Nipple piercing is popular, but it's not without risks. Here, experts walk you through nipple piercing process and explain how to avoid infection and scarring.

By Madeleine Burry
August 28, 2019

Rihanna. Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Kristen Stewart. These are just a few of the celebs who've had their nipples pierced. Even a few years ago, nipples piercings were seen as wild and out there, and the purpose of nipple piercing wasn't clear. Not so anymore—it's a fashion statement and expression of personal style.

“This is a very popular piercing for people to get,” says TJ Cantwell, owner of Studio 28 Tattoos in New York City, who describes nipple piercings as fun and edgy. One potential reason for their growing popularity? “It’s not visible,” Cantwell tells Health. This body adornment can be private, shielded by a bra and shirt.

Any type of nipple—flat, inverted, protruding—is a candidate for piercing. Yet like all body art, nipple piercings are not without risks. For starters, the nipple piercing process isn’t pain-free. Nipple piercing aftercare is important for avoiding infection, and the recovery time is longer than it is for piercing your ear. 

Health spoke to experts to find out what you can expect when you get a nipple piercing, plus how to prevent harmful side effects.

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What to know before you get pierced

Before you get your nipple pierced, think about the procedure from a health angle. Skin serves a vital purpose: It’s a barrier protecting your body from the bacteria. Having your nipple pierced literally puts a hole in that protection, Constance M. Chen, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, tells Health

Then there's the potential for scarring. “Like any surgical procedure, scarring is always possible,” Zain Husain, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of New Jersey Dermatology and Aesthetics Center, tells Health. Also, some people scar more than others. If you have keloids (raised scars) from acne, cuts, or other wounds, you’re at a higher risk of one forming at the piercing site, says Dr. Husain.

If you feel comfortable moving forward with a piercing, the next question is: Should you pierce one or both nipples? Most people get both pierced at the same time, but it’s your choice. “You should get what you are comfortable with, not what people tell you to get,” says Cantwell.

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Seek a professional piercer 

Getting a nipple pierced is not a DIY type of procedure; you’ll want to visit a pro. Start by going online and reading reviews from people who have had it done at a particular location. This can help you weed out sketchy places and narrow down your options. 

Once you find the right piercing pro and parlor, drop by and see how they do it. Make sure the shop only uses single-use, sterilized needles, says Cantwell—no repeat usage or piercing guns. 

Check to see if the shop’s piercers are members of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) or have training certificates from this organization, recommends Cantwell, as well as up-to-date blood-borne pathogen training. If your state requires piercers to have a license, it should be current and available to view. “I would ask the piercer what their protocol is for piercing, equipment, and aftercare,” suggests Dr. Husain.

Next, look around. Does the place seem clean and well-run? Just as you’d avoid eating at a restaurant with a dirty bathroom, stay away from a grimy piercing shop. If it doesn’t seem clean, says Cantwell, it probably isn’t.

Make sure you're comfortable with—not skeeved out by—your piercer. After all, they’ll be touching an intimate part of your body. “If anything happens during the process that makes you question the shop’s cleanliness, procedures, or your own personal comfort, use that as a sign that you can leave,” says Cantwell.

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Pick your jewelry carefully 

Aesthetics matter—but so does the material of your nipple ring. “Metals such as nickel may induce contact dermatitis,” says Dr. Husain (aka, an allergic skin reaction). Opt instead for surgical stainless steel or titanium jewelry, which are hypoallergenic and have a lower risk of causing a reaction, he says.

Piercing is fast—but it might hurt 

Once you’ve picked out your jewelry, you’ll head to a private room with the piercer, says Cantwell. Bring a hand-holding friend or family member with you. “Unless the piercer is working out of a very small workspace, you should never be told that you cannot have someone in the room with you,” advises Cantwell.

The actual procedure typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes, says Cantwell. First, the piercer will clean and prep your skin, using a sterile, single-use pen to mark the spot of your piercing. Once placement is set, you’re ready. The piercer will ask you to inhale deeply, says Cantwell. Typically, the piercing is performed as you exhale, and it takes a fraction of a second.

Will it hurt? Almost definitely, although it’s hard to know just how much, since it depends on your personal level of pain tolerance. “The best way to think about it is the piercing itself is done very quickly,” says Cantwell.

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Nipple piercing aftercare

Piercings take six months to a year to fully heal, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City–based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules. Your aftercare in the days and weeks following the piercing is most important.

Twice a day, Cantwell says, clean it with a sterile saline wound wash spray. (Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap first, says Dr. Husain.) Do not rotate or remove the jewelry, and avoid touching your new piercing entirely, since that can introduce bacteria and dirt into the channel, adds Cantwell. The APP recommends against using products like hydrogen peroxide or antibacterial ointments like Neosporin to clean the site of the piercing, as these can inhibit healing.

Follow all the instructions provided by the piercing shop. And as a general guideline, until you’re fully healed, steer clear of any situation (such as a hot tub) that could introduce bacteria to your piercing, warns Dr. Jaliman.

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Health issues to watch for

A bacterial or viral infection is always a risk with a nipple piercing, says Dr. Jaliman, no matter how sterile the conditions of the parlor were. Signs of an infection include a fever, chills, redness, pain, and purulent discharge. If you have any of these symptoms or spot anything else unusual, see your doctor, recommends Dr. Chen.

These risks sound a bit scary. But as long as you go to a safe, professional establishment, you’re likely to have a good experience, from the piercing through healing. The final word on nipple piercings comes from a dermatologist: “If it makes you happy, I have no problem with them!” says Dr. Husain.

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