Advertisement

Nipple Piercing: Risks and Management

Nipple piercing has become a popular trend nowadays. Nipple piercings are today seen as a wild and cool trend, and many consider it to be a fashion statement and a way of expressing their individual style. One of the biggest reasons why nipple piercings are so popular is that they are not visible. This part of the body can be pierced, and it remains hidden and private by a shirt. However, it is important to keep in mind that this procedure is not without risks. Read on to find out everything there is to know about nipple piercings and the associated risks and management after piercing.

Things to Consider Before Getting Nipple Piercings

Any type of nipple can be pierced, be it flat, protruding, or inverted. Before you get your nipple pierced, you should think about the procedure and how it may affect your health. Remember that the skin is the largest organ of your body, and it serves an important purpose. It is the first barrier that protects your body from bacteria. When you get your nipple pierced, it means that you are literally putting a hole in the skin or your body’s barrier to protection.(1, 2, 3)

Advertisement
Advertisement

There is also the risk of scarring. Just like any surgical procedure, it is possible to get a scar from a nipple piercing as well. Some people tend to scar more easily than others, and if you already have raised scars (known as keloids) from cuts, acne, or any other wounds, you are at a significantly higher risk of a scar forming at the site of the piercing.
So after considering all these things, if you feel you are comfortable moving forward with the piercing, the next thing you need to consider is whether you want to pierce just one or both of your nipples. Most people get both nipples pierced at the same time to avoid having to go through the pain twice. However, this is an entirely individual choice, and you should decide whatever you are comfortable with, not what everyone else is doing.

Another important thing you need to do is to find a professional piercer. Getting your nipple pierced should never be a do-it-yourself procedure. You should visit a professional piercer, and you can begin your search by going online, reading reviews, safety arrangements, and then selecting an establishment that has the most positive reviews and people have found it to be safe and professional.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Before going ahead, it is a great idea to stop by the piercing parlor once and check it out to find out how they do things. It is absolutely crucial to ensure that the piercing parlor only makes use of single-use and sterilized needles.(4) There should be no repeat usage or piercing guns being used. Many people prefer to use parlors where the piercers are members of the Association of Professional Pierces (APP) in the US or they have training certifications from APP. They should also have updated blood-borne pathogen training. Many states in the US require piercers to have a license. If this is the case, make sure that their license is current and hanging in plain view in the shop. It is also good to ask the piercer about what protocol they have in place for their equipment, the piercing process, and aftercare.

While you are there to check out the place, look around to see if the place appears to be clean, sanitized, and overall well-run. Stay away from the shop if you find that the place is dirty. This means it is probably highly unsafe to get any type of piercings done here. Only go ahead with the piercing once you are comfortable with the piercer.

After all, remember that for nipple piercing, the piercer will be touching an intimate part of your body, so a certain level of comfort is necessary.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The actual piercing process only takes around 15 to 20 minutes, but it is the aftercare that matters the most as there are certain risks involved.(5) Let’s take a look at what the risks are of nipple piercing and their management and aftercare.

Risks Associated With Nipple Piercings

Nipple piercings are not without risks. When you look at the conventional process of getting your ears pierced, the prick just passes through dense earlobe tissue. However, when it comes to nipple piercings, it punctures highly sensitive skin that is further connected to a system of ducts. Piercing this skin also cuts through the body’s first layer of protection against infections. And don’t forget that a nipple piercing puts a foreign object very close to many complex and important deeper structures inside the breast, increasing the risk of complications if an infection occurs.(6, 7, 8)

Furthermore, if you have an underlying health condition or you are on medication that increases the likelihood of getting an infection or bleeding, nipple piercing could be even more riskier for you. Some of the health concerns associated with nipple piercings include:

Advertisement
Advertisement
  • Lactation and Breastfeeding: Nipple piercing can cause problems in women when they want to breastfeed. Scar tissue around the piercing or the nipple ring can cause blockage of the milk ducts. If the piercings damage the nerves in the nipple, it may make it difficult for the milk to come out. Nipple jewelry is also going to make it difficult for the baby to latch on, and your baby may even end up choking o swallowing a loose nipple ring. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or planning to get pregnant in the near future, it is better to wait for a few months after you complete breastfeeding.(9, 10)
  • Nipple Tissue Takes Longer To Heal: When you opt for nipple piercings, it is essential to note that nipple tissue takes longer to heal as compared to other parts of the body that may be pierced. In some people, it might even take up to six months to heal.
  • Abscesses: A pierced nipple increases the risk of an abscess formation. An abscess is a painful and pus-filled lump located in the breast or under the nipple. You will need to see a doctor to get this treated.(11, 12)
  • Torn Skin: In case the nipple ring gets caught on any clothes, it may rip loose, tearing the skin in the process. You may need stitches if the tear is serious.
  • Infection: The biggest risk of getting your nipples pierced is infection. Nipples are highly sensitive tissue, and they are connected to the milk ducts. A nipple piercing is more likely to become infected than any other part of the body that is pierced. Infections may happen even after you get your areola or nipple pierced. The areola is the darkened ring around the nipple. If unsterilized equipment is used, regardless of which part is pierced, it puts you at a high risk of infection with blood-borne diseases like tetanus, hepatitis B or C, or even HIV.(13, 14, 15, 16)

Management Required After a Nipple Piercing

Keep in mind that there will be some amount of pain once you get your nipple pierced. The general area will remain sore for at least a week or two following the piercing. You may also bleed, see some swelling or discharge from the wound, or it may be itchy. Your nipple will be sore and irritated as it starts healing in the months that follow. It may take six months to a year for the nipple piercing to heal completely, and the aftercare in the days after the piercing is going to be crucial to ensure that the area does not become infected.

While the wound is healing, keep the pierced nipple clean and dry to prevent infection. Here are some tips for caring for the nipple after piercing:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with antimicrobial soap and warm water before you wash or touch your nipple.
  • If you see any discharge or crusty stuff around the nipple ring, very gently wash it off with warm water. Do not make any sudden jerky movements as you wash the ring.
  • After washing the nipple, gently pat it dry with a clean towel. Use a paper towel to avoid the cloth getting snagged on the ring by mistake.
  • To speed up the healing process and to reduce the soreness, you can soak your nipple in a solution of saltwater. Put half a teaspoon of sea salt in warm water and mix. After soaking for 10 to 15 minutes, you can let the area air dry or gently pat it dry with a paper towel.
  • Be careful that the nipple ring does not snag on towels, sheets, or clothes. This can tear your skin and cause an infection.
  • To protect your pierced nipple, think about wearing a thick sports bra, padded bra, or cotton T-shirt.

As the nipple heals, it is normal to find some white crusty stuff around the nipple area. The nipple may feel sore, itchy, or irritated. Even after the healing is complete, you may still find some crust or waxy substance oozing from the nipple. However, if you notice the following signs, it could be a warning sign that the nipple is infected:(17)

  • Painful, sensitive, or hot nipple.
  • There is yellow, brown, or green discharge coming out of the nipple.
  • The discharge smells bad, or there is a foul odor coming from the nipple, even if there is no discharge.
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Fatigue
  • Body ache
  • Redness spreading outwards from the piercing

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor at the earliest.

Your pierce will also be providing you with detailed aftercare instructions once your piercing is done, and it is recommended that you follow all the instructions carefully and as closely as possible. Never take any medication to fix any potential infection yourself. It is always better to consult a doctor.

It is also important that you do not use any medication or substances that thin your blood, at least for the first few weeks following the nipple piercing. This includes too much of caffeine, alcohol, or aspirin (even if you are in pain). All these substances and medications make it more difficult for the piercing to heal and clot, which makes bleeding more likely.

Conclusion

While these risks may sound a bit scary, they can be managed by getting your piercing done from a safe and professional establishment. Going to a good place means you are more likely to have a positive experience, right from the time of the piercing to the healing process. Nipple piercing can be a cool look, but it is necessary to maintain proper aftercare to make sure the piercing heals properly, and there are no adverse side effects. If you feel the wound is not healing properly or if the ring falls out, you can see your piercer. Do not delay consulting a doctor and seeking medical help if you notice any signs of an infection.

References:

  1. Larson, E., 1999. Skin hygiene and infection prevention: more of the same or different approaches?. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 29(5), pp.1287-1294.
  2. Cartlidge, P., 2000, November. The epidermal barrier. In Seminars in neonatology (Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 273-280). WB Saunders.
  3. Dąbrowska, A.K., Spano, F., Derler, S., Adlhart, C., Spencer, N.D. and Rossi, R.M., 2018. The relationship between skin function, barrier properties, and body‐dependent factors. Skin Research and Technology, 24(2), pp.165-174.
  4. Anon, 2021. Single-use (disposable) devices. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol/faqs/single-use-devices.html [Accessed September 30, 2022].
  5. Mlblevins, 2020. Risks of body piercing. Thoughtful Tattoos. Available at: https://thoughtfultattoos.com/risks-of-body-piercings [Accessed September 30, 2022].
  6. McGhee, D.E. and Steele, J.R., 2020. Breast biomechanics: What do we really know?. Physiology, 35(2), pp.144-156.
  7. Johnson, M.C., 2010. Anatomy and physiology of the breast. In Management of breast diseases (pp. 1-36). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
  8. Sun, S.X., Bostanci, Z., Kass, R.B., Mancino, A.T., Rosenbloom, A.L., Klimberg, V.S. and Bland, K.I., 2018. Breast physiology: normal and abnormal development and function. In The breast (pp. 37-56). Elsevier.
  9. Fetherston, C., 1998. Risk factors for lactation mastitis. Journal of Human Lactation, 14(2), pp.101-109.
  10. Kinlay, J.R., O’Connell, D.L. and Kinlay, S., 2001. Risk factors for mastitis in breastfeeding women: results of a prospective cohort study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 25(2), pp.115-120.
  11. Bengualid, V., Singh, V., Singh, H. and Berger, J., 2008. Mycobacterium fortuitum and anaerobic breast abscess following nipple piercing: case presentation and review of the literature. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(5), pp.530-532.
  12. Kapsimalakou, S., Grande-Nagel, I., Simon, M., Fischer, D., Thill, M. and Stöckelhuber, B.M., 2010. Breast abscess following nipple piercing: a case report and review of the literature. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics, 282(6), pp.623-626.
  13. Jacobs, V.R., Golombeck, K., Jonat, W. and Kiechle, M., 2003. Mastitis nonpuerperalis after nipple piercing: time to act. International journal of fertility and women’s medicine, 48(5), pp.226-231.
  14. Lewis, C.G., Wells, M.K. and Jennings, W.C., 2004. Mycobacterium fortuitum breast infection following nipple‐piercing, mimicking carcinoma. The breast journal, 10(4), pp.363-365.
  15. Moser, C.A., Lee, J. and Christensen, P., 1994. Nipple piercing: an exploratory-descriptive study. Journal of psychology & human sexuality, 6(2), pp.51-61.
  16. Kaatz, M., Elsner, P. and Bauer, A., 2008. Body-modifying concepts and dermatologic problems: tattooing and piercing. Clinics in dermatology, 26(1), pp.35-44.
  17. Patel, M. and Cobbs, C.G., 2016. Infections from body piercing and tattoos. Infections of Leisure, pp.307-323.
Advertisement