How Piercing Affects The Body: Everything You Need To Know
Body art—be it tattoos, piercings, or the like—are a tradition as old as time. But since we learned that getting tattoos has a very unexpected and alarming side effect—toxic ink buildup in the body—it got us thinking: Could piercings cause any crazy health issues we might not have considered? To understand the impact of the piercings we may have already (and the powers behind any potential new ones), we turned to our community of trusted acupuncturists who have a nuanced understanding of needles, metals, and how they might affect our bodies, as much of this goes untested by modern science. Here's what they had to say.
While some people claim that certain Daith piercings (the type that appears on the inner ear cartilage) and even tattoos can help with migraines, Katherine Altneu, LAc, licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and traditional Chinese medicine expert, explains that acupuncture's benefits subside after about 20 to 40 minutes a session. Mona Dan, acupuncturist and owner of Vie Healing concurs: "Generally, after 28 minutes, the body's blood cycle has done one full roundabout and we feel it's sufficient enough time-wise to remove the needle." So basically, if there are any pressure points that are hit with an ear-piercing, the effects will go away within the same amount of time.
That said, don't negate the power of acupuncture: Studies have demonstrated that our bodies have biomechanical responses to the procedure. "Connective tissue subtly wraps around the needle—it's called 'needle grasp1,' and this is what we acupuncturists feel as 'de chi,' which we translate to 'the chi arriving at the needle.' It feels like a very subtle tug of a fish on a line. That feeling is how I know I've hit the right spot and that your body is responding to the needle the way I want it to," says Altneu.
But again, she's quick to point out that the effects are limited. "The classic Chinese medicine texts have told us to only retain needles for 20 to 40 minutes. And they've confirmed why with modern science. So neat!"
Basically: The effects of needles and piercings can be real, but don't expect them to last.
Aesthetics are usually the driving factor for most body art (and we could write a whole other article on the sexual motivations behind genital piercings), but some experts believe that choosing the location may have an impact. This mainly has to do with the theories behind meridian lines.
Meridian lines, or pathways, are a teaching in TCM that stipulates everything in the body is connected, and energy in the body can move through these pathways. The pathways correspond to different major organs, including the liver, heart, lungs, and so forth. The theory goes that when you get piercings along these meridian lines, you can disrupt the energy flow of the body—and that can affect the specific body parts associated with that meridian line.
For example, the conception vessel, which can be traced from the mouth to the bottom of the trunk. According to Melissa Skelly, LAc, licensed acupuncturist, acupoint specialist, sound healer, and owner of The Zen Den Center, "[I believe] piercings in the navel area—the conception vessel—can affect fertility."
Another example is how tongue piercings may cause stomach and digestive issues: "There have been reported issues with tongue piercings and digestive issues," says Dan. TMC theory dictates this is likely due to the piercing along the stomach meridian line; and compared to other piercings, there is also research to suggest this to be true; however, the researchers were unable to conclude it had to do with the piercings rather than other confounding factors.
We must note, of course, that as of yet, there is no scientific evidence to back these claims up, however. And in the end, most areas of the body may have more of a personal or even historical significance (piercing has existed for centuries in many different cultures) more than a physiological one. But if you have concerns, always do your homework on the potential side effects of a specific location.
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Always choose high-quality metals so you're less likely to have a reaction." The scientific community may not unanimously agree that certain types of metals can actually make a difference, but plenty of members of the healing world do.
Skelly tells us that "gold is more tonifying or supportive, where silver is more sedative or releasing of blocked energy." Copper has long been associated with healing powers, and at least one study claims it may have anti-inflammatory effects2.
Ear seeds or acupuncture
Because we know that the effects of a needle probably don't last very long, treating these acupressure points with a piercing might not be the wisest direction to go in to get an acupuncture benefit. Instead? Just go for the real thing: Skelly suggests trying ear seeds or regular acupuncture sessions from a trained professional instead.
As for ear seeds, some studies have linked the use of ear seeds to anxiety relief, better sleep, pain tolerance, and even weight management. And the benefits of regular acupuncture are well documented: It can help those with PMS, sleep issues, chronic stress, and can even benefit skin3.
The bottom line:
Whatever kind of piercing you decide on, consider the intention behind it, which can have a personal psychological effect since the body art itself can be a lasting reminder. "Anytime you put pressure or an intention or a piercing on an acupuncture meridian or point, you are accessing the energy of that channel," says Paige Bouressa, licensed acupuncturist. "So, depending on what you want to do, you'd put a piercing on a [specific] point for grounding or uplifting or set an intention for that point when you went to get it pierced or tattooed.” We couldn't agree more. With piercings, as with anything we do to or put inside our bodies, staying healthy, healing, and cultivating good energy is all about intention.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.