Piercings are nothing new. Crack open any book about ancient civilizations and you’ll find pages of pierced and tattooed Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who used these modifications to indicate anything from fertility to protection from evil spirits. And although body piercing continues to grow in popularity — 61 per cent of adults in the U.S. have a piercing and the navel is the most popular among women — there are certain areas of the body that experts warn should never be pierced.
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“The most dangerous piercings are the ones that involve cartilage, like higher ear piercings,” says Tracy Burton, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Ontario. “These piercings are associated with poor healing because of the limited blood supply to the area. These types of infections spread quickly and can cause an abscess requiring surgical intervention, and sometimes permanent disfigurement from tissue death. These can be medical emergencies.”
There’s also one particular piercing that many experts refuse to perform: the snakebite.
“We won’t perform horizontal tongue piercings, known as the snakebite,” says Meghan Lafontaine at Black Line Studio tattoo and piercing shop in Toronto. “The blood vessels and the nerves can be damaged with a horizontal piercing like this, versus a vertical one that goes between the two muscles. The result could be paralysis and loss of sensation at the end of the tongue.”
Oral piercings are also associated with excessive bleeding, infection, and injuries to the mouth and teeth, Burton says, and while uncommon, some patients have been admitted for IV antibiotics to combat infections of the tongue and the roof or floor of the mouth.
“A serious consequence of oral piercings is having your airway compromised or blocked from trauma, tongue swelling or obstruction from the jewelry,” she says. “This is an emergency and can lead to death if medical assistance isn’t sought immediately.”
Other modifications that some shops refuse to do include dermal piercings, which are usually single studs stuck into the skin.
“Dermal anchors or micro dermals on the hands or lower forearms we also shy away from,” T.J. Cantwell, a piercer at Studio 28 Tattoo in New York, said to Bustle. “They are becoming more popular but have an incredibly high rate of getting caught on clothing and being ripped out of the skin.”
Doctors also warn that certain people should think twice before going in for a piercing.
“Anyone with a history of excessive scar formation, called keloids, should be extremely cautious when it comes to piercing,” says Dr. Ryan Austin, a plastic surgeon with The Plastic Surgery Clinic in Toronto. “And anyone with an autoimmune condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, should avoid piercing since these conditions are treated with steroids and they alter the body’s immune function, putting them at greater risk for infection.”
And while he says there are no specific medical contraindications for pregnant or nursing women, he advises against it since there is always a risk of infection that could jeopardize the pregnancy, including complications of passing a blood-borne pathogen on to the fetus.