Anyone who has followed me or interacted with my content for a bit knows that I am deeply passionate about piercings. And more than just piercings and the industry as a whole, I primarily focus on making education and resources accessible to clients. I do this for a number of reasons- more knowledgeable clients often make my job easier, this information helps people get and heal piercings better, it promotes safe piercing, and it keeps important history and practices around. But more than all of these things, I do a lot of what I do as a letter to my past self. See, younger Lynn wanted (and got) a lot of piercings. But I didn’t have much education about them, and certainly not access to information like this online. Because of this, I ended up getting a number of piercings that were incorrectly done, and dealing with the consequences. Today I’d like to talk about one of those negative piercing experiences, and what living with them has been like.
More specifically, I’d like to discuss my failed nipple piercings. Content warning: This blog post will contain discussion of nipples, as well as adult context.
I was 18 when I started working in a piercing studio. It was the studio I had gotten all my piercings done at as a teen, and I trusted them and their work. It was a momentous occasion for me to begin working in an industry I felt so passionately for. And like most 18 year olds, I also was convinced I was magically an adult and wanted to celebrate that. So what better way then to do what many of us at 18 do- I got my nipples pierced. I had my mentor do them and it was a pretty straight forward process. I took my shirt off, he cleaned things and made some marks, clamped me, pierced me, and it was done. I was so elated when I looked in the mirror. These were piercings that made me love my chest and my breasts- body parts I had always felt deeply insecure and embarrassed about. I have never felt like my breasts were “beautiful” enough, “perky” enough, my nipples felt too large and puffy. My chest had always been a source of insecurity and now, with a few seconds of pain and some metal jewelry, I looked at them and saw beauty.
So began the long, and difficult, journey of having nipple piercings. My first set was pierced at a 14g (a size I now realize is often too thin to be stable for many clients). I was pierced with a generic “standard size” that in hindsight was far too long for my anatomy. My first jewelry was lower quality, externally threaded jewelry which my body reacted poorly too. And, I had partially inverted anatomy. This made my nipples more difficult to pierce and more likely to deal with rejection and migration. I was never warned about this, and nothing was done to accommodate for my anatomy. In fact, with anatomy like mine it’s very difficult to find the exact edge between nipple and areola. Rather than take the time to do so, my first mentor simply threw some clamps on and pierced.
So it’s no surprise that only a few short months later I was already able to notice signs of rejection. The bars were moving toward the surface of my nipple, the skin over the piercings getting thinner and thinner. I removed them, begrudgingly. They had given me such confidence in my body, such pride. They had helped me feel beautiful and worthy and valuable. But I wasn’t about to give up. I had started to learn about quality safe piercing and left my first, bad studio. I knew of amazing piercers in my area and was going to see one of the best. I was certain they would pierce me correctly.
And it was a different experience from the get go! These piercing were done freehand with some extra consideration for my anatomy. It was mentioned to me this time that my anatomy may be trickier to heal and to be aware of that. But I was still pierced at a 14g. And one of the piercings still ended up slightly out of my actual nipple. Despite that, I was thrilled. To be pierced by this amazing piercer and to have these piercings back that meant so much to me. It was everything. I took diligent care of them, back in the day when I was soaking my nipples in shot glasses daily (we know better now. Don’t do that haha) After a few months I went in for checkup, hopeful to finally get some pretty, decorative jewelry. My piercings were still very crusty, with lots of dry skin and some irritation around the sides. Despite this, I was told by a different piercer it would be fine to purchase some bullet cut opal ends I’d been admiring for a while. After all the piercings were almost 6 months old and my care had been diligent. When the opals were installed I noticed the setting style and shape of the jewelry pressed into my nipples on both sides. I was told just to be extra careful with them initially- and I was! Despite this care, I kept dealing with issues. I followed up with a few piercers and the response was often the same- clean it and be careful. Clean it and be careful.
Almost a year and a half into that set, it was time to acknowledge they were migrating again. I had removed the opals after only a month and a half, when they started to dig and crater into each side. At that point however, the migration had already fully set in. I fought for months with irritation bumps that filled with fluid, drained, and came back. And crusty, tender nipples. At no point in my regular troubleshooting conversations did they mention things may be migrating. I stuck it out through months of them slowly growing thinner and thinner. So, once again, I removed them.
After about 9 months and much convincing my new mentor agreed to try again. This time- 12g curved barbells. He assured me the larger jewelry and new shape would be exactly what my anatomy needed. We were also going to pierce on a diagonal to avoid previous scarring. All of this sounded great. And ultimately, this ended up being my most successful set- they lasted almost 3 years. But they were three years of misery. Crusty, tender, and sore nearly all the time. I hated having anything touching my nipples- even fabric. I got difficult fluid filled irritation bumps that came, drained, filled, drained, went away, and came right back. I was always cleaning them, hot compressing them, babying them. They weren’t migrating, but they were clearly not healing. Finally, after years, I began to see the signs of migration. The process had been painfully slow, but it was happening again. Crestfallen, I removed them.
I felt like a failure. I had all these clients who were healing their piercings beautifully and perfectly. I knew what I needed to do. Why couldn’t mine heal? These piercings were so important to me, and made me feel so confident. It seemed unfair that I struggled so much with them.
In the coming years I would allow my mentor at the time and colleagues another 5 attempts at piercing my nipples. Freehand. Clamped. 12g. 10g. Curved barbells. Straight barbells. We once attempted using breast feeding suction tubes to lift my anatomy up and out, clamp, and pierce. It failed spectacularly- I was in excruciating pain in the car ride home from the studio and removed them immediately once I was home, to see a piercing that was easily 20mm deeper then it should have been. I woke up the next morning with mastitis- an infection of the breast, and some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Explaining that one to the doctor was fun.
It’s been 10 years since I first attempted to get my nipples pierced. I don’t have nipple piercings. But I do have scars. Starting after the second set, I began experiencing pockets that would fill with fluid and drain. These occurred even after removing the piercings, and became a large factor in deciding to pierce them again and again. If I was going to deal with that, I might as well have something beautiful. It used to happen quite frequently, and now it happens maybe once a year. I wake up with a tenderness in my nipple and what looks like a small pimple. Over the next day or two it will become large and very painful. It will then drain, fill with blood and drain again, and then heal and go away till next year. I have scarring, some quite visible paths from migration and other teeny tiny dots from piercings removed early. And the sensation in my nipples has changed quite a bit- nearly 10 attempts at piercing them a lots of years fighting with piercings I honestly probably should have already given up on led to lots of scarring. And as a side effect, sensation loss. It's a very good thing I don't want children because the scarring after the first set alone would have impacted breast feeding for me. Let alone all my subsequent attempts. No one who pierced me set out to cause such severe side effects. And many are a result of my stubborn self attempting repiercing so many times. But just as many were a result of the first one or two times. Not due to malicious intent on the behalf of the piercers- but rather a lack of education, a lack of time, and a lack of care. When you have hundreds of clients it's so easy to not take the time with every single one. But what resulted was scarring and damage that's effected me physically, mentally, and emotionally- since I was 18.
I’ve also spent that decade working as a professional piercer and working with clients. And I’ve seen more and more clients in situations like mine. Migrating piercings, shallow piercings, or anatomy that really needed more extra care taken to pierce well. My own experience led me to spend a few years hyper focused on nipple piercing techniques, troubleshooting, and anatomy. Selfishly- it was because I wanted to get mine to heal. But what came out of it was something almost better. I began working very closely with clients who had anatomy like mine- flat or slightly inverted. I saw clients my mentor pierced who had irritations that were identical to the ones I had dealt with, and I started doing regular, two week checkins and followups. I began focusing more on nipple piercings as a piercer- talking to other piercers about how they approached them, studying anatomy. I had a client who was in college to be a midwife and a nursing doula and I picked her brain extensively about nipple anatomy and function. All of this lead to some amazing growth for me as a piercer.
I began piercing nipples at a 12g for stability. The increased size held up much better to life's bumps, catches, snags, and general irritations. They withstood the pressure from bras and clothing better, and generally were better healers. I started taking extra time with marking and measuring for nipple piercings when I did them. I even began occasionally outlining the edge of the nipple to ensure I pierced in the exact right location for flatter or harder to discern anatomy. I also began marking with the flow of the anatomy. Rather than making every set I pierced parallel to the floor I began to look at the curvature and shape of the breast and nipple. I started approaching “straight” as perpendicular to the nipple- working with the anatomy rather then against it. This allowed jewelry to flow more naturally with clients bodies and sit more comfortably in bras and clothing. I stopped clamping them- tools can absolutely be a valid piercing method when used correctly but I found the amount of tissue manipulation caused by the clamp was getting poor results on some anatomies. With freehand I could wound shape if needed and ensure my piercing ended up in the perfect layer of tissue the whole way across. With flat or inverted nipples this became essential to piercing them well. Feedback was great- clients found these much less painful with my freehand technique, especially as I became extremely picky about what needles I used for these. And for clients with that anatomy I started having extra conversations. I discussed how their anatomy may effect healing and what the risks were. I admit to having a bias due to my own situation- but I also spent years seeing these specific, unique, and difficult drainage irritations occur on anatomies similar to mine. I saw enough of them to feel it warranted an extra discussion when I worked on clients with this anatomy. My clients appreciated it, and having this discussion before piercing also allowed me to approach aftercare more thoughtfully. I began tailoring my aftercare to each clients lifestyle, anatomy, and piercing goals. I instituted a policy of regular virtual check ins, sometimes communicating with clients weekly for an entire year to oversee their healing process and ensure things healed well. I also became very strict with jewelry- nothing decorative till I was well and sure everything was super well healed. Any sign of irritation or still healing and I insisted clients remain in simple beads. Nothing that could cause pressure or further irritation to the area.
And, rapidly, the issues I had seen with these piercings began to drop off. I started seeing more and more of my clients have easier and easier heals. And more exciting than that, I started piercing more clients with anatomy like mine. Flat nipples, inversions, and everything in-between. And they were healing. Often times requiring a little more work then other anatomies- but they were healing. I started taking more pictures for my portfolio of more body types- small, large, asymmetric, downward facing, sideways facing. Nipples with freckles and scars and bumps and ports. Nipples that inverted and nipples that stuck way out. My portfolio began to change from just a showcase of my work to an art project- an exploration of different unique, beautiful body types brought together by a common thread- piercing.
Now, nipple piercings are among my favorites I get to do. I am always excited to see them on my schedule. And I am extra excited to work with clients with scarring, inversions, or flat anatomy. I am always honest, this may be more work to heal, this may not end up healing. I use my own story and others to share the real risks that may occur with these piercings. Not every nipple can be safely pierced and there are some I do have to turn away. But if I think there’s a shot, and the client understands the risks and wants to try, those are the piercings I really love to make happen.
I still don’t have mine pierced, and with the amount of scarring I’ve built up over years plus my regular use of a binder, it’s not in the cards for me currently. But I think if my younger self had found a piercer like me back then, she may have had some success with her piercings. And even if she hadn’t, she’d have gone into getting them pierced understanding the risks and the concerns, and would have removed them before they caused the long term issues I now deal with today. And I know, whether they healed or not, she would have loved seeing a portfolio like mine. It would have been empowering to her to see bodies that looked like hers celebrated, pierced, and adorned.
I create the content I create to hopefully save someone else from going through what I went through. To make knowledge accessible to clients so they know what to look for from their own piercings, how to find a piercer they trust, and how to make safe choices for their bodies. As piercers, the way we pierce and the way we work with clients has an immense ability to effect their bodies, but also their emotional and mental health. If I had found different piercers, more thoughtful piercers, or just folks who took more time with me as a client, my story might have been a different one. I hope, in writing this blog, I ensure yours is a different one too.
Happy healing. <3