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Everything you need to know about nipple piercings before getting one of your own

As a person who usually prefers getting pierced instead of dealing with emotional problems, one type in particular has been calling my name since I turned 14: nipple piercings. That’s right, just like any other piece of anatomy, metal bars (or rings) can go in your boobs for fashion, and I think it’s one of the few things I’d wager the ‘pain is beauty’ plight for. Nipple piercings are the undefeated fashion accessory but you’ve probably already asked yourself, do they hurt? Do they ever heal? Will they fall off if they get infected? Allow me to give you the lowdown.

Better safe than sorry

While you may have seen many celebrities—from the forever icon Rihanna to the mysterious muse Bella Hadid—flaunt their pierced prized possessions, how does it work exactly and are they safe to get? Well, a nipple piercing is just that: a piercing in your nipples. More specifically, piercing the sensitive tissue connected to milk ducts, or your areola, the darker ring around it.

WebMD lists a number of possible problems you could encounter if you get your nipples pierced hastily and without research. In both the UK and the US, the legal age to get nipple piercings is 18, with ID being required. Studios jumping at the chance to pierce you at a younger age or without proof of age are a big red flag since it’s quite literally illegal. Among the risks of rampant infections that hurt like hell with all poorly healed piercings—I should know, I’m currently praying for my salt water to miraculously fix my keloids, fat chance—there are other issues that you may run into getting the girls pierced.

First things first, go to a professional. That means any sign of unsanitary practice is your green light to get out, immediately. WebMD advises finding a reputable piercer through the Association of Professional Piercers (APP), which is a worldwide network of trusted and safe piercers. Through its portal, you will find ‘Business Members’—those who work full time as piercers, with more than one year of professional experience—and ‘Associate Members’ who are also working as professional piercers but have less than one year of experience (like apprentices, for example).

Also, being aware of what your body can handle when it comes to piercings is probably going to help you out a lot when enquiring about them. Knowing if you have a certain allergy to metals that are used in bars is a must because the last thing you want is the already painful process to be drawn out by infection.

How do I get them done?

In an interview with Allure, professional body piercer and owner of Studio 28, a piercing studio in New York, TJ Cantwell described the process to the outlet. “Your piercer will wash up, put on gloves, and have sterile materials ready. Any reputable piercer will also act sort of like a meditation teacher, helping you keep calm and instructing you to breathe as they pierce you. The actual piercing happens very quickly.”

Cantwell stressed that if there’s one thing to look out for, it’s that all tools are pre-sterilised and opened in front of you before use.

To hoop or not to hoop?

Generally speaking, a straight barbell for the piercing is your best bet. Curved barbells are usually reserved for inverted nipples. Rings and hoops often move around too much and can majorly disrupt the healing process. Not fun.

And don’t forget, always, always go with implant-grade metal, folks.

Double trouble or one and done?

Some opt to have one of their nipples pierced to get a feel for the pain level before having their second one pierced. Initially, that was my game plan. According to Grazia, many studios offer a two-for-one price on nipple piercings anyway, so there’s a bigger incentive to get them done together. They can cost anywhere between £25 to £50. On average, the price to get your nipples pierced is around £40, but that can change depending on the jewellery picked on top. While I am a person with multiple holes in my ears and everything from a surface tragus to belly bars in my body, I do think I’d still need my piercer to get me to pay up beforehand just in case I chicken out.

TMI bits

Before we get to the cons, let me answer the last few questions you may have. First of all, do they make your nipples hard all the time? Well, getting your nips pierced can make them appear slightly more pronounced, but, fear not, it won’t stay that way long term. Do they scab? As with any piercing (aka, a wound in your body) they can produce scabs, yes, but if you fear it’s looking abnormal or it’s too painful, consider speaking to your GP or doctor. If I take the ring out will there be scarring? Unfortunately, that probably will be the case, especially if taken out before properly healing, and it could be left looking a little different to its pre-pierced state, according to Grazia. Will I be able to breastfeed? Yes, but it’s not A-okay for everyone. You might need to ditch hoops for some bars and take them out when it’s the little one’s dinner time. And before you ask, no, they probably won’t go off in an airport metal detector, Grazia noted that many metal body jewellery is non-ferromagnetic—the scientific term that basically means if your jewellery is made from gold, silver or platinum, it won’t go off. Thank goodness.

Another thing to note is that many women report their piercings increasing their nipple sensitivity dramatically—having healed correctly, that is.

The dreaded cons

Aside from being very pretty and adding a little razzle-dazzle to a braless look, nipple piercings do come with a lot of aftercare upkeep. And it makes sense since they have a longer healing time compared to other piercings.

Among the bad, nipple piercings can cause a number of issues: abscesses (really painful pus-filled lumps, yuck), rejection (where the piercing is literally pushed out by your body) and localised infection—though one study suggests the chances of systemic infections are very low.

Nipple piercings typically take up to six months to fully heal, which can really put a roadblock in your plans. If you want to show off your new studs at the beach, now is the time to get them done, people. At first, your priority should be to keep them covered at all times—at least for the first two weeks. You may also be advised to not poke around or touch them, except for cleaning off the pus and goopy goo, and avoid soaking them in water when you wash too. Cleaning twice a day is also an absolute must and the safest and most recommended way to do it is with a saline solution. Trust me, skipping out on this is not worth the headache—think of it as sleeping drunk with makeup on but then waking up with a horrible leaking hole in your body, no thanks.

So, with all the pros and cons of getting your nipples pierced safely in your back pocket, will you decide to get them done?

What is a stick and poke tattoo? Here’s everything you need to know

Punk is all about being anti-establishment, anti-conformist and, basically, doing your own thing in your own way. It’s hard to imagine the punk movement without tattoos. Tattoos are the bedrock of punk culture and, arguably, there’s nothing more punk than the do-it-yourself tattooing technique, stick and poke. 

This doesn’t mean to say that tattoos are limited to punk culture. In fact, take a look back in history: tattoo culture has been entrenched within the traditions of countless cultures across the globe—transcending the confines of ethic and societal boundaries. From underground Russian prison tattoos to traditional Japanese Tebtori, all the way up to the present day Western backpackers getting their elephant tattoo on their ‘life-changing’ gap year in Thailand.

And despite my parents’ disgust at the culture—tattoos have always been around, and aren’t going anywhere soon. For this article, however, we’ll focus on stick-and-pokes, a style of hand-poked tattooing that transcends the need for a gun or studio. Here’s everything you need to know about the DIY tattooing technique that’s rapidly growing in popularity.

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What is a stick and poke tattoo?

The history of handmade tattoos is extensive and dates back over 5,000 years. Contrary to typical tattoos, stick and pokes don’t require any electrical tools and little experience of traditional tattooing. Theoretically, this makes them an affordable, accessible activity to do from the comfort of your own home. This is likely the reason why stick and poke tattooing saw a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic—when tattoo parlours are shut, people look for alternative ways to make art on their skin.

Sounds great, right? It’s making me tempted to pick up a needle right now and dot something on my skin, but where do I start? Well, the most common method of stick and poke tattooing involves attaching a tattoo-grad needle to a holding contraption, which allows ink to be easily applied to the skin. The style lends itself particularly to intricate dot work or trippy geometric patterns. However, the technique is by no means limited to these styles, as its DIY nature means you can let your creative juices flow.

How to do a stick and poke tattoo

Now, as tempting as it might be to rush into stick and poke tattooing, it’s important to make sure you have taken the necessary steps to assure you can make your art safely—it is forever, after all. The most crucial step is to ensure you have the correct toolkit. It goes without saying, make sure you have the correct tattoo needles and ink before undertaking your stick and poke journey. 

More importantly, ensure you have the correct medical supplies to counteract the inevitable minor injuries that come with tattooing. It’s crucial that you invest in the right aftercare supplies, which will help your tattoo heal nicely. Yeah, it might not be as punk as getting it done on a random night using just a needle and ink but trust me, when your tattoo recovers properly and doesn’t devolve into an infected messy ink-blob—you’ll thank me later.

The process: step-by-step

Although stick and poke is a relatively simple process, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared both mentally and physically for the task. It’s easy to forget but your skin is in fact an organ (and the largest in the body), so be prepared for your immune system to freak out a bit when injecting your body with ink. To make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible, ensure you’re hydrated and abstain from any alcohol and drug use—in other words, I’d avoid getting your tat the morning after your Friday night bender. If you can’t say no to the sesh and end up drinking the night before, just keep in mind that alcohol thins your blood, meaning your tattoo will probably bleed more than normal. The same applies to getting a piercing.

First, start out by laying down a clean, disinfected workspace. If necessary, shave the area you plan to ink with a razor and put on some latex gloves. Then, using an alcoholic pad, clean the area you wish to tattoo. To avoid ending up on an ‘ink-shaming’ Facebook group, I strongly advise planning out your design using a stencil. Once the stencil gel has dried onto your skin, you’re almost ready to get started.

Place your desired ink into a sterile container, I personally prefer the classic black ink style but don’t be scared to experiment with different colours. It is your body after all—don’t let a stranger on the internet tell you how you want your body to look. Start by dipping the desired sized needle into the ink so to coat it above the cluster of needle tips, this will create an ink reserve, allowing you to ink your skin with less frequent dips in the ink.

Exercise this part with extreme caution: start by slowly and gently pressing the needle tip into the skin, allowing the ink to be deposited within the skin’s layers. Make sure not to press the needle too deeply, you want the needle to make the layers of skin but not go completely through the skin itself. It’s best to go steady with this, start out lightly and assess from there whether the ink stays in your skin once you wipe the excess away from the surface. Don’t be alarmed if there’s a noticeable tug as you take the needle out, that’s normal. A little bit of blood is normal too, but only minimal, your skin will also ooze a translucent plasma, similar to when you have a minor cut or scrape.

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Repeat these steps at your own pace by following the stencilled line—it’s better to do a good job slowly than permanently mess up by rushing. It’s a strange process at first, especially if you’ve never had a tattoo before, but don’t worry it gets easier with practice. It’s also important to listen to your body and take a break if need be—the ink will always be there to work with once you’re ready to start again.

Once you’ve worked your way around the stencil, you should start to see your desired artwork take shape—exciting, right? Once you’ve finished, wipe the tattooed area with warm soapy water and then an alcoholic pad, this part might sting a little but it beats a nasty infection. Finally, apply either a soaker pad or a waterproof tattoo aftercare bandage to the area. After five hours or so, you can take off the soaker pad and thoroughly wash the area again with warm soapy water. If you’ve gone for a waterproof bandage, it will come off by itself after your second or third shower. Make sure to apply aftercare balm to ensure your tattoo recovers successfully. Avoid scented creams which contain alcohol and might irritate your skin and try to go for a dry skin-oriented product. My personal recommendation would be Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula.

And voilà—just like that, you’re all done! Now you’ve joined the thousands, if not millions, of people who have taken body art, quite literally, into their own hands. Whether it’s a meaningful design or just an inside joke you wanted to immortalise, the important thing is that you’ve rightfully exercised your right to do whatever the hell you want with your body. I hope this article has helped you mark your skin in a safe and responsible way. Happy inking!