When you hear the word labret- what do you think of?
For most, it’s a labret piercing, a piercing through the lower lip. Some may also think of the labret style of jewelry, the name given to a barbell with a flat disc on the back. So named for its comfort in labret piercings. The flat disc was a perfect alternative to the beads we had previously used. It rubbed far less on the teeth and gums, made the piercing sit comfortably along the lip, and even made eating and talking easier. It makes sense that in the 80’s and 90’s we decided to name this style of jewelry for the piercing we were using it in most often.
But it’s been two decades since then, and much has changed. We have new styles of jewelry, new materials to work with, and even new piercings to put it in. And over time, we realized that this style, with a flat disc, had more uses than just in lip piercings. We rapidly realized this style was far more comfortable and secure in many different piercings all over the body. Today, I want to look at the labret style of jewelry- why it is awesome, where we can use it.
And- why it’s so much more then just a name.
The biggest selling point of the labret is its flatness. For many years if we wanted to put straight jewelry in a piercing we really only had things like traditional earring backings, or barbells. I’ve actually written an entire blog about traditional earring backs, and why they aren’t the best for a bevy of reasons. But the alternative was the barbell- which is fantastic! Barbells have their uses in dozens of piercings and were the staple jewelry in the industry for everything for many years. And yes, in places like lips they weren’t the best. But all over the ear, the rest of the face, and the body- we loved barbells. A big factor of that was their accessibility. Early body jewelry was primarily externally threaded- the screw was on the bar and it went into a hole in the ball. This was perfect with balls but didn’t exactly work with other shapes like discs. After all- how do you put a thread in a disc? Eventually discs with caps on the ends came around, and welded styles, but they still left a lot of be desired, and often weren’t the most well made or secure.
But with the advent of internally threaded and then threadless jewelry, and the expansion of the piercing industry, suddenly it became very easy to have discs and other flat choices for body jewelry. And as it became more accessible, we started to see how much more comfortable this could be then the balls we had been using. Balls had been a better choice than bulky, large butterfly backs, theres no doubt there. But a ball on the back of a helix was still somewhat large, and easy to bump and catch. A ball on the back of a tragus made using headphones and q-tips nearly impossible. And inside a nose it was a glaringly visible metal object- it looked like a metal booger. While all of these were better then a full-sized butterfly back, they still left a lot to be desired in terms of client comfort and function.
And that’s where the labret came in. With a low profile, flat disc on the back it was significantly more practical for many ear and nose piercings- many clients even preferred these for their standard lobes over the butterfly backs! They didn’t irritate you while you slept, and they were less likely to get caught or snagged. Inside the nose they were virtually invisible, and much more comfy when you blew your nose. Despite the fact they were originally named for lip piercings, we realized they had uses all over the body. And even to this day, the labret is a standard use item in studios all over the world for dozens of piercings- not just lips.
A Rose, By Any Other Name
Despite the widespread use of labret posts in all different areas, the name labret has stuck and held firm. It’s the original name most folks know this style by, and thus it’s stuck around heavily for decades even as the usage has expanded past that. Some companies and piercers have tried different names for this with varying levels of success.
Depending on who you talk to they may refer to this as a Flatback- for the flat disc on its backing. Some folks call these Push Pin Bars when referring to labrets that are threadless, although they can be threaded as well. And recently as new companies have tried to get in on this I’ve heard them called nap earrings or sleepers- for their comfort when worn while sleeping- no stabby butterfly backs!
Despite all these different terms for same style, labret has stuck around the most. And it makes sense, because it’s the original term. But, this has also lead to some unintended negative consequences. Mostly that many clients, and even some outdated piercers, feel that because it’s named for a specific piercing, it should only go in that specific piercing. Which brings us to the whole reason I wanted to write this blog…
Can Labrets go in Noses?
…Or other piercings?
It’s a painfully common refrain for piercers, especially those who work with quality jewelry to hear. “I went to this other studio to have my nostril piercing changed and they told me you did it wrong! You put a lip ring in my nose- it’s not supposed to go in a nose! I want my money back!”
Like we discussed originally, labret posts were initially used and named for their success in labret piercings. Around that time all we had were barbells- and those beads were not practical for inside the mouth. Well, they also weren’t very practical for up the nose either. So instead of putting one up there, we removed the bead and coiled the excess length of the bar up inside the nose. Thus, the nostril screw. These pieces were the common style for nose piercings for ages, especially in America and the UK. But, like beads in labret piercings, they had their own issues. Nostril screws could be difficult and uncomfortable to remove for many clients, yet despite this they weren’t very secure. It was unfortunately common to snag your jewelry on your pillowcase or washing your face and yank it half way out, if not all the way. Many clients also found screws less comfortable, they didn’t like all that metal up their nose. And looser screws or L bends could rotate down and look like a giant metal booger hanging out of your nose.
The biggest issue with this style was the lack of security however. Many clients disliked how easily they snagged and came out. Fortunately, threadless jewelry, a widely loved and commonly used style, was invented to help with exactly this. The original threadless pieces from neonatal were marketed heavily for nostrils. And for good reason! They were comfortable, small, flat discs on the inside, they could get more exact fits for many clients then screws, and they were often way more secure! They were perfect.
And the concept to focus on this marketing for nostrils was actually well rooted in history. See, while American piercers were fighting with external threading and bead backings in the 90s and 00s, across an ocean in India and across East Asia, they had already figured it out. Hollow gold tubing with internal threading and a removable disc on the inside of the nostril was a style over there dating as far back as 200 years, with some claims of being around even further. Something similar to a nostril screw existed as well, but the internal threaded style was often more common with very very large pieces or thicker designs. So, if we want to get truly technical with history, the labret has always been a style intended for noses.
It’s no stretch to say however threadless body jewelry revolutionized the piercing industry with what we are able to offer and the way this jewelry allowed for a greater selection of pieces, placements, and client comfort. But not everyone along the way embraced this change.
Many piercers who had been using nostril screws their entire life didn’t want to stop, or change their stock. And many piercers using low quality jewelry soon saw the advent of threadless along with implant grade and realized they had new competition in town. Rather than try to learn about these new styles and methods, or focus on the pros nostril screws had to offer, they turned to misinformation. And this misinformation was painfully easy to spread- thanks to the name.
After all, a labret was a lip piercing. So labret jewelry goes in a labret piercing. Anyone using that style anywhere else was doing it wrong, clearly. Clients who didn’t know any better, who has high quality, awesome, comfortable labret studs in their ears and noses went into other studios who often didn’t stock anything that worked with those pieces. And rather then admit “I don’t carry threadless jewelry” or “I only work with externally threaded pieces” many piercers chose profit over honesty. “I can’t believe they pierced you with that- that’s a lip ring! It doesn’t go in your ear. I mean its literally called a labret. Why would it go anywhere else.”
Because of the name, this lie became easy. Piercers could then insist you needed to buy an entirely new piece of jewelry from them in the “right” style, and then clients who had a piercing with a totally fine, totally safe piece of jewelry felt they had been ripped off, incorrectly pierced, or lied to.
I wanted to write this blog because of how frequently I see clients lied to about the nature of this style of jewelry. Told that if it has a flat disc on the back then it can only go in a lip, and further more told their piercings were “done wrong” if they have this style anywhere else. It’s a lie, and one told simply to take peoples money and make more sales. But sadly its an effective one, due to the lack of knowledge surrounding labret jewelry and the history behind the name, and the way jewelry has changed and evolved in the industry. This lie also erases centuries of history in this style used in cultural jewelry across India. I hope this blog helps share that history and knowledge, and reaffirms clients their ability to wear the styles they prefer in the piercings they are comfortable in- no matter the name. In the mean time, I’ll keep wearing my labrets in all four of my nostril piercings- happily and comfortably.
A note on nostril screws- while this style has fallen from popularity in recent years, it can still be a safe, functional style some clients prefer. Key factors of this are
-being made from quality materials. Nostrils screws should be made of implant grade steel, niobium, titanium, or 14k gold. “Surgical Steel” is not a safe material
-nostril screws should be custom bent for your nose. A piercer should look at your nose and anatomy and bend the screw to fit you appropriately. It shouldn’t come prebent from a package.
-After being bent to fit you, the piece may need to be repolished in studio
-The piercer should do a fitting, and ensure it is comfortable and secure before you leave.