There are thousands of tattoo parlours and piercers across the country that offer piercings and other types of body modification. For most people in the United Kingdom, body piercings are done as an aesthetic choice or as an expression of individuality. A small number of people in this country also have body modifications done as part of their culture or heritage.
Body piercings can look fantastic when they are done right, but if there are complications with a piercing then serious problems can arise. People are more likely to suffer complications if they choose to self-pierce or to use an unlicensed piercer. Choosing the right piercer and following the correct aftercare instructions can reduce these risks.
One of the main risks associated with body piercing is the risk of bacterial infection. Infections may occur when harmful bacteria enter the site of the piercing. This can happen for a number of different reasons, but poor hygiene practices are a major factor.
Doing any piercing in an unhygienic environment or using equipment which has not been sterilised will put you at risk. The parlour where you choose to have your piercing should be clean and the person who does your piercing should completely sterilise all non-disposable equipment after each use. Sharing needles and using unsterilised needles for piercings also increases the risk of passing on blood borne viruses from one person to the next.
Viruses such as hepatitis and HIV can be transmitted through needle sharing. Licensed premises are regularly monitored to make sure that they meet the required hygiene standards and do not violate health regulations. Tattoo and body modification parlours outside of the United Kingdom may not be monitored in the same way and may not follow the same rules and regulations. If you do not see the needle being removed from sterile packaging, you may want to reconsider whether you should go through with your piercing if you are abroad.
Caring for your new piercing correctly is also very important if you wish to avoid many of the risks. Always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before you touch your piercing. Try to keep the area clean and dry until the wound has had the chance to heal.
If the piercing is in an easily accessible place, you should clean the area with a saline solution. The salt will help to reduce the risk of infection. However, if the solution is not strong enough, it may not be as effective. A good solution should be made up of around 1 teaspoon of salt for every 4 tablespoons of water. Carefully dry the site after you have finished cleaning it to prevent bacterial growth. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist areas. Take care not to clean the area more than twice a day, because excessive cleaning could lead to irritation and delays to the healing process.
If you suspect that you have developed an infection at the site of a piercing, you should speak to your GP. Leave the jewellery in place unless you are advised to remove it by a doctor or your piercer. Removing the piercing can actually allow pockets of infection to build-up in partially healed areas which may prevent the fluids from draining away safely. If this happens, a painful, pus-filled abscess may form. If your doctor does advise you to remove the piercing, they should be able to give you advice about what to do if an abscess forms.
Excessive bleeding or blood loss is also a risk for people who get a body piercing. The risks are particularly high when the piercing is done in an area where there are a lot of blood vessels. These areas include the tongue and the genitals. Precision during the actual piercing process is required to minimise risk. Your piercer should be able to give you something after the process to keep bleeding to a minimum.
Basic piercings like ear piercings should stop producing fresh blood within the first few hours, whereas more complex piercings such as tongue piercings can bleed lightly for the first 24 – 48 hours. Tongue movements may also cause intermittent bleeding for a further few days. If your piercing site is bleeding heavily or if the bleeding does not stop after 48 hours, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Tongue piercings and lip piercings may also cause damage to the teeth. If the piercing is able to rub against the teeth it can cause the tooth enamel to gradually wear away. This will cause the teeth to become more susceptible to decay. If the piercing is able to crash against the teeth, it also puts them at risk of getting cracked or chipped. People who have oral piercings should make sure that they visit their dentist regularly to make sure that their teeth have not been affected by their piercing.