As much as we all love our piercings and showing off our pretty jewelry, there are some circumstances where we need to not have our piercings visible. This may be because of a work interview, a school requirement, or grandma’s in town. There may also be times when having metal jewelry in the piercing can present an issue, such as certain medical procedures. What do we do when we need an alternative to our usual style? Today we are talking all about retainers, and the various ways to hide your piercings, as well as various alternatives to wear in them!
Retainers are a form of jewelry designed to “retain” a piercing aka keep it open, while your usual jewelry is removed. Retainer is a broad term covering a variety of pieces and styles.
I would say the most popular retainer you will find at quality studios is glass retainers. And this is with good reason- glass retainers are usually made from fused quartz or borosilicate glass which is body safe. They are often clear, making them perfect for hiding a piercing. And glass is a high-quality alternative to metal jewelry that still has a good surface finish and great polish, and won’t cause additional irritation to your piercing by being worn. Out of all the retainers I work with, glass is probably the safest, easiest to use, and most versatile.
Now let’s get into the pros and cons of this style. The pros for glass are easy
-Hypoallergenic and body safe
-Glass is affordable
-Glass is accessible: it’s widely stocked by many piercers and you can order retainers directly online (if you are confident in your sizing!)
-Wide Size Range: glass retainers come in a range of sizes from 18g up to 0g and larger, and it can be custom-made in whatever size you need.
-Wide Style Range: glass can be made in a variety of styles. Straight simple retainers that work great for ear and lip piercings, curved retainers for rooks and daiths, L bend retainers for nostrils, and even custom pieces like large pinchers for septums or custom captives for genital piercings. If you need something specific for your piercing, chances are they can make it in glass.
-Color Choices: This is perhaps one of the coolest things about glass- there’s a range of colors! Clear retainers are an obvious choice but some folks find they are still a bit shiny and if they are wearing them to hide the piercing at work, it can still be obvious. They make a range of skin-tone glass retainers and while they aren’t quite a perfect match (glass can only be so many colors) but they are honestly pretty damn close. And you can always apply a bit of foundation over them to make them blend away into your skin.
-Surgery safe: Glass is one of the materials that most doctors and surgeons will allow you to wear for various medical procedures. I have helped thousands of clients with glass retainers for surgery with no issues.
-Safe for Fresh and Healed Piercings: Since glass is hypoallergenic and body-safe, that also means it’s safe to wear in both your healed piercings and any piercings that may still be healing! While it’s not ideal for long-term wear in a still-healing piercing, it’ll work for a few days/weeks for an interview or medical procedure.
However, there are some cons to every style of retainer.
-Easy to lose, not the most secure: This is my gripe with virtually every single style of retainer on the market. They just aren’t nearly as secure as actual metal jewelry. Glass retainers are often held in place with small silicon o rings, which can come undone, and before you know it you’ve lost your piece. You need to be gentle on glass retainers and check them from time to time to ensure they are still in place. And beyond that, if you have clear glass…well…it’s clear! I can’t tell you how many times a client takes out their retainer and sets it down and then can never find it again- it’s super small and clear! Basically invisible. Thank goodness these are fairly cheap, because most folks lose at least one or two glass retainers over the time they use them.
-More Fragile: Glass retainers are a good choice for medical procedures or hiding your piercings for a work interview. But they are fragile and not suggested for wear during contact sports or activities where you could risk breaking them. I, fortunately, have only seen glass retainers break a handful of times, but it’s still a higher risk than metal jewelry.
-Custom Orders take time: If you have a piercing that is a unique size, stretched, or needs a specific style, you’ll need to custom order something. These pieces are all made to order, so if you know you need a retainer for a medical procedure you’ll want to order it at least 2 months in advance to allow for production and shipping. If you end up needing emergency medical work or something immediately, this can sometimes become an issue.
Kaos Softwear, currently the only company working with body-safe silicone for body jewelry, has an amazing line of silicone retainers. These retainers are made of hypoallergenic silicone designed to be worn in the body and come in a variety of colors. Because of silicones’ unique matte finish, these most closely mimic skin and are perfect for disguising your piercing. They have a unique, patented design for insertion and removal that makes them some of the more secure retainers on the market
Now let’s get into the pros and cons of this style. The pros of silicone are easy
-Affordable: this gets a top mention because silicone retainers are super affordable! They are 5$ USD which is a great price for high-quality, body-safe silicone.
-Color Choices: This is perhaps one of the coolest things about the kaos retainers- there’s a range of colors! Clear retainers are an obvious choice but some folks find they are still a bit obvious. They make a range of skin tone retainers and while they aren’t quite a perfect match they are honestly pretty damn close. And you can always apply a bit of foundation over them to make them blend away into your skin.
-Texture: As mentioned above silicone has a skin-like texture that is the most realistic of all the retainer styles, making it the best choice for disguising your piercings for work or school the most realistically.
-Surgery safe: silicone is one of the materials that most doctors and surgeons will allow you to wear for various medical procedures.
-Secure: Out of all the retainers mentioned today the kaos retainers are the most secure! With their patented heart shape for insertion and removal and the grip of silicone, you are hard-pressed to lose these.
However, every style has it’s cons
-Healed Piercings Only: Silicone is not safe for fresh or still healing piercings. Your piercing should be very well healed and established before wearing silicone. It’s a porous material meaning if a piercing is irritated or not healed the silicone can actually become stuck to the healing tissue. These retainers are 100% well-healed piercings only.
-Difficult to Insert: The patented heart style of chaos retainers makes them very very secure which is great. But as difficult as they are to fall out and lose, they are equally difficult to put in. The method for inserting these can give even piercers a hard time in areas of the ears and nose, and for clients, it can be even more of a struggle. There is a definite learning curve to working with this style.
-Limited Sizes and Styles: These retainers only come in 18, 16, and 14g and 3 different lengths. If you need something thicker or thinner, or a different length, there are no choices for customization.
-Online Only: While you may get lucky and find a studio near you with a stock of Kaos, it’s far more likely you’ll need to order these online. This makes it a less accessible style for many folks.
Hide it ends were first done by Neometal body jewelry! These are small, textured titanium discs anodized in a range of colors from browns to pinks, and designed to mimic a mole, freckle, or small textured area of skin. Now you can find these produced from a range of high-quality companies. Since they are a threadless end, they are interchangeable with all your threadless posts!
Now let’s get into the pros and cons of this style. The pros for hide its are easy
-Body Safe, even for brand new piercings: It’s a threadless ti disc! This means it’s hypoallergenic, body-safe, and works with many folks existing jewelry. It’s safe for fresh and healed piercings- this is the only style of retainer you could safely be pierced with!
-Secure: Since this is a threadless end it's kind of cheating, but it’s super secure! It works right in your threadless posts and can have a nice secure lock. This makes it a perfect choice for folks needing to hide their piercings for sports.
-Affordable: being a simple titanium disc, it’s also one of the most affordable styles of titanium jewelry.
-Texture: while the colors of hide its are limited, their textured surface holds makeup really well and clients who are savvy with makeup can often use concealer and foundation to make these blend really well.
However, every style has it’s cons
-Not Always Doctor Approved: While there’s a ton of literature about how safe titanium can be for surgery and medical procedures, and many folks (myself included) have had successfully imaging and surgery with titanium jewelry, some doctors will insist on no metal. This excludes these from being the perfect fit for all medical needs.
-Limited Color Selection: since titanium needs to be anodized to change its color, the selection for these is super limited. While the dark tones come through great and these are phenomenal for darker melanated skin, the selection is not great for lighter skin tones and these can sometimes look awkward. You can do a lot with makeup to try to manage that, or simply try to pass it off as a freckle.
-Not as Accessible: if you are lucky, your local studio keeps these in stock. However, many places don’t and you may find yourself needing to custom order these or order them online.
And of course, I can not in good conscious write this piece without mentioning plastic retainers. Unfortunately, there are no body-safe plastics currently on the market for body jewelry. You can read more about that here. That means any plastic retainers you are finding online or in person are low quality. Plastic retainers can cause irritation, damage piercing channels, and in severe cases cause a major reaction including severe irritation, migration, and rejection. However, in an emergency situation where you need to hide your piercing tomorrow for work or you have to be rushed to emergency surgery, this may be the only thing you can find in a pinch. Therefore, here are my best tips for using a plastic retainer and minimizing harm to your body. These tips are only intended if you absolutely can not access any form of safe retainer, and your only choice is plastic or leaving the piercing open to shrink and close.
-Short-Term Wear Only: if you must use a plastic retainer please do not leave it in for an extended period of time. Put it in only for your procedure/interview/game/etc and remove it and put your usual jewelry back in as soon as you are safely able to. Clean your piercing well before insertion and removal, and baby it for a few weeks after wearing plastic. Plastic can break down in the body over time, especially in oral, nasal, and genital piercings, and it can cause some serious issues.
-Avoid external threading: many plastic retainers are externally threaded. Not only is plastic and acrylic already porous and has a poor surface finish, but these threads can cause excess damage on insertion and removal. This can make it even more likely the plastic will cause irritation for your piercings. Whenever possible, try to avoid externally threaded plastic.
-Contact your piercer: If you have to wear plastic because you can’t get anything else, most piercers will understand. Don’t hesitate to drop your piercer a line and explain the situation! They can offer you personalized aftercare and tips to help keep your piercings as happy as possible. And seeing them for a checkup afterward is smart so they can assess the piercing, see if the plastic caused any irritation, and give you any needed follow-up advice.
This is my guide to retainers and hiding your piercings! If you find yourself in a situation where you need to do so, I hope this can help you make the right choice about what retainer will work best for you. Happy healing!