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High Nostril 101

Updated: Apr 20

We have already talked at length about nostril piercings here on my blog. In fact that post is one of my longest to date, full of every single thing I think you could want to know before getting your nostril pierced. It’s the perfect primer for today's blog, where we will be looking at high nostril piercings. ((And I mean that, please read that blog first because it’s the foundational information for this one!)) Now often I have clients say well….isn’t it just a nostril? Just higher up? And that…that is where folks get this piercing very wrong. High nostril piercings are piercings placed above the crease of the nostril, into the denser and more structural cartilage of the nose. These piercings are absolutely adorable, and they have taken off in popularity over the last decade. They are also notoriously some of the most difficult facial piercings to heal, with a reputation for long, problematic healing times. Today we will discuss the process of getting these piercings done, what the risks and concerns are, how we minimize them, and what you can expect if these piercings are on your wishlist.


The first thing we must discuss with high nostrils is anatomy. Our nostrils are made of layers of cartilage, fatty tissue, connective membranes, and small muscles. Nostrils are in fact a deceptively complex part of the body to pierce. Traditional nostrils are placed within the crease of the nostril and below, usually through the softer, more flexible cartilage that makes up alar cartilage, fibre-areolar tissue, and fibrofatty tissue. But when we discuss high nostrils, I would define them as anything above the crease of the nostril. And depending on your nose, this may end up being through much thicker, denser, structural cartilage of the nose. This tissue is dramatically different than the tissue of a lower nostril, and how it reacts to being pierced, healing, etc, is all very different.

Another element of anatomy we must discuss is the amount of space inside the nose. With a traditional nostril, you have all this room in your nose of the jewelry to sit, and for any extra length on the bars to wear. As you move up your nose, the nasal passages narrow, and in some cases become incredibly tight. This means there's very little extra space in there for jewelry to go. It also means that these things may narrow differently, and things like deviated septums and prior broken noses can all really affect how the interior anatomy in your nostrils looks, and affects the piercing.

It’s important going into these to understand that the tissue type is very different than traditional nostrils, and the amount of space you have for jewelry is also much more limited. These two elements of course come together when we discuss placement.

From Mid, to Sky High, High Nostril Placement

Now when we discuss high nostrils, one of the most important elements of this discussion is placement. As a general rule, I consider anything above the crease of the nostril to fall into the classification of a high nostril piercing. However, there is still a huge variance in placement in this area. Some people have high nostrils that sit just above the crease, while others have sets that are sky-high almost halfway up their nose. These placements depend on a range of factors, and can heal differently from one another.

A fairly high set of high nostrils

A more "classic" high nostril placement

One of the main factors in your exact placement is the internal structures of your nose. Some people have very wide sinus cavities and it’s very easy for us to get fairly high in their nose with tools and to fit jewelry up there. Others have narrow sinuses, or deviated septums that narrow one or both sides dramatically. This can make it uncomfortable at best and impossible at worst to actually get tools or jewelry up into the nose to execute these piercings. One of the first things I do when determining high nostril placement is to gently check with a tool how high we can easily and safely go in your nose.

Sensitivity plays another factor. Sure, I may be able to get a tool quite high in your nose, but is it comfortable? Can you sit for that? For me, the sensation of the tools and jewelry that far up my nose was atrocious- there was no reality I was sitting to get that piercing so high or ever finding jewelry comfortable so high in my nose. So my set is a little lower. Then you have clients like my dear friend Happy who can basically pick their brain comfortably and is to this day the highest set I’ve done. They didn’t even sneeze while I was working so far up their nose.

The highest set of high nostrils I think I've ever done

So placement will very much depend on your anatomy, and how sensitive your nose is. I find it best to go into getting these piercings with realistic expectations- as high as is safe with your anatomy and comfortable/reasonable to pierce is a good expectation. And don’t be disappointed if this ends up being a bit lower than you initially imagined- they are still going to look great!

Now another consideration with placement is your existing piercings and potential future plans for your nostril setup. Do you already have or are planning on getting traditional nostrils? What about low nostrils? Do you want to wear one of those cute chains across your high nostrils? Maybe a bridal bar? These things can all affect how high or low, far forward or far back we decide to place these piercings. So please be honest with your piercer about your goals for these, so we can mark and place them accordingly.

Initial Jewelry

In my blog post about nostril piercings, I run down all the different styles we can use for them. Now when it comes to high nostrils, I exclusively use labret style pieces, for a few reasons. One, those passages up in the nose are much more narrow, and I want jewelry that is going to rest comfortably inside those spaces. Screws, L-Bends, and the like are just so much metal to have so high in your sinuses, and they can collect and trap a lot of debris and boogers. The other main factor is how much high nostrils can swell. These are notorious for having a fair amount of swelling, and initial jewelry often wears all the excess on the outside because of this. Most clients get multiple rounds of downsizes on their high nostrils, and it’s much easier to downsize a threadless labret than virtually every other style. As someone who has experimented with wearing different styles in my high nostrils, I can confidently say labrets were the most comfortable by far.

Now the other element of initial jewelry is the gauge or thickness of the pieces. High nostrils are through harder, more structural cartilage, and can deal with more irritation and issues during healing, especially from catching or snagging. Piercing them slightly thicker at 16g or 14g allows for increased stability against these things, and overall seems to allow for significantly better healing. I’ve done these at both 18 and 16g at various points in my career, and I dramatically see a difference in healing at 16 for stability and irritation. Especially if your plan is to wear chains or bars, or even larger ends, this slightly thicker size is also much more stable for this. Another consideration is the size of the inner disc. High Nostrils are much higher risk for embedding on the inside than any other nostril piercing placement, and if these embed they can become seriously problematic to remove. For this reason, I generally start high nostrils with 4mm inner discs, and strongly suggest clients continue wearing larger inner discs for the length of the time they have this piercing so they do not risk embedding with a smaller disc.

And lastly, the decorative element of jewelry. While many folks want the smallest, daintiest piece they can get, this is still a fresh piercing we are talking about. With small ends, if this is yanked or snagged hard enough, they can pull through the piercing channel. As a general rule 2mm-3mm tends to be a sweet spot for initial piercing where even if you do accidentally snag it, it won’t pull through. I personally won’t use something smaller than a 2mm in an initial high nostril because of this risk. This goes in the other direction as well. While I love, truly love big bold pieces in high nostril piercings….they really often aren’t the best for initial piercing. 3-4mm ends is often the largest folks will use in a nose. And this is only with flat styles- I outright won’t use prong settings or tall pieces on initial high nostrils. They are too snaggy, too likely to get bumped or caught, and I see them cause way too many issues during the healing process for it to be worth it. You can of course use a cabochon cut gem, a disc, pave setting, and any matter of larger, flatter styles to wear big ends in nostril piercings. And these pieces are stunning but they are also a major amount of work to keep clean during healing, and also can sometimes catch and snag more. I’ll use large ends like this on clients after a discussion of the risks and responsibilities needed. So if you love jewelry that’s really really small or really really big, ask yourself if you want to deal with the process of healing with those pieces and the potential risk of a more difficult healing, or if you want to compromise on something easier for healing to start and get your goal piece once you heal. And please respect piercers who don’t want to pierce you with either end of the spectrum to start- it’s because we see the issues very small and very large ends cause and we don’t want you to deal with that.

My ideal ends for initial high nostrils are 2.5 and 3mm discs, and cabochon gems, and anything outside of that will land you a long talk with me about if it’s

worth the healing issues it may pose.

These hera ends are the perfect compromise- flat and not likely to snag but still decorative and fun!

Healing Expectations

Folks I am going to be very honest with you here- high nostrils suck to heal. They are notoriously one of the most difficult, irritation-prone, annoying piercings to try to heal. It’s so worth it for how adorable they are, but this healing process is no joke.

Initially, high nostrils often deal with a large amount of swelling. Because of this, jewelry long enough to accommodate this swelling is used. Because the space of the sinus is so narrow, the excess length wears on the outside.

A fresh set with some adorable antennas

Cue looking like an adorable little snail with long antennae. For many folks, this snail look is gone in just a day or two as swelling sets in, and the excess room on the bars is filled. This swelling can come with feelings of sinus congestion, pressure, and headaches- after all, your sinuses are literally swollen from the piercings. This sensation can be somewhat unpleasant for some folks, and in some instances can cause migraines or vertigo. This is uncommon but does happen occasionally with these piercings. Initially, your goal is usually to minimize swelling, and your piercer may discuss different approaches to do so based on your anatomy, climate, and healing needs.

But, as you reduce swelling these bars become long again. And high nostrils are fickle- downsize them too soon and they are apt to swell right back up. Which means at least a few weeks of living with these long bars. During this time it’s very easy to catch or snag them. Particularly if you wear glasses, wear masks, have to take a shirt on and off, wash your face, hug your friends, cuddle your dog….well…basically just exist. And this leads us to what I like to call the downsize dance.

You get some swelling down- yay! Your bar is long and now ready to downsize. But oh no- before you can get in to downsize, you snag it on your shirt. Now it's swollen again and has a bump from being snagged. So you baby it, get it healthy. Yay- it’s long and ready to be downsized again! But as you are booking the appointment to downsize, your mask catches it. A few days later- swollen and lumpy. And this cycle can continue back and forth over the course of the healing process.

I think as an industry we have this mindset of getting a piercing > heal a piercing > get your goal jewelry, and that it needs to look like this liner, easy process. But that just isn’t the case for a lot of us. For many of us, the process looks more like get a piercing > get a bump > heal a piercing > change jewelry > get a bump > Change back and wait longer > get your goal jewelry. And often with a lot of bouncing around between those levels. I want to mention that because I see so many clients who don’t have an easy time getting into their goal jewelry in their nostril piercings- myself included! I felt like a failure as a teen and young adult for how much I struggled, with nostril piercings in particular. High nostrils are even harder for many folks, and healing them can require dedication, patience, and years of effort. My high nostrils didn’t really stabilize until I’d had them for nearly 2 years. Now they are healed and happy and perfect, but it took a very long time and a lot of work to get them there. And a lot of different jewelry, upsizing and downsizing, etc.

High nostrils can often have a lot of this back and forth- and that means a lot of time spent coming back into the studio for various downsizes, upsizes, swapping ends to help deal with irritation, and a lot of communication with your piercer for troubleshooting and healing. Obviously, as piercers, we hope every client has a smooth, seamless, easy process of healing any piercing we do for them. But I’m a realist- and high nostril piercings are really damn hard for a lot of people to heal. I have only had one or two clients heal these without ever getting the dreaded bump, to the point I now warn clients to expect at least onr or two irritation bumps during this healing process. I want to be honest about what this process looks like, how much work it may take, and how much time and money you may need to invest in downsizing, upsizing, and trips back to the studio.

There you have it folks, a comprehensive breakdown on all things to consider when getting your high nostrils pierced! While difficult to heal, these piercings are adorable, wear so many fun styles, and compliment almost every facial piercing setup. I hope this blog post can help you prepare and make some informed choices about placement, jewelry, and aftercare. Happy healing!

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