Everything You Need To Know About These 12 Piercings

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The practice of getting pierced dates back about 5,000 years. Yep, the act of putting sharp objects through ones skin isn't an idea we conjured up in the past couple of decades — or even centuries — but it's still holding on strong. The It Girl smiley piercing has been trending as of lately and a handful of celebrities have been seen sporting the more inconspicuous nipple piercings.

Compared to getting a tattoo, piercings can be a wee bit more intimidating (What, the idea of a complete stranger sticking a foreign object in you doesn't make you giddy with excitement?!). J. Colby Smith of New York Adorned equates the act to riding a roller coaster. "You wait in line, you're like, 'A-ha it's really scary,' but it's really fun once you actually do it," he says. "People just get scared, which is totally normal — I feel like it's part of the experience."

Just like a roller coaster, once that minute-long ride is over, you often want to come back for more. But before you even get in line, there are some things you need to keep in mind. While the one and done appeal is great, the aftermath is a little more involved — but no less important. As Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric explains, one of the first things you should ask yourself is: Do I have time to take care of this? "Piercings are a kind of instant gratification thing — you do them with your friends, you're having fun, you go to a piercing place, and you're like, 'Let's do this.' But not always do you think about how long it's going to take to heal," he says. "You have to think about piercings as a long-term thing...You can't take a new piercing in and out; the human body just doesn't heal overnight."

Another factor to weigh is who you're going to go to. This is where the world wide web comes into play. (Hi!) Thompson recommends taking your time finding someone you really trust and believe in, because that could be the difference between a great piercing that hurts a little and a mediocre piercing that comes with a little more pain. "There's so many great places in the world now to get pierced. There's a thing called the internet. Type in some key words and all of this information flies out at you...There's no excuse anymore of 'I didn't know,'" he says.

Before you even step foot in an actual studio, it all comes down to getting yourself in a good mental head space, says Colby. Get a good night's sleep before you come in, bring friends that are supportive, and, most importantly, don't stress. Going back to the tattoo comparison, while piercings might be a little more intimidating, the upside is that they're also a lot less permanent.

"It's one of those things where you can try it out and see how it goes. The cool thing about piercings is none of it is life-threatening," Colby says. "Say you have it for six months, you can take your jewelry out for five years and you can put your jewelry back in five years later and revisit it. If you are feeling like you want to change your look, you can just get rid of it for a little while and then come back to it."

Now that we've got the general logistics out of the way, ahead we talk specifics. From cheek piercings to the classic ear and some other NSFW areas, we talk with piercing gurus Smith and Thompson about what you should know about any and every piercing. There's no better time than the present (or the new year!) to make a change — be it temporary or not.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
You may or may not already have your lobes pierced — it's definitely the more classic of the bunch —but maybe you want to experiment with other sections of the ear. There are levels to this particular organ, after all.

Let's start with some of the favorites. Thompson is a big fan of the helix (which is the upper cartilage area of the ear) — a.k.a. the piercing all your friends got in college — because, simply put, it looks great on everyone. There's also a section called the forward helix, which is in the same cartilage area but toward the front of the ear, which, he says, is also very popular.

Some of Smith's more adorned sections include the conch, which sits in the middle of the ear toward the back, and the daith (which, Thompson notes, can be a little more difficult to pierce, because it's so shallow) that's also situated in the middle of the ear but closer to the canal. "I like both of those a lot, because they're unique, people don't really expect it," he says of the two piercings. "They almost don't even realize you can pierce those areas — plus, with the right jewelry, actually make it look beautiful and delicate and not too offensive."

Speaking of offensive, Smith isn't a huge fan of industrial piercings (the ones that go across the upper portion of your ear) because of this exact reason. He prefers chain jewelry (here's a visual) over the more stiff bars with the balls on the end because they can often look too heavy and foreign on the top of the ear. But, of course, if that style floats your boat, you do you, boo boo.

In terms of healing, the lobes are going to heal the fastest versus cartilage piercings, because it's softer and there's more blood circulating in that particular area, according to Smith. "With the cartilage stuff, if you feel your cartilage, it's a little bit harder because there's less blood circulation so your body's just working on that area less," he says. Any piercing on the outer walls of your ear are also going to take longer to heal, because it's getting knocked around more than the others. The less exposed they are, the better they do.

What's important to keep in mind is how you treat it. Smith says the biggest issue he has with ear piercings is customers sleeping on them. This is, of course, very hard to control which is why he recommends getting an airplane pillow. "They're nice because you can put it in your bed and you can kind of train yourself to sleep with your ear in the hole. That keeps the pressure off of it and you can still sleep on that side."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Another classic that both Smith and Thompson think looks good on everyone is the nostril piercing. "Male, female, old, young — I don't care who you are, what color your skin is — I really think it's the one piercing that every single person can pull off," says Thompson. "I've never seen someone's nose that did not look good with a nose piercing."

One of the first questions I had for both of them was: If you have allergies, should you avoid putting any jewelry that could further irritate them altogether? Both noted that it's something to keep in mind, but is by no means a deal-breaker. " I think the first week it's weird and it might trigger your allergies — you might have a runny nose and there might be a lot of sneezing — but usually your body adapts to that kind of stuff. "

Thompson adds that it's more the acts, like blowing your nose, that are worse than the actual allergies themselves. And if you are really worried, maybe think of a time of year when your allergies aren't as active to go under the needle, he suggests.

The one thing about facial piercings is that they will leave a scar. Granted, the one you're left with from nose jewelry will be small enough that it can pass for simply being a pore, but this fact is definitely something to consider, says Thompson. "If a young girl comes in...I really counsel them and say, 'Hey this is going to leave a mark on your face for the rest of your life,'" he says. "You might not think it's a big deal at 16, but is it going to be a big deal to you at 36?"

But, he says, if you're on the fence about facial piercings in general, this is definitely the one you should start with, because it can be pulled off in a professional environment if you wear the right jewelry.

Speaking of jewelry, once common misconception is you should always get a stud the first time you get your nose pierced, which is simply not true, according to Thompson. "This is America, you can have anything you want. If you want a ring, let's put a ring in your nose," he says. "If a piercer tells you that, tell him to show you the piercer rule book — where's this book which says you can't? I have pierced hundreds and thousands of piercings with rings and I've had no problems."

On a similar note, he adds, if there's a piece of jewelry you're set on and the studio you go to doesn't have it, go somewhere else. "Search out and find the piercer that a) has the skills and wants to do what you want to do and b) has the jewelry that you want to wear," he advises. "Don't just go, 'Alright, I'm just going to get this I don't love it, but I really want the piercing and I want to do it now...' No. Wait. Go to a studio that has what you want to wear out that day."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Ah, the septum piercing. It's gained monumental popularity over the past couple of years and, Smith says, it doesn't show any signs of slowing down (he has about 10 to 12 customers who ask to get their septum pierced on the daily).

Compared to the nose, it is a little trickier for the artist because it's such a small portion on the inside of the nose that you're piercing. What you're actually piercing is skin that goes by the name of your sweet spot, according to Thompson. It's a tiny membrane that's located a little higher in some, a little lower in others, and, for others (someone who's had their nose broken a couple of times or use inhalants regularly), it's nonexistent. But, he says, that doesn't mean you can't get the piercing. It's just going to take a little bit more time to heal and you probably need to go to a more seasoned, experienced piercer. Same goes for those with deviated septum.

But the upside to the piercing is it's one of the only piercings you can have that — if you purchase a certain type of jewelry (in this case the retainer) — you can hide it easily by flipping it upward. And, compared to an outside nose piercing, you don't have to worry about an after-mark. "It's amazing because if you decide to take it out or decide you don't want it anymore, you're never going to see the scar," he says. "It's kind of like one of those things where it never happened."

Going back to the whole jewelry thing, Thompson reiterates that you shouldn't settle on what it is you want. Especially if you’re a first-time piercer — artists will often try to trick you into getting one piece of jewelry (say a ring over a retainer) because, simply put, they don’t have it in stock. If they don’t have it, they might try to persuade you that it’s not “safe” or “proper” to use that particular jewelry your first go-around. "It's a trick of the trade. It's like being a con man and I don't think that's right; you're flat out lying to a consumer,” he says. “If you don't know better, you're going to listen to these people, because you're looking at them as a professional, but not all of them are."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Think of the smiley as a more discreet version of the septum piercing, but located inside of your mouth as opposed to your nose — which isn't something that should be overlooked. While the smiley piercing is on its way to dethroning the septum, like any mouth piercing, it's a little more dangerous, according to Thompson. "[With] a lot of piercings, the only cons are that it could get infected, you could have an allergic reaction, and it could, and probably will, leave a scar. But [with] anything in the mouth, there are far greater risks."

Some of these (which you can read more about here) include gum recession, tooth damage, and gradual fading of your enamel. But the peek-a-boo piercing (which is only present when you smile — hence the name) isn't all bad news. When done right, it can look particularly beautiful. Smith notes that it's one of his favorite piercings right now.

And one upside is, since it heals quickly, you can easily take the jewelry out and only rock it occasionally, which lessens the risks, according to Thompson. "Say you just have to have it, but are afraid of gum recession. You could wear it a couple of days, and take it out for a few weeks," he says. "You don’t have to wear it all the time once it heals; you can actually remove it."

As far as aftercare goes, for regular surface piercings, a simple daily dousing of soap and water (Thompson's a fan of Dr. Bronner's) will do. But, of course, you're not going to rinse your mouth out with soap and water — lest you want to bring up some harmful childhood memories.

Smith says you just need to rinse your mouth with salt water for a few days and you're good to go. Thompson recommends reaching for an alcohol-free mouthwash and using it three to four times a day, as well. You also have to pay particular attention when brushing your teeth. "You really want to be very gentle," he says. "With a very soft bristeled tooth brush, massage and brush the ring. "
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Since we're on the topic of trendy piercings, let's move on to a new celeb favorite: the nipple. Thompson notes that he's been getting so many ladies and gents coming in for this particular piercing that, at one point, they started to run out of jewelry. That's a whole lot of areolae.

You may only be familiar with your own, but believe it or not, there are a whole array of nipple types out there. The easiest kind to get done are, naturally, the ones that protrude a bit more. But, Thompson says, for the ladies with flat or even inverted nips, don't lose hope."I've never really met a nipple I wasn't able to pierce," he emphasizes. In fact, it can even be used as a "corrective" measure of sorts for some women. "It's a way to correct [it] without surgery...The barbell goes underneath and pops it up. It makes them stick out a little bit more, because when you're piercing, you're protruding it up," he says. " So, if you're a girl and you have more of the flatter type of nipple, it's going to be a little bit more prominent."

Some myths surrounding the nip piercing is that one, it will heighten sensitivity (false) and it will effect breast feeding in the future (false again). "There's hundreds of milk ducts...and once you take out [the piercing], the body closes those holes pretty rapidly and it pretty much seals shut," reassures Thompson.

One thing to be wary of, though, is the actual piercing process itself. Thompson notes that some women's nipples can reject the jewelry if it's not placed in the right area. "There's a specific spot that needs to be pierced that's pretty much where the nipple meets the areola," he says. "You don't want to go too forward on the nipple, because the body will just slowly migrate it out, so you've got to be careful."

Another factor is the kind of jewelry you choose. Both artists emphasize that either a bar or ring is A-okay, but that the bar is often preferable. The reason being, the ring heals a little bit slower because it moves more, according to Thompson. The barbell is less obvious than a ring (if an inconspicuous look is what you're going for).

And, of course, along with aftercare (the piercing can take about three to six months to heal), making sure you keep your nipple out of harms way will be a priority once you get it pierced. Be careful when wearing lace bras, removing tops, showering — the little things that you might not think of otherwise. "I tell people, once you get your nipple pierced, you're going to be surprised how many things [it] touches," says Thompson.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Since the tongue is a muscle, it's inevitably going to be harder to pierce and heal, according to Smith. "As soon as I pierce it, it swells; I put jewelry in there, it swells," he says. "It's swelling to get rid of it and it feels like a sore muscle."

Out of all the piercings, it's the one that's going to take a little bit more patience. "You've got like three or four days of swelling, you have to really be on it keeping it clean and also some times you get little chunks of food stuck in there," he says.

Though Smith says there aren't a lot of major risks (especially when you're being careful), Thompson, on the other hand, has stopped piercing tongues altogether because it can be negative on your teeth and gums. "Morally, as a piercer, I don't want to put a metal titanium barbell or steel barbell in your mouth and you bite down on it and break your tooth," he notes. "The longer you wear it, it knocks around on your enamel. The mouth is not intended for metal to be worn in it — it's just not. Your teeth are a tool, you need to use those for your entire life."

He adds that smokers and heavy drinkers should be particularly careful, because these acts can cause your body to swell more, which can cause damage to oral piercings.

But there is a fix: You can get the piercing a little tighter around the lip, which will protect your gums and teeth from the jewelry. As long as you're proactive, you can stop the damage from occurring, says Thompson. You just have to be cognizant.
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Surprisingly, lip piercings were actually the ones that both Colby and Thompson were hesitant to even recommend. One of the main reasons being that they tend to leave a pretty intense scar, mostly due to the constant moving you're doing to it.

"It's one of the few piercings I always feel a little guilty about," Colby says. "Your lip is pretty fatty tissue, so it actually heals up pretty good, but the only problem with that is there's a lot of movement — could be talking and stuff like that — which is constantly irritating it."

Since it's partially in your mouth, there's also some teeth and gum damage that could potentially occur. "Your lip is really soft on the inside, it just glides over your teeth and gums," says Thompson. "Let's say now you have a stud in your mouth and you have that little flat disc — that disc, every time you eat, talk, smile, and laugh, is slowly rubbing on your teeth and gums."

But there is a fix: You can get the piercing a little tighter around the lip, which will protect your gums and teeth from the jewelry. As long as you're proactive, you can stop the damage from occurring, says Thompson. You just have to be cognizant.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Belly Button
Belly buttons might bring you back to memories of middle school or high school rebellion but, believe it or not, it's making a pretty nostalgic comeback. Out of all the piercings, it's definitely one where you should take your time to evaluate whether or not you're a good candidate, says Thompson.

Some things to consider: If you have a particularly out-there outie belly button, you might want to steer clear. " If it's protruding too much there's not a good platform for the piercing to heal," he says. "With outies, migration can happen in a worse way, because the body can totally reject it. That outie part of the navel is pushing out on the jewelry and it just slowly comes out," he warns.

But outie or innie, some people just aren't built for navel piercings, and that's okay. It has one of the longest healing times (six to eight months). If you're an active swimmer, you have to avoid the water for at least the first two weeks. And standing and sitting can irritate it quite a bit and prolong the healing process.

These things aren't to say it's not worth it, it just takes a little more effort.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Another throwback piercing is the eyebrow. Colby notes that he gets a lot of college customers around the beginning of the school year and this — along with the lip — is one of the most requested piercings. But other than that, it definitely hit its peak around the '90s.

Why is that? Thompson says he thinks it's gotten somewhat of a bad rep over the years. "Some people call it a white trash piercing," he says. "It's like when girls stopped getting the tattoos on their lower back once they were referred to as tramp stamps."

Fan or not, it's one of the easiest piercings to heal when done right, says Thompson. But it's getting through the healing process that's often difficult. When the eyebrow suffers a lot of trauma (think: dragging a towel down your face after showering or the simple act of giving someone a hug), it increases the chances of it rejecting. "The eyebrow's one of those piercings that — I think it's because the eye socket is right there and it's so prominent — that the body just pushes out," he says.

Say you go through with getting it and a couple of months later decide it's no longer for you. Although it's a facial piercing, the bright side is you won't have to worry about in-your-face scarring. "You may have two little pin marks, but nothing all that obvious," says Thompson.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
If getting your cheeks pierced sounds like your hell, then you're not far off. Thompson says it has one of the most gruesome healing processes and is 100% not for everyone.

"Your cheeks will leak and drain, you will have to wear these massive barbells. It is not for a person in a professional environment. It is not for someone that doesn't want to take care of it for the next six months," he warns. " I tell people once you go down this road with a cheek piercing, there's no coming back. This is an actual body modification and you're changing your body for pretty much forever. It's something that you should definitely think about" But it's not all gloom and doom! Once you do manage to heal the piercing, you're left with a set of pretty adorable dimples, he says.

Don't give up hope just yet, cheek enthusiasts: There is an alternative you can look into, which are anchor piercings (more information on these in the next slide). While you won't be left with dimples, it also won't leave you with all of the heartache — and pain — of a regular piercing, Thompson says.
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Anchors are the little pieces of jewelry you might've peeped on backs, necks, sternums, fingers, next to the eye, and the lot. And while peeping them, you might've shuddered at the idea of getting one, as well. Well, you're not alone.

Anchors appear to be super-intimidating and intense, but you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, says Thompson. They're actually both easy to do and the level of pain is similar to that of a bee sting.

"I use a biopsy punch and I punch it directly into all seven layers of the dermis...and then I insert the base usually with the top...and you just kind of pop it under the skin," he explains. "It's a really quick piercing, it bleeds a little bit, but it heals really fast; in about a month, they're full healed."

It looks like one of those piercings you can just pop out on your own, but, Thompson warns, you should go to a professional to have it removed. A PSA he adds is to never let anyone cut an anchor out of your body. Like, ever. "It should never be removed that way," he says. "It's a non-intense procedure...And if you're going to a piercer and that's what they want to do, you should turn around and go somewhere else."
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Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Last but not least, we're heading lower to a portion of the body that many people completely overlook when it comes to piercings. Mostly because even the idea of getting your nether regions pierced makes you queasy. But that pain is all in your head, not just in this particular area, but for all your piercings, says Thompson.

"The reason people get more anxious about it is because of the brain. A piercing is going through your body...so your brain is trying to protect you and is like, 'Dude, let's get out of here. We don't need this,'" says Thompson. "When you're really really scared, you make it worse; you're psyching yourself out to make it hurt worse. A piercing pain is really just a split second, if that. By the time you feel it, it's done. It's very acute. It's short-lived...[In the military], they used to tell us, 'Mind over matter.' If you didn't mind, it didn't matter."

For hooding piercings, not only does it work really well aesthetically, says Smith, it also increases stimulation. He notes that the process works similarly to the smiley, where you're piercing a very tiny piece of skin that lies above the glans — the rounded head — of the clitoris. It usually takes about four weeks to heal and, although it's not required of you to abstain from sex, you should be careful.

Of course, a hooded piercing isn't for everyone. But just because you get uncomfortable at the thought doesn't mean other women do, too. "There's a very different kind of person that does a nipple piercing or a hood piercing — and it's not the people you think it is," Colby says. "I know there are tons of people you know that have both but you just don't know it. It's like having a little secret from the world, like, 'Yeah, you think you know me, but you don't.'"
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