Ask Dr. Christina: Yikes! The Truth About Nipple Piercing!

Dear Dr. Christina,

I am writing you this letter because recently I was thinking about getting my nipple pierced; however, my sister just had her piercing done and ended up in the hospital because her right breast got huge from a massive infection and required surgery. I have heard horror stories about these types of piercings. Can you let me know if it is safe to get piercings done?


Dear Sandi,

People have been getting piercings of their various body parts done for over 1,000 years in all different parts of the world. Getting a piercing can be an exciting fashion statement, but you have to remember that it is also a major responsibility if you decide to get one. Let’s discuss some pertinent questions and considerations you might want to think about.

1)    What is a Nipple Piercing?

This is the placement of a ring, bar or stud onto a nipple for decorative reason.

2)    What to consider when you are making the decision to pierce yourself or not…

a)    Is this just today’s fashion trend or will it change?
b)    How are you going to feel about it 5-10 years from now?
c)    Do NOT get a piercing because of peer pressure.
d)    Is there a school policy, work policy, or potential loss of employment opportunities that may force you to have to cover or remove your piercings?
e)    What are the opinions of your family and friends?
f)    Why do you want the piercing?

3)    How do you choose the place where you will have the piercing done?

a)    There are many places that provide this service, but your primary concerns should be who is doing the piercing and that the piercing gets done correctly.
b)    You want to make sure the person doing it knows the proper technique and understands the proper sizing of the area to be pierced.
c)    They should also have a state issued license that is visible for the public to see. All 50 states have laws and licensing restrictions, which vary by state.
d)    The location should be clean and hygienic.
e)    All the instruments and jewelry should be sterile.
f)    The piercer should use single use disposable gloves and have no open cuts.
g)    The piercer should also wash his/her hands before and after piercing is done.
h)    All jewelry should be new.
i)    Do not be afraid to ask questions about the piercer’s experience, about the procedure, and ask if they have any handouts. If they do not want to answer your questions or you are not satisfied, go somewhere else. Please do not feel pressured to use any particular location or person.
j)    Please do not pierce yourself or get a friend to do it because that is extremely dangerous. This can cause more problems that you would expect. (Please see #6 below about risks.)

4)    How do you care for your new Nipple Piercing?

a)    Keep your piercing as dry as possible and do not remove any scabs that may form while it is healing.
b)    Do not turn or touch your jewelry. If you must touch it, always remember to wash your hands before and after you do.
c)    Please do not share your jewelry with your friends or family.
d)    Please do not remove your jewelry until your wound is completely healed. For nipple piercing, it can take up to 4 to 6 months to heal. Yes, I said months! (Note: various areas of your body heal differently from piercings; some take longer than others.)
e)    Please avoid swimming, especially in lakes and rivers, while healing, for this could be a source for getting an infection.

5) Who should avoid getting a Nipple Piercing?

a)    People who are on anti-coagulants (blood thinners).
b)    People who are on immune-suppressants (transplant patients).
c)    People who are on steroids or any dosage of corticosteroids, including but not limited to those prescribed for acne.
d)    Patients who are on chemotherapy regiments.
e)    Patients who have heart valves, heart disease or rheumatic fever.
f)    Patients who have a skin infection in the area where the piercing will be done.
h)    Be especially careful with some types of breast implants.
i)    Please be careful if you are a bleeder, poor healer, or if you are planning to get pregnant.

6) What are your some of your general health risks?

a)    Infection – This can occur due to poor hygiene during or after piercing procedure care. It could also be caused by the improper sterilization of the piercing equipment. Remember the infection can spread via the nipple ducts and get into the lymph nodes, which can not only cause an abscess (which is a collection of pus), but also allow the infection to get into your blood stream, which can make you extremely sick. Believe it or not, a person can develop an abscess up to 7 years after the piercing. An abscess can recur frequently and may require antibiotics and/or surgery. Some people choose to get a tetanus shot prior to getting a piercing as a precaution against any infection that may occur.
b)    Nerve damage – Piercing can damage milk production ducts in the breast. It may also cause a problem later if the patient decides to breastfeed. The patient may also risk the loss of feeling in that area.
c)    Hematoma – A large bruise may occur as a result of the piercing.
d)    Bleeding – This may occur as a result of the piercing, which can subsequently cause a hematoma.
e)    Allergic Reaction – Be careful if the area to be pierced already has a rash or if the person getting the piercing is allergic to the metal being used for the piercing. This may cause scarring and delayed healing, which can form a keloid scar (raised thicken skin) that can cause a problem with breastfeeding. Any scarring of the nipple may affect how the milk flows.
f)    Hepatitis B and C — Some people choose to get a blood test for Hepatitis B and C before they get pierced.
g)    (Rare) HIV — Some people choose to get a blood test for HIV before they get pierced.

So, Sandi, as you can see, there is a lot to think about when you decide to do nipple piercing or, for that matter, any type of piercing. As for your sister, what happened to her may be a major example for you. Perhaps the biggest danger resulting from her nipple piercing was not the person she chose to do it, but rather her failure to wait or her rush to do certain activities during the healing time after her nipple piercing, which could be up 4-7 months such as:

a) having oral contact made to her breast
b) going swimming in a lake or river or
c) not always washing her hands prior to touching her piercing

Hopefully this article will provide you with enough information about how to choose not only the person you would want to allow to do your piercing but also to first determine for yourself if this is something you truly want to do.

Sometimes it is hard to make decisions about piercings. A lot of times when I see my patients in my office, they often say, “Oh, I got that when I was young and foolish, and I wished I hadn’t done it,” when they talk about their piercings. Then there are others who show me their artwork and piercings and say, “I do it for self-expression,” or “I do this to memorialize the loss of my loved ones.”

So, Sandi, whatever you decide, you will not be wrong. It is all about personal choice, what you want to do with your body, and what fits and feels right for you, not anyone else. There are some beautiful ways for you to express yourself with and without artwork and/or piercings. It is only up to you to choose. However, when you choose to have someone else make an imprint of any kind on your skin, make sure you are aware of all the risks upfront, that you follow their handout to the letter, and keep a heightened awareness about the procedure you are getting done. After all, piercing is not a decision that should be made quickly, but one that should be considered seriously since it will affect you and your body for the rest of your life.

Thank you again for writing to me, Sandi. Take great care and I hope all goes well with you!

Dr. Christina

  • Posted By: DRC Editor
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