The Nipple Piercing Trend You Never Saw Coming

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
So-called "intimate" piercings may have just been banned for U18s in Wales, but with Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Rihanna and Paris Jackson among the slew of celebs who sport barbells under bras, the nipple piercing is on its way to becoming as ubiquitous as belly button rings were in 1999. (Even Beyoncé had one, remember?) So perhaps it’s no wonder that third and fourth nipple rings may start to gain traction, too. No, we’re not talking about double piercings on a set of nipples — but adornment to third and fourth nipples on the body.
So-called supernumerary nipples (street name: “accessory” nipples) may seem a little sci-fi, but according to the National Institutes of Health Genetic and Rare Diseases Center, the phenomenon is pretty common. And there are some very cool kids in the club — including Lily Allen, Tilda Swinton and Harry Styles, whose torso is adorned with four nipples.
But back to piercing: With a nickname like “accessory nipple”, isn’t a supernumerary nipple just begging to be, well, accessorised? Sure, some opt to have third and fourth nipples surgically removed but as Dave Black, a professional piercer and senior operations manager for upscale piercing jeweller Maria Tash points out, sometimes the most unique body features are those most worth highlighting.
In Black's 22-year career, only one client has ever come to him with a third nipple piercing request — and that was a decade ago. “A guy who already had both nipples pierced came in and told me he was self-conscious about his extra nipple. He felt that when people noticed his pierced nipples, the third one stood out even more,” Black says. The client asked him, “Would it be weird if I pierced my third nipple?” If anything, Black maintained that adorning the third nipple would garner more welcomed attention.
Black and his client selected a ringed piece of jewellery for the job, though that typically wouldn't be done today. “What we found through the years is that using barbells helped the piercing heal a bit quicker,” Black notes, adding: “They don’t get knocked around, causing irritation. They sit put.”
Because third and fourth nipples tend to be smaller than primary nipples, Black scaled the needle size and jewellery gauge back to a fifth of the typical size used for nipple piercing — from 12 or 14 gauge to 18 (the size he would use to pierce outer ear cartilage). “I did the piercing just as I did any other nipple. It healed fine and he loved it,” Black says. But not everyone may enjoy the long-term success that Black’s client had with such a piercing.
Brian Keith Thompson, owner of LA’s Body Electric Tattoo, says that in his 11 years working as a piercer, he also has witnessed only one client with a third nipple piercing. “It had a tiny little hoop in it. It didn’t last very long,” he says, noting that the body sometimes rejects metal and naturally pushes it out. Other times, piercings never quite heal. “Some people can’t heal a navel, some can’t heal an ear,” he says.
Not that the procedure is particularly risky, comparatively: Thompson says the danger in piercing a nipple — any nipple — is the typically the same as with piercing other body parts: “If someone cross-contaminates and doesn’t use proper sterilisation techniques, then you’re at risk for contracting something like hepatitis B or hepatitis C,” he notes. (Takeaway: Take the time to research a reputable shop and don't look for a discount.)
And while empowerment or sentimental significance might drive some to body adornment, others get piercings and tattoos simply because they want to — or even for a laugh. Chelsea Smile, a piercer at Tribal Voice in the UK, tells the story of the man in the photo above, who came into the shop with friends and requested the piercing as a joke. "He was super chill and happy to do it. I think it was for a laugh, really," she says. The difficult thing about a third nipple piercing, she says, is making sure what you're sticking a needle through is indeed a nipple. "Some people have a third nipple, but sometimes it's just a mole and it takes a good looking [at] to determine if it's right to be pierced. You wouldn’t want to pierce a mole, of course," she says.
But now for the fun stuff: Can piercing accessory nipples produce the same type of increased sensitivity that some reportedly experience after getting a primary nipple pierced? Black notes that with primary nipples, “the jewellery sitting behind the tissue at the centre of the nipple pushes the nipple forward and the nerves out, which can create hypersensitivity.” (Black has pierced both of what he endearingly calls his “little boy button nipples” — and in doing so, he says that he’s “created nipples that are super-sensitive using jewellery.”) But Jaime S. Schwartz, MD, a plastic surgeon and director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at The Roxbury Institute in Beverly Hills, says that supernumerary nipples don’t typically have the same type of nerve endings, and therefore won’t likely serve as supplementary erogenous zones once pierced.
Though Black hasn’t had another client approach him with a request to pierce a third nipple since serving his first more than a decade ago, he advocates blinging out this unique asset — even if it’s something you’re shy about.
“My philosophy has always been: If you’re insecure about a body part — say you think your nose is big or weirdly shaped — pierce it. That way if someone is looking at you, they will look at the sparkling jewellery, not the shape,” he says, adding that a good piercer will fit jewellery to accommodate the body part, helping create the illusion of, say, bigger or smaller ears. “If you have a third nipple and you feel weird about it, bring a different type of attention to it. Take things you aren’t happy with or are self-conscious about and turn it into something good.”
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