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The Guy’s Guide to Piercings

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Whether it’s your ear, your eyebrow, or your third eye, this is everything you need to know about a safe a great-looking piercing. 

A collage of Dennis Rodman and Wiz Khalifa with various piercings on a colorful background

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage by Gabe Conte

Let’s get this out of the way: This guide to male piercings is not a DIY tutorial. No way, no how. You need to visit a professional to get a hole punched in you—anything with a needle and sterilization and potential bodily harm should not be conducted at home. 

What this guide will outline, however, is some things you need to know about the various ways you can get pierced—which will hopefully form the most educated questions for your piercing studio. That way you don’t show up for your dick-puncture date without any unreasonable expectations, you know? You need some baseline knowledge for that, and for nipples, lips, eyebrows, the nose, the tongue, and even ears. 

For this rundown on male piercings, we spoke with two artists at Mission Ink Tattoo & Piercing in San Francisco, Salome and Indy, and also got some advice of Sean Dowdell, former body piercer and the CEO of the Club Tattoo and Piercing studios in Las Vegas and across Arizona.

1. You Get What You Pay For

If you’re looking for a budget piercer, then perhaps reconsider getting it done altogether. “If the price seems too low to make sense (like $20 including jewelry), they must be cutting corners somewhere and most likely it is with your safety and quality of jewelry that they are about to put into your body,” Dowdell says.

The same can be said of the quality of metals you wear in there: “Good implant-grade titanium and other metals with a high polish run a little more expensive, but will give you the best chance at healing and won’t tarnish or fall apart,” Indy says. “Low-cost jewelry is made from mystery metals which people can have reactions to, often the polish is not up to par and tiny scratches and pores in the metal can irritate the inside of a piercing or can harbor bacteria. Always ask your piercer if they use internally threaded jewelry, and what grade of metal they use—watch for titanium, gold, or high polish steel.”

2. Titanium Is Tops

All three piercers we questioned agree that titanium is the metal of choice for this task. “Titanium is the purest material you can put into your body,” says Dowdell. “It is hypo-allergenic, and only in very rare cases do people have a reaction to it. It is much safer than implant-grade stainless steel, as those alloys still have carbon or nickel elements in some grades and tend to cause reactions.” 

3. Sterile Needles > Piercing Gun

Always go with a sterile needle instead of a piercing gun. That means, generally speaking, don’t go to the mall to get pierced. 

“A piercing gun cannot be properly sterilized, and they use a blunt stud to create a hole,” warns Salome. This creates more trauma on the wound and is typically more painful than a needle. “A needle is far more accurate for the task and can be sterilized. With a sharp bevel edge, a needle creates a perfect puncture wound and an implant grade piece of jewelry is inserted. This makes healing much safer and easier.”

4. A Septum Piercing is Lower Than You Realize

Most people assume that a septum piercing drives right through the hard piece of tissue at the base of the nostrils. But this is not true: “There is a ‘sweet spot’, a gap, in your nose between the tip and the septum cartilage,” says Salome. “Properly pierced septums will heal fairly quickly. Piercing through the cartilage can take much longer to heal (if ever) and generally doesn’t fit the person’s face aesthetically. Any experienced and trusted piercer will know where to locate this spot and that the piercing, when done correctly, can be painless and quick. Healing is also quick, and your pro piercer can advise on the best size for you.

5. Eyebrow Piercings are Slow to Heal

Eyebrows are one of the slowest-healing piercings, Indy says. This is because they are surface piercings and can catch on things or easily react inversely to skincare products, dirt, sweat, and so forth. For this, have a sterile sea-salt solution (like NeilMed Piercing Aftercare) applied immediately after you shower or cleanse, 2-3 times daily.

6. Tongue Piercings Come with an Oral Care Warning

“Tongue piercings can be done from the top down or the bottom up,” Dowdell says. “Each piercer usually develops whichever technique works best for them. The piercing sits in between both sides of the tongue muscle in a layer called the medial lateral, and they generally heal up in about 8-12 weeks, but need to be downsized with a shorter barbell in 2-3 weeks to avoid tooth damage.”

We need to talk about oral risks when it comes to these piercings (and not the kind of oral you’re imagining). There has been a dramatic shift away from tongue piercings in the previous few years, largely due to compromised dental health: “You risk tooth and gum damage long term,” says Indy. “And short term risks are similar. Tooth damage can happen especially at the start, since the bar needs to be long to accommodate tongue swelling. As it recovers, make sure you downsize appropriately.”

Should you still get one, Dowdell urges you to avoid alcohol while it heals to prevent major swelling and inflammation. “Use an alcohol-free mouth rinse 3-4 times daily, but don’t overuse it,” he says.

7. Not All Cartilage is Fair Game

Basically anywhere on the ear that has cartilage can be pierced—in theory. “Most ear piercings and nose piercings are anatomy-dependent, and not everyone should get every piercing,” Indy says. “For some, cartilage is thicker, so it will take longer to heal than lobes.”

Dowdell calls attention to the daith, which is the innermost cartilage fold of the ear. It’s gotten wildly popular recently as a piercing site because there’s a claim out there that it can alleviate certain types of migraines, though there is no research to back that up.

8. Lip Piercings are Finicky

You can pierce the lips in just about any spot: at the sides, down the middle of the philtrum (beneath the septum of the nose), along the top and bottom. That array of options doesn’t yield itself to a universally smooth recovery, though: “Lips are a unique piercing in that they require an oral aftercare regimen along with a regular piercing regimen on the outer portion of the piercing,” says Dowdell. “We usually recommend an alcohol-free mouth rinse internally, plus one like Biotène on the outside. Apply NeilMed Piercing Aftercare 2-3 times daily, and remove any of the sebaceous crusty material that may collect around the piercing.” Salome adds that you should expect some tooth and gum damage, and expect a lot of swelling at first.

9. Nipple Piercings Hurt. A Lot.

Dowdell says that nipple piercings are one of the more painful options in existence, because men have lots of nerve endings in the nipples and therefore heightened sensitivity. However, the pain ends once the piercing is done—assuming your piercer is a pro. A proper nipple piercing is done at the base of the nipple, and not through the areola. (If done in the areola, your heal time is longer and the pain is significantly greater.) The healing time is lengthy, though: up to 4-6 months on average. During this time you must administer a sterile saline regimen 2-3 times daily.

“Beware of loofahs and other things they may become caught on,” Salome warns. “If the jewelry is aptly sized, this will be less of an issue.” (She personally believes that a lip piercing is worse than nipples, but notes that everyone experiences these differently.)

10. Dick Piercings Come in Many Varieties  

Yeah, you knew this was coming. “There are many types of penis piercings for men,” Dowdell says. “The most common is the Prince Albert, at the base of the penis through the urethra. Next is the frenum, from the base of the head horizontally through the soft tissue. Prince Albert and frenums are generally not too painful, and they heal relatively fast,” he says. (Ten to 16 weeks for the former, and 16-20 for the latter.) 

There are other, more exotic variations, but they often take 10-12 months to heal and require total abstinence. Dowdell urges you to research your piercer’s background before you go in, because inexperienced piercers can cause irreversible damage to your jewels.

11. If You’re a Hypochondriac, Check the Sterilization Logs

There are several ways to tell if piercers are hygienic and aseptic. “First, ask to check his or her sterilization logs,” Dowdell says. “These will be on hand for any upper-echelon studio or piercer. You can make sure that the jewelry and all instruments that are used are sterilized and documented in a log or release form, prior to use. If anything is not in a sterilized format, as in packaged or sterilized right in front of you, then ask why—and be cautious. Watch the piercer in his or her environment and observe what they touch, how they touch, and if they change gloves after touching anything in the procedure room.”

“They should be using gloves when handling all jewelry entering the body,” Salome says. “Most piercers now use a statim [to sterilize with steam]. A log book should be kept of the steam tests used to make sure the statim is running as it should be.”

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