewellery, while pain and redness could be from a too-small barbell. This is what he tells his clients: An actual infection will cause a slight fever, swollen lymph nodes, or a piercing that's red, inflamed, and painful. If something feels off, it probably is — and the nipple is no place to take risks. Call your piercer as soon as you suspect an issue and never be shy about calling your primary care physician for advice — that’s what they’re there for.
Can you change your jewellery yourself?
"Yes, once it’s healed and you feel confident, it’s totally fine to switch out your jewellery yourself," Thompson says. The only caveat? “Don’t take too much time to do it." The nipple, especially in the first year, could start to close up within a few minutes. Because of this, Thompson suggests letting a pro change your jewellery the first few times.
Will the piercing hole close if you remove the jewellery down the road?
Most of the time, even if the nipple is healed and you’ve had the piercing for years, the hole will close up — fast. There are exceptions, of course, and some holes stay open for years without jewellery, but it’s pretty uncommon.
What happens if you have to have a non-related medical procedure that requires removal of the piercing?
You can purchase a ‘retainer,’ which is basically a glass barbell that won’t disrupt a procedure (like an MRI or surgery) and maintain the hole.
Level with us: How long do you and your S.O. really have to wait before touching ‘em?
Thompson notes that the less people who touch it, the better, to limit foreign germs. In other words: Try to avoid letting a bunch of random hook-ups feel you up for awhile. “At least go three or four weeks and try to keep it to a minimum,” Thompson explains, “but it’s not like you have to go six months.” And obviously, wash your hands before touching your nipples.
Does the piercing make your nipple more sensitive?
Yes and no. The nervous system is what makes your nipples sensitive, he explains, so it doesn’t really make them more sensitive, but it does make them stick out more and makes you more aware of them, so for some, this is more than enough to make a noticeable difference. Of course, many people do report they are significantly more sensitive after, so this answer isn’t so black and white.
Let’s talk about scarring from piercings. What are the best and worst case scenarios?
Any piercing is going to leave a mark, but you can minimise it with proper care. “If they’re done properly and you don’t have any reaction to the metal, they will be very minimal and most people won’t even notice,” Thompson says. However, genetics and complications can cause keloids or hypertrophic scarring, and again, it could reject, leaving you with a bad scar that would require surgery to attempt to fix. "With every type of piercing, you must remember that they are repercussions and scars can happen,” he says.
Once they’re healed, can you breastfeed?
“This is my most common question — and the answer is yes,” Thompson says. It's true that it shouldn't impact your ability to breastfeed, but that’s not to say that a nipple piercing can’t cause complications. Again, there are risks and complications and scarring can happen.
Which is more painful: nipple or genital piercings?
“Well, that depends on the genital piercing — there are some male genital piercings that will make you see God," Thompson says with a laugh.
Did we somehow miss your burning question? Leave it in the comments below and we'll update this post with the answer!
Update: As promised, Thompson will be addressing the questions you left in the comments below.
Is it safe to pierce the same spot for a second time? It's been about two years since I removed mine because I felt like they were being rejected. I really miss them and have considered getting them done again.
"Absolutely. I’ve re-pierced each one of mine, I think it’s about four times now. It’s not going to hurt more and it's not going to cause any additional problems. There’s really no downside to re-piercing again."