You are probably not Rihanna, but you can become a little more like her with a nipple piercing or two. Getting one is a little more complicated than simply putting on a necklace, of course, and it can certainly hurt, but don’t let that stop you if your heart is set on it. The know-how of a trained professional and proper aftercare techniques will make the process as smooth as possible. We spoke with professional body piercers and a dermatologist about what you should know before you’re ready for a nipple piercing, then asked four New York City women what it was like to get theirs done. For courageous viewers, we even captured footage of one of the women’s piercings, done by professional piercer Kirsten Lee at Studio 28 in New York City — view the full video below.
How do I find the right piercer for me?
It’s important to go to a reputable piercing shop (please don’t just wander into the first place you see with a flashing neon “body piercing” sign). Talk to friends who have had theirs done, read Yelp reviews, and check out the references of the Association of Professional Piercers.
TJ Cantwell, the owner of Studio 28, says it’s key to choose a piercer you feel at ease with. “We always want our clients to feel comfortable in our shop. If you feel uncomfortable about the shop or your piercer, you should not get [a piercing] done,” Cantwell says. Obviously, any legit piercer will be nothing but professional. This is someone who will be performing a body modification on your boobs, so pick someone you like. Also important: According to Cantwell, all items used by your piercer should be pre-sterilized and opened in front of you.
What is the procedure like?
“As far as what to expect, you should expect to have a great time,” Cantwell says. Some people are more comfortable with needles and latex gloves than others, but lying back to have your nipples pierced is totally glam. 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. “We tell our clients to take a deep breath in and let it out. By the time they are done letting it out, we are done with the piercing,” Cantwell says.
What type of jewelry is best?
You’re going to want a straight barbell for the piercing: Rings move around too much and disrupt the healing process. Very rarely, a curved barbell is used for people with inverted nipples. The jewelry your piercer initially uses will be longer than what you’ll eventually swap it out for, to account for swelling. As for the metal, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you use is implant-grade. Titanium, steel, and gold work best because they’re less likely to cause an allergic reaction than a nickel-containing metal, says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Gold rarely causes a reaction in the skin. Because of the high cost of gold, titanium or steel may be used for piercings because they also carry a lower risk of causing an allergy than a nickel-containing metal,” Zeichner says.
What risks should I know about?
A rejection is when your body literally rejects the piercing, even to the point of pushing it out of your breasts (ouch). Your body usually rejects piercings due to improper piercing techniques, angles, and jewelry quality, so it’s critical to see someone who knows their stuff. Cantwell says that thankfully, nipple piercing infections are pretty rare these days due to the sterile environments and techniques used by qualified piercers.
Piercings do still come with a slight risk of localized infection, although studies suggest that the chances of systemic infections — ones that spread throughout the body — are very slim. If you suspect you have any complication, you should see a medical professional straight away. “Most of the time clients think they have an infection, they actually have an irritation, usually caused by some outside trauma to the piercing,” Cantwell warns. “The best way to avoid an infection is to go to a high-quality piercing studio with implant-grade materials and follow their aftercare instructions.”
As mentioned, beware of any jewelry containing nickel, because it often causes allergies and rashes. Nipple piercings do introduce a slight risk of developing scar tissue, while could technically affect breastfeeding. “It is difficult to predict how the nipple will react. You may be able to breastfeed without any issues, but if scar tissue develops, it can interfere with the ability of the milk to be expressed by the nipple,” Zeichner says. It is recommended to remove your jewelry before breastfeeding, although that won’t remove scar tissue. “Some people genetically are at risk for developing scar tissue, which may be permanent, even if the piercing is removed,” Zeichner says.
What’s the deal with aftercare?
“The skin is at a much higher risk of developing a reaction from a metal while the piercing is healing up,” Zeichner says. “A nipple piercing typically takes several months to fully heal, so you must be dedicated to proper cleaning and care after having one placed.” Piercer Cassi Lopez of New York Adorned, says that lifestyle plays a huge role in how well different bodies handle piercings. If you sleep on your side, don’t wash your sheets often, and pick at your piercing, you’re going to irritate them and delay the healing process.
“I usually tell people, just don’t touch it at all. Nipples do tend to get crusty. They get a lot of build-up on them,” Lopez says. “One of the most important things is to not pick that. Let the hot water run on it when you shower and that should soften it up and rise that up for you.” As for cleaning, “Clean it with sterile saline daily and be mindful of bra types,” she says. “Stay away from anything too lacy at first to avoid snagging. Clean sports bras are great for fresh nipple piercings.” She adds that while recovery time varies from person to person, it’s generally anywhere from six to eight months.
Piercer Kirsten Lee of Studio 28 offers a clever tip for maximizing comfort and minimizing infection risk: “Bras have a lot of bacteria in them,” she says. “To avoid getting any of that bacteria into the fresh nipple piercing, cut a really thin panty liner in half and stick it to the inside of the cup. It’ll create that barrier, help absorb sweat, and help with friction.” Just make sure to change the liner a couple times a day, she adds.
How much do piercings cost?
It varies per studio. At New York Adorned, it’s $40 per nipple for the actual piercing process, and that’s not including jewelry. Their steel jewelry starts at $35 per piece, while gold starts at $75 per piece. Most people tip at least 20 percent of the service charge. Call up your local shop for rates, and remember that paying for quality jewelry is more fun than paying for a doctor’s visit for an infected nipple.
What happens if I take my jewelry out?
It depends on how long you’ve had them in for. “If the [jewelry] is removed before the skin heals, then the hole in the skin may heal up,” Zeichner says. So basically, once again, don’t mess with or take out the jewelry during recovery time if you don’t want your new holes to close up. Unlike facial piercings, should you find yourself around family or coworkers who disapprove of body modification, a nipple piercing is easy to hide. (Unless you come from a nudist family, that is, in which case it seems likely they’ll be open-minded about your pierced nipples.)
Is there anything I need to know about hooking up?
Nipple piercings can take the better part of a year to heal, so get ready for some changes to your hook-up routine. If you’re in a relationship, consider bringing your partner with you to your piercing appointment. That way, the piercer can go over the ins and outs of what to expect with both of you. “I always say, honestly, you’re not even going to want to go near them. It’s going to get crusty,” Lopez says. And regardless of your relationship status, make sure any partners know to be careful with your newly pierced nipples. Hands and mouths carry germs, so wait until your pretty piercings are all healed up to enjoy them in the bedroom.
How do people who’ve gotten their nipples pierced feel about the experience?
Now that you’ve head from the experts, check out what four women had to say about their own piercing experiences.
Graduate student, 26
“I have my nose and lip pierced, as well as a few tattoos, so I’m pretty good with pain. I figured if I could handle those, I could probably handle getting my nipples pierced. One night I was walking through Washington Square Park, and I passed by a cool-looking tattoo place with a good vibe called West 4 Tattoo, so I went in to check it out. It was clean, had good reviews on Yelp, and the people there had done a lot of dermal piercings, which I know are really hard to do. I thought if they could do those, they could do nipple piercings.
“Then a couple weekends ago, a friend was visiting, and we just decided to walk in and do it. It was kind of a spontaneous decision. It hurt less than I thought it would because they pinch your nipple with these little tongs first, but it was still definitely a six. I tried to stand up afterward, and I was really dizzy. It was a lot of sensations.
“The bled for the first day or two, but there’s pretty much no pain now, expect if I ding them on something or get them caught on a towel. And I make sure to wear a clean bra every day while they’re healing. It was the most painful of all my piercings and tattoos, but I really like them and think they look cool.”
Social media manager, 23
“I was feeling super spontaneous this week, so I decided to get my nipple pierced on a whim. I went to Studio 28 Tattoo with a few second thoughts in my mind, but told so many people I was doing it I knew I had to follow through. Plus, I wanted to be a badass.
“I knew I was in good hands at Studio 28. I sat back in the cold leather chair and was told to take a deep breath. Next thing you know, the word ‘fuck’ came out of my mouth. Typical. The pain lasted about 20 seconds total, as [Kirsten] pushed the needle and jewelry through. She was so calming and was constantly checking on me. I sat up and jumped in front of the mirror to check out my new champagne-color studded nipple. I instantly fell in love and I even hugged Kirsten afterward. I have had little to no pain since my piercing 24 hours ago. It has been so nice. I actually can’t believe it. I stared at myself for 10 minutes in my mirror last night and I now have so many tit pics on my phone.”
Freelance writer, 38
“I was about 22 when I got them. I always thought they looked hot, especially with no bra under a white tank top. And I was always impressed with people who had giant crazy things like Janet Jackson. I went to Maya Ventura at Third Eye Tattoo in Park Slope to get rings. She was one of the first tattoo artists to get licensed when it became legal again in New York, and she had done my first tattoo, so I was comfortable with her. The first one was like, Whoa! It was an endorphin roller-coaster feeling. And it hurt, but only for a second, and then it radiated pain. But I didn’t care. I was like, Yeah! Let’s pierce the other one! What else can we pierce?
“And then it literally never healed. The post-traumatic nipple injury had a huge impact on my relationship with my husband. We got married in 2000, and I got the piercings in 2001, so for the first few years of our marriage, it was like, No, nope, that area is off-limits. They were always sore. I think it’s because I have big boobs, and they’re always changing size and swelling. I feel like the girls with tiny boobs and piercings have it easy. At one point one of them was rejecting, so I eventually took them both out. They looked good, but it wasn’t worth the hassle. Now they’re healed, and you can kind of see little scars if you really look. All that said, the people I know who had their genitals pierced said it healed in five seconds, and it wasn’t bad at all. Go figure.”
“I got mine done in 2012, around the time I started dating my now-boyfriend. I remember mentioning it to him to see if it would creep him out, because if it did, I’d be like, OK, I don’t like you anymore. He was so excited and enthusiastic. I think my original inspiration was Lisbeth Salander from Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I had just seen the movie and thought it was so badass. It’s also one of those things you can cover up. No one knows I have my single nipple piercing except for a few close friends and my boyfriend.
“I did a lot of research and found this place on the Lower East Side. It didn’t really hurt. I thought my nose ring was more painful. The funny part was that the guy who did my piercing turned out to also live in my neighborhood, so afterward I would see him at the grocery store all the time. It was so awkward because obviously I had to take my shirt off and be topless while this guy looked at my boobs and touched them. It was just really weird. The only thing I’d say is that if you are not comfortable with your body or not comfortable having to care for it, you shouldn’t get one. I had to soak mine in a saltwater bath every night for six months, and it was extremely sensitive for the first year. If I moved it at all it would bleed. And now I still check it and clean it every day. But I love it. My boyfriend loves it. It’s our little secret. And it’s also important, because it’s the first thing we did together as a couple, and he’s the only person who’s ever seen it. It means a lot to me. I’m going to keep it forever.”