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Healing with Hoops

Hoops! Rings! Huggies! Clickers! No matter the name, this popular style of jewelry is as timeless as piercing itself. Hoops are never out of style, from delicate and dainty to chunky and thick. Hoops are a unique and adorable aesthetic that clients from every walk of life enjoy. They are also some of the most contested and debated jewelry styles amongst piercers. To pierce with hoops or not? What styles can be safe? Are you a “bad” piercer if you start with hoops? If you refuse? Today, I want to address the use of hoops in fresh piercings. The pros and cons, and the reality of healing with hoops. While this blog is directed at clients curious about making the choice to heal with hoops, I hope that some piercers who find themselves debating this line may also find some wisdom in this post.


I’m going to start off with something a bit controversial- I totally don’t mind starting many piercings with hoops.


Yes, you heard me. I’m happy to start many piercings with hoops.



FreshHelix piercing with a classic CBR


But…


(There’s always a but)




It has to be the right piercing. The right person. The right place. And the right hoop.


One Ring to Pierce Them


When it comes to deciding to start a piercing with a hoop, the type of hoop you decide to use is one of the most crucial factors in if this is going to go well, or very very poorly. For many clients when they picture a hoop for their piercing they picture something thinner, delicate, dainty, and cute. They often don’t picture the type of hoop that will actually get used- a thick, oversized, chunky hoop.



Conch piercing done initially with a ring. Note the room left for swelling and healing




A healed conch with a smaller, snug fitting ring


New piercings are going to have some swelling, produce some crust and secretions that need to be cleaned away, and in general need jewelry that has space on it to allow for healing, cleaning, and initial care. When you are pierced with a stud, this means just a slightly longer stud. When you are pierced with a hoop, this means the whole ring ends up getting larger. This is because in order to leave room for swelling, the entire diameter of the ring has to increase. If we start a piercing off with a perfectly fitted tight ring, there’s no room for swelling and healing and we can see irritation bumps and issues right away. Basically, we want the part of the ring that passes through the piercing to be fairly close to straight through the tissue to prevent putting pressure on the entrance and exit of the piercing. This means a much larger diameter hoop than many people picture. Larger diameter rings can move around more often, be a little easier to catch and snag, and generally require a bit more work and attention for care.





But irritation isn’t the only issue that can occur if a ring is fitted too tight. Cheesewire effect is the term given when a hoop that is too snug and/or too thin ends up pulling through the tissue if the body like a wire cuts through cheese. Our bodies, even our cartilage, are soft in comparison to metal, and metal is virtually always going to win. So if we don’t start with a ring that has enough room for swelling, it can end up migrating through the body and causing irritation and issues. But it’s not just about room for swelling- if a ring is too thin this can also become an issue (you can learn more about this here). So when we are piercing with a ring, we often need to go a little thicker to accommodate for this as well. For example, I usually use 18g studs for nostrils, but if I were using a ring it would be a 16g at least- and personally, 14 often heals even better. With conches, it's almost always a 14 or preferably a 12g if we are going to do a ring. The thicker size holds up better to the catches, snags, bumps, and swelling that are a normal part of a piercing healing process.




And it’s not enough that the ring has room for swelling and is thick enough for healing. We also need to consider the style of the ring! Plain seam rings are a bad choice for a fresh piercing- the seam can rotate into the piercing and cause irritation and issues at best. At worst, the piercing can grow through the gap and the ring can become stuck in your body. I have a whole blog post about the issues with some seam rings in fresh piercings here. Plain clickers and hinge rings have the same issues and are better off worn in healed piercings only. So if we are starting with a ring, a captive bead ring or fixed bead ring are our best basic choices. You can try tucking the bead up or behind the piercing to help disguise it and give the look of a plain ring. However the bead is important as it creates a physical barrier that prevents the closure of the ring from entering the piercing channel and causing issues. Decorative seam rings and clickers which have a decorative element that prevents the seam or hinge from rotating into the piercing also work for fresh piercings!


So if we are going to pierce with a ring safely, we’ve established it needs to be large enough for swelling and healing, thick enough to be stable, and a style that’s safe for a fresh piercing. But that’s not all we need to think about!


Right Piercing, Right Place


Choosing to start a piercing with a ring also largely depends on the piercing in question. Some piercings such as septum and daith piercings often heal best with rings initially. Some piercings like lobes heal ok with rings but may be more work. Some piercings like helixes, nostrils, and conches can heal with rings, but it can be a much harder process. And some piercings just really shouldn’t be started with rings at all. Some of the piercings I won’t start with rings are as follows-


Lip Piercings- Oral piercings are prone to having quite a bit of swelling, meaning we need to leave a lot of room to allow for that swelling comfortably. When we don’t, the piercings often migrate and sit at off angles. If we do leave enough room for swelling it's very easy to bite and catch the ring and cause damage to our teeth and gums. I’ve found it much easier to start with studs for these piercings and swap them to hoops once they are more healed. Your piercings, and your teeth, will thank you for your patience.



Lips initially pierced with hoops expierencing irritation and some migration


Migration on the inside of the lip from being pierced with rings


Nipples on Breasts- While I will occasionally start nipples on chests with rings (although I usually try to talk folks out of this) I won’t with nipples on breasts. This is because rings as we know are oversized to have room for swelling and healing. Because of the curvature of the breast, the bottom of the ring often presses toward the body when wearing tight clothing, bras, sleeping, etc. This presses outward against the part of the ring inside the piercing, and can often lead to migration and rejection. The scarring that I have seen from trying to heal with rings is rough, and I would never want to be responsible for that scarring on a client's body.


Navels- While I will admit there are some forms of navel anatomy that can and do heal with hoops, that anatomy is a fraction of the vast variations of navel anatomy we see on different bodies. The vast majority of navel anatomy does not heal or does not heal well with a hoop. Hoops in navels can often lead to migration, scarring, and full rejection. We spent many years in this industry piercing navels with hoops and seeing the issues they dealt with, and many more using navel curves and floating navel styles and seeing significantly better results. Enough of a difference that you would be hard-pressed to find a reputable piercer who would be willing to use a hoop in your navel.


Tragus, Anti Tragus, and Snug Piercings- These piercings pass through thicker ridges of cartilage, and are often prone to more swelling initially (Primarily the anti-tragus and snug piercings). Rings that allow for this swelling are comically oversized in this placement and simply do not heal well.


This is not a complete list of things I won’t put hoops in, but just covering some of the more common piercings I get questions about. So we know hoops need to be the right style, size, and thickness, in the right piercing, to be safe to pierce with. What else is there?


Location, Location, Location


Where you live, and the climate you live in, will also play a factor in starting piercings with hoops. This is because climate plays a factor in how we heal piercings! I have a whole blog post about it here, but the climate can play a huge role in the way your body reacts to healing. Some regions see far more initial swelling. Some regions see hardly any. These factors will absolutely play a role in your local piercers’ comfort levels starting off with hoops. And this is where things can get a bit difficult. You may be from say a drier, cooler climate where in your area your local piercers see minimal issues with overselling. They may feel totally comfortable starting you with hoops for many things. If you move to a wet, humid, hot climate where piercers find excessive amounts of swelling to be a common issue, you may find that most piercers in this area refuse to pierce you with hoops to start.


It’s not that the piercer who was willing to use the hoop was wrong, nor is the one who refused to wrong either. Each piercer is making an informed, educated decision based on their professional knowledge and experience with piercing, and they do this because they want to see you stay safe. I have worked all over the country and say with genuine honesty that I have never seen initial piercings with hoops heal worse than in Florida- and I’ve seen them heal weirdly well in parts of the desert. Even for me, someone comfortable with using hoops in the right circumstances, there are areas I travel to where I simply won’t. In part because of the studios policies, but also because I respect those policies are there for a reason. And the last thing I want to do is give you a piercing that heals poorly or doesn’t heal at all. We want to give you good, safe, healthy piercings, and sometimes that means asking you to wait if you wanna put a ring on it- especially depending on where you live.


Alright alright, hoops need to be the right size, style, and thickness, in the right piercing, done in the right climate to be safe to pierce with. This has to be all the consideration for hoops…..right?!?


The Golden Client


That’s right, the last factor is you, the clients themselves! And honestly, you might be the most important factor of all in this equation. Because even ignoring all the other factors that go into using a hoop for many piercings, it also has to be on the right client. So who is our mystery “right client”? Well, this may vary from piercer to piercer, but here are some of the things I look at when determining the right client.


Are you ok with everything we talked about above? When you come in asking for a hoop for your new nostril and we discuss the jewelry needing to be larger or thicker are you ok with that, or do you push for a thin tiny ring anyway? And more than are you ok with it, do you understand why it needs this? Do you actually understand the swelling, cleaning, and healing process enough to manage that with a ring, are you prepared for a healing process that will be more work? And will you come back and let me help you if issues do arise thanks to starting with a hoop. For some clients yes! They understand the risks and are totally okay with them, and that’s very important. Some clients don’t understand the risks or want to argue that they will be the person who is pierced with a 20g 1/4 seam ring and heals just fine….and I simply don’t feel comfortable taking those kinds of risks with other people's bodies. I also don’t want to do something that can be riskier on a client who doesn’t trust my experience and knowledge when I tell them why a ring needs to be a certain style, thickness, or diameter for healing.


One way I sometimes gauge the above is if someone already has any piercings. If you have never had anything pierced, even your lobes, and you want a hoop to start in your nostril, I am a bit worried that this could be a very difficult healing process for your very first piercing. It’s not always a no, but we need to have a conversation first about what exactly you are signing up for. But when someone has a handful of healed ear piercings and body piercings and comes in asking me to start their conch with a hoop, already knowing it needs to be larger and already having a lot of experience with healing, I do feel a little more comfortable that you understand. You’ve healed piercings before, you know what it entails, and you know when it may be time to come back for some help.


If we’ve worked together and how your body tends to heal is also a factor. Have I done a bunch of piercings for you and they’ve healed really well and easily, we know your body generally heals well and you keep up with stuff? That’s all a gold star towards starting with a hoop. But perhaps we’ve worked together in the past and I know you have some medical conditions that make healing very hard for you. As a professional, it’s my job to try to steer you toward the safest piercings I can give you- this might mean encouraging you to start with a stud. Maybe I know you well and I know that you can sometimes struggle to care for piercings or your lifestyle can get in the way of healing. That brings us to our next factor when deciding to use a hoop.


Lifestyle. There are so many lifestyle factors that can affect whether healing with a hoop is a good idea or not. Do you wear a headset or helmet at work? A hoop in your brand-new helix or conch might be a pretty bad idea. Have serious seasonal allergies, use a CPAP machine, or have to wear nose clips at work? A hoop in a nostril might be a bad idea. On vacation and just visiting the area, and don’t have any piercers to help you out back home, or are you from a climate I’m unfamiliar with the healing of? I might not feel comfortable starting you with a hoop in case there are issues!



Initial Conch with a Ring


Risks


Of course, I can’t write this piece without honestly discussing the risks of starting piercings with hoops and how that can affect healing. While I am willing to use hoops in the right situation, and these situations can minimize many of these risks, we still need to be transparent about what they are.


More difficult, prolonged healing- In general, when I do agree to start clients off with hoops, it’s often that the healing process can be more difficult and take a little longer. Now this can happen with studs too, so it’s not just hoops that can have this issue, but across the board, I will say I consistently see this more with hoops, as do many of my colleagues. Any client deciding to start with a hoop should be aware that this could be a harder heal, and be prepared for that.


Irritation Bumps- Hoops can cause a unique form of irritation bump that is directly related to being pierced with a hoop. This is often because the jewelry is too thin and too tight, and the body will form irritation following the curvature of the ring, but it can also form with a well-sized and placed hoop if there's extra swelling or physical trauma (like a bad catch or snag). This particular irritation is a direct result of being pierced with a hoop, and this diagram explains it well.




Cheesewire Effect- Severe migration can happen with hoops as we discussed above, and the scarring this can leave can be very serious. Fortunately, this risk is mostly managed by using an appropriate diameter and gauge for healing. However, even with a perfectly sized ring if you accidentally hit your piercing or snag it hard enough and it swells enough, this could become a risk again. So it is important to ensure you get appropriately sized jewelry to begin with, and also important you monitor your piercings while you heal with a hoop to watch for these issues before they become serious.



All that being said, I am still willing to use hoops in the right circumstances. We pierced with almost exclusively hoops throughout the 90s and early 00s and while we saw all of these issues, we also saw many piercings heal well. It’s become a bit of a lost art form to understand how to appropriately place, size, and use a hoop, but it can be done. For clients who have the information, understand the risks, and understand how to care for hoops, there is something empowering about getting to start and heal with the jewelry they desire and love. I will always love the look of chunky, thick rings and I find a 12g captive in a conch or a helix to be an infinitely satisfying sight. At the same time, I respect other piercers whose boundaries are to not start with hoops at all. They do so not to be a killjoy, but to try to provide you with the easiest, most comfortable healing process they can. Please trust that they make these choices because they genuinely care about your health and you having a good healing piercing.


I hope that this blog post can lay out some of the realities of being pierced with hoops, and help folks make an informed decision if this process is for them, or if they want to take a different route. And for those curious, while I am happy to start folks with hoops in the right circumstance, I think it’s interesting to note I personally would not be pierced with a hoop in most placements. See, I’ve met myself. And between my skin conditions, the constant traveling of my lifestyle, and the fact that I’m just not a very good client….I would never heal well with a hoop haha. I’m not cut out for it! And that’s perfectly ok.


Happy healing! :)

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