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Body piercing

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Body art includes body piercing and tattooing.
  • Make sure you get your body art done by a qualified body artist to minimise the health risks.
  • If a body piercing or new tattoo becomes painful or weeps pus, see your doctor, as it may be infected.
  • Keep your new piercing or tattoo clean and don’t touch it unless necessary, to maximise healing and prevent infection.

What is body piercing?

Body piercing is traditionally done by pushing a needle through skin and inserting a piece of jewellery.

Ears are pierced more often than other parts of the body, but other sites that are sometimes pierced include:

  • eyebrows
  • nose
  • lips
  • tongue
  • nipples
  • navel
  • genitals

What is tattooing?

Tattoos are permanent designs made with ink injected under the skin. The tattoo gun used to inject the ink pierces the skin, so tattoos have their own set of health risks.

See this Queensland Government page for advice on what to ask if you are considering getting a tattoo.

What are the potential health risks of getting body art?

Most piercings and tattoos that are done by a skilled body artist heal well without complications.

However, there are some risks, including:

  • transmission of blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), if the equipment used is contaminated
  • scarring
  • rejection (where the body pushes out a piercing)
  • embedding (where skin grows over a piercing)
  • nerve damage
  • excessive bleeding

There may be other risks, depending where on your body art is placed. Ask your doctor or body artist for the risks of the specific piercing or tattoo you are considering.

What should I think about before getting body art?

Choosing to get a body piercing or tattoo is a very personal decision. It’s important to think carefully about it and the potential health consequences. Understand the risks involved and make sure you are able to care for your skin afterwards.

If you have questions, ask your doctor or the person doing the piercing or tattoo before you go ahead.

When considering piercing or tattooing, make sure you choose a reputable shop that uses sterile procedures and equipment. Here are some things you might like to ask:

  • Is the business registered?
  • How do you sterilise your equipment?
  • Do you reuse needles?
  • Where did the piercer or tattooist learn the skill, and how long have they been practicing?

If you choose to get body art, make sure you get it done by a reputable body artist. If your friends or family have body art, ask where they went and if they were happy with their practitioner, especially with regard to cleanliness and hygiene.

The Australasian United Professional Piercers can help you find a safe piercer.

What can I expect after getting a body piercing?

A new body piercing may be sore, red, swollen, itchy or tender and it can take anything from a few days to a few weeks for this to go away. If there is pus or it becomes painful, it may be infected. If you think a body piercing is infected, see your doctor.

Sometimes the area of skin around the piercing can change colour and appear red, brown, pink, or purple. This discolouration will eventually fade after a few weeks.

The healing times vary depending on which part of your body is pierced and how well you look after it.

What can I expect after getting a tattoo?

A new tattoo is essentially a skin wound and will take time to heal.

It can take 2 to 6 weeks to heal completely. The exact time will depend on the tattoo size and its design.

Follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice to minimise healing time and reduce the chance of complications.

If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take.

When should I see my doctor?

If your piercing or tattoo becomes painful, bleeds excessively or starts to weep pus, it may be infected. If you think a body piercing or tattoo is infected, see your doctor. You may need treatment with antibiotics.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How can I look after my body piercing?

Here are some tips for cleaning your body piercing:

  • Keep the area clean at all times. However, cleaning or touching the piercing too much slows down the healing. Only clean it twice a day.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water then dry thoroughly before touching or cleaning the area.
  • Clean the area in the shower with an antibacterial soap.
  • After showering, pat the area dry with a clean tissue or cotton bud, then apply any recommended after care product into the site of the piercing.

Here are some activities to avoid:

  • Don't pick, tug or rub on the pierced area until it has completely healed.
  • Don't use alcohol on the pierced area.
  • Don’t share your body piercing jewellery with others.
  • Avoid swimming until the piercing has healed.
  • If the piercing was in the genital area, avoid sex for at least a week afterwards (or check with the body artist).

Make sure you follow any other instructions given by the person who did the piercing. A piercing in your genital area is more likely to get infected, so extra care is necessary until it has healed.

If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take.

How can I look after my new tattoo?

Here are some tips for looking after a new tattoo:

  • Follow any advice given by your tattoo artist.
  • Initially, cover your tattoo with a non-stick dressing, such as gauze.
  • Only use creams on your tattoo as advised by your tattooist.
  • Around 2 to 3 hours after the procedure, clean the tattooed area with running water and soap and then pat dry.
  • Don’t pick at or scratch the tattoo.
  • Avoid swimming until after the tattoo has completely healed.
  • Avoid wearing tight or dirty clothing over the newly tattooed area.
  • Use a high SPF sunscreen on your tattoo after it has healed.

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Last reviewed: February 2023

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