A Guide To Nipple Piercings: Pain, Cost, Aftercare & More

nipple piercing
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Nipple piercings have been around for decades, but there are noticeable spikes in their popularity every once in a while. Maybe a celebrity has recently debuted their newly adorned chest area, or maybe the internet is just having a moment. Either way, nipple piercings are here to stay. If this is something you've been thinking about doing, there are a few things you'll want to consider before booking your appointment. 

Cost & preparation.

The cost of getting your nipples pierced will vary from shop to shop and will depend heavily on the type of jewelry you choose, as well as the going rates where you live. Sheena Rose at Salt & Light Tattoo in Chandler, Arizona, says this kind of piercing can run you around $40 for a single nipple and $70 for both. Meanwhile, Johnny Pearce says that a pair of nipple piercings with "implant grade titanium" starts at around $180 at his shop, Nine Moons Piercing in SoHo, New York.

"We also offer custom gold jewelry options that can easily cost several thousand or more. When it comes to fine jewelry and genuine diamonds, the sky's the limit," he explains.

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Finding the right studio to get your piercings.

Along with making sure the cost is within your budget, Starr Ellis, who is the owner of Nine Moons Piercing, suggests doing your research to answer the following questions about your potential piercer:

  1. Are they a disposable studio? That simply means the studio or shop doesn't reuse any of their piercing tools, needles, or jewelry, which is the cleanest and safest route. If your preferred studio isn't disposable, then Ellis says you'll want to ask about how they sterilize their tools and if they conduct spore testing, which is "the most accepted means of monitoring sterilization because they assess the sterilization process directly by killing known highly resistant microorganisms," according to the CDC.
  2. Do they have a good portfolio? "This will be the studio's best selection of piercings, so if it seems off or just not great, check out a different place," she says. 
  3. Do they have good reviews? Ellis recommends checking not only for a good number of good reviews but also looking at how the studio responds to negative reviews. "You can't make everyone happy, but I find it so insightful to see how owners and managers respond," she says. 
  4. Do you feel comfortable with the staff and space? You should feel like you're in good hands and safe throughout your appointment. "At any time during an appointment, if you aren't feeling 100% ready or comfortable, it is totally acceptable to reschedule or opt out," Ellis says. "Sometimes I recommend consultations just to meet the staff and view the space before booking the actual piercing appointment."

Ellis recommends finding a studio that's part of the Association of Professional Piercers, too.

Choosing the type of jewelry you want.

Your choice of jewelry can affect the price of the procedure, but it can also affect the way your new holes heal. "Jewelry quality is a big determining factor in how easily and quickly your new piercing heals," Pearce says. "Don't fall victim to misleading terms like 'surgical steel' or 'stainless.' These are nonsensical terms given to low-quality, unregulated mystery metals."

According to Pearce, acceptable materials that are most commonly used for nipple piercing jewelry include Implant Grade Titanium (ASTM-F136), 14k to 18k solid gold (never plated or filled), and Implant Grade Steel (ASTM-F128).

But the metal that makes up your jewelry isn't the only factor. Vicki Rose at Studio 28 Tattoos in New York explained that the type of jewelry—be it a barbell or half-circle ring—can also play a role.

"We just use straight barbells for initial nipple piercings regardless of the size of the nipple," she says. "Rings can put pressure on the healing wound and dig into the breast tissue at the bottom if the client wears bras or binders. The barbell that we use to pierce is slightly longer to accommodate for initial swelling."

The procedure.

The biggest question probably on your mind: Will it hurt? In short, how much a nipple piercing hurts will depend on your personal threshold for pain. You'll definitely feel some level of pain or discomfort, but it should be fleeting.

"For nipple piercings, the initial pain tends to subside very quickly after the piercing is completed," Vicki Rose says. "Nipples are sensitive areas to begin with, so please do not listen to your friends who say they don't hurt. But if the pain was unbearable, no one would get them done, and we perform them frequently."

Some piercers may apply a numbing agent of sorts, but Samantha McKenzie, a 29-year-old who has nipple piercings, tells mbg that it doesn't quite work as expected. "The only numbing takes place outside the openings so all that pain of it going through is still there. It does not get any less painful after three piercings," she says. "Getting the first piercing always feels like a literal stab in the heart. By the second nipple, I'm usually still trying to breathe from the first, so that typically hurts a little less. Just a little."

The actual piercing takes just 5 to 15 seconds, she adds. 

Your piercer will typically mark your nipples with a marker to make sure you're satisfied with the positioning. Some piercers may use clamps to hold your nipples in place, but that's not always the case. Finally, they may instruct you to take a few deep breaths as they prepare to insert the needle. 

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Nipple piercing care.

Once you've gotten your new piercing, it's important to properly care for it to avoid infections and other issues. Sheena Rose breaks the care process down into two parts: the initial healing phase and then ongoing care.

During the initial healing phase, which begins immediately after getting the piercing, use a sterile saline solution to clean the piercing once or twice a day, she recommends. Outside of cleaning, the best approach is to leave it alone. She also cautions against "partner attention" for a month.

Phase two will continue throughout the life of the piercing, she says, and you should continue to pay special attention to keeping it clean.

"Often people think that they no longer need to wash piercings after they have healed. This is wrong. All piercing holes should be attended to daily during your shower routine," she tells mbg. "I cannot tell you how many times I've come across years of filth that have accumulated on jewelry that's never taken off. Things smell bad for a reason. Bacteria, sloughed skin, and oils get trapped in piercing holes."

After the piercing is fully healed, cleaning with regular soap and water while in the shower should suffice. You do have the option of removing your piercing while cleaning (though it's not necessary), but it's important to remember to put it back in as soon as possible to avoid closing the hole.

How long does it take to heal?

You should expect your nipple piercings to take six to nine months to fully heal, according to Pearce, though extended healing times are not uncommon, especially if the piercing has been experiencing ongoing issues or problems. 

For Morgan Oughton, 38, who got her nipples pierced 20 years ago, it took just about a full year for her holes to heal. "They were very tedious to maintain when I first got them. Even with extra care and cleanliness, they took about a year to fully heal, a commitment I definitely didn't know I was undertaking at the time," she tells mbg.

Less is more when it comes to nipple piercing aftercare, says Pearce. Allowing your body to heal with minimal interference is the easiest and safest approach. If you want to support the healing process, Pearce recommends focusing on overall body health instead of excessively tending to the piercing location. That can include drinking water to stay hydrated, eating fruits and vegetables, and getting enough quality sleep each night. 

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Potential complications. 

Nipple piercings are susceptible to infection, particularly during the initial healing period. These could be either superficial skin infections, or they could be a more serious infection like an abscess of the breast.

You may experience crusting and slight oozing during healing, Sheena Rose says, but there shouldn't be an odor coming from your piercing. There may also be a bit of swelling, but this can often be resolved by consulting your piercer to see if your jewelry is too tight. Again, during this time, you absolutely should not be touching, playing with, picking at, or otherwise disturbing your piercing outside of regular cleanings.

After that first year, Oughton still had a few minor issues. "The left one would still give me annoying small crusty infections or inflammations, and it slowly grew out of my body to the point that the metal of my barbell could be seen through the middle of my nipple and was barely hanging on both sides, so I took it out for good about 12 years ago."

She blames her active lifestyle for the prolonged issues with her left nipple, saying, "There's probably more muscle stress, sweat, sun, and saltwater involved than in most people's lives, which is probably what affected my healing process with them being jammed in sweaty sports bras and wet bathing suits so often."

Sexual benefits.

There are some sexual benefits to getting your nipples pierced. Not only can your fully healed piercings be used to heighten pleasure during foreplay, but they can also improve your overall body confidence, according to Sheena Rose. 

"Many people are self-conscious about their bodies, and they feel sexier and proud of their piercings afterward. This is one of the reasons I love my career as a body piercer. Empowering people, women, and men to have their unique anatomy adorned for them to share with whom they please is something that I am proud of," she says.

This is a part of the reason 35-year-old Emma Alda got her nipples pierced for her birthday. Alda explains that she has always thought the piercings looked "neat" and her "husband has taken quite a liking to it as well! There is something kind of sexy about it." Since getting her nipples pierced, Alda says she has fallen more in love with the look of her breasts.

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Risks and precautions.

Nipple piercings can develop bacterial infections, especially if not cared for properly. "We are constantly exposed to harmful bacteria all around us, so it's not hard to see why infections are prevalent, especially when people ignore aftercare rules and/or interact with their fresh piercing prematurely," Pearce says. "Sometimes piercings can get infected even when you've diligently practiced your aftercare, but rest assured that the closer you follow your aftercare regulations, the smaller your chances are of running into problems like infections."

The major risks associated with nipple piercings usually only occur with more "advanced nipple piercings such as surgically altered nipples, inverted nipples, and third nipples," Vicki Rose says. "If the piercer isn't versed in these piercings or performs them on tissue that isn't viable, then rejection or migration of the piercings may occur."

Will nipple piercings affect the ability to breastfeed? 

One of the most common concerns surrounding nipple piercing is that it can take away a person's ability to breastfeed, but Alexis Parcells, M.D., board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Parcells Plastic Surgery, says this is unlikely. 

"While it's rare for nipple piercings to interfere with breastfeeding, mastitis (inflammation of the breast) and decreased lactation are possible side effects. It's OK to completely remove the piercing during feedings to prevent these complications. It's important to note that piercings can close within 24 hours, so reinsert your jewelry quickly to avoid having to re-pierce," she tells mbg.

The bottom line.

Nipple piercings require some care after first getting them done, and it's important to work with a trustworthy piercer with safe practices. If you have any questions or concerns about getting your nipples pierced, reach out to your potential piercer before taking the plunge. 

Avoid pulling, touching, or playing with them as they heal—no matter how tempted you may be. It's also important to keep a watchful eye during those first few weeks to make sure your piercings are healing as they should. You can have your piercer and/or doctor look at your piercing if you're concerned with how it's healing.

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