A staggering six in 10 U.S. adults have undergone some form of body piercing process. The most common sites include earlobes, noses, navels, and eyebrows. Many even boast multiple types of piercings; there’s even one person who’s had over 6,000!
So, does that mean piercing pain isn’t something you’d even flinch at? Or is it, and if so, how painful could it be, and is there anything you can do to minimize it?
Below, we’ll answer those questions and discuss what you need to know about piercing pain, so read on.
Do All Piercings Hurt?
Yes, they do. After all, piercing involves puncturing the skin, a square inch of which may have up to over 1,000 nerve endings. Nerve endings, in turn, sense pain, pressure, touch, and temperature.
Factors That Influence Piercing Pain Severity
While all piercings hurt, the severity depends on a person’s pain threshold. Some types of piercings can also be more painful than others because of their location. Even your mood during a piercing session can amplify the sensations you feel.
Pain Threshold and Tolerance
Your pain threshold is the minimum intensity at which you sense something as painful. For example, if you place a needle against your fingertip, you may not feel any pain immediately. However, you’ve reached your threshold as soon as you feel pain due to the sharp tip poking your skin deep enough.
On the other hand, pain tolerance is the highest pain level you can bear. Some people have less tolerance for intense pain than others, which may be due to their genes.
Conversely, some people have acquired a higher pain tolerance due to previous experiences. For example, the more piercings a person gets, the less pain they may feel with every new piercing.
For folks with a high pain threshold and tolerance, a piercing may only feel like a slight pinch. By contrast, people who are more sensitive and intolerant to pain may say it feels more like a fire ant bite.
Type and Location of Piercing
The earlobe is one of the, if not the least, painful to pierce because it’s fleshy and contains fatty tissue. So while it has many nerve endings, the flesh and fat make it less sensitive to pain.
It’s a different story if you get your anti-tragus pierced. It’s the small vertical lip of cartilage above your earlobe, opposite the tragus. The tragus, in turn, is the small flap over your ear canal.
Anti-tragus and tragus piercings often hurt more than lobe piercings because they’re cartilage. They’re tougher than fleshy, fatty earlobes, requiring more pressure to puncture. The more force it takes to bore a hole in body tissue, the more pain it can cause.
So, does the above mean a septum piercing won’t hurt as much since this tissue between the nostrils is thin? It may not be as painful as an anti-tragus or tragus piercing, but it’ll likely be a step (or two) above a lobe piercing. The same goes for a nostril piercing, but some folks may find it more painful than a septum piercing.
Perhaps the most painful piercings are those done on the genitals. They can hurt so much because they’re among the most sensitive body areas.
For example, the clitoris, according to a new study, may have over 10,000 nerve endings. The penis has thousands, too, although only about half of those in the female genitalia. You can say the same for the nipples; since they’re erogenous, they may feel a heightened sense of pain.
Your Emotional State
When you feel nervous, you place more stress on your body. That can then elevate your pain sensitivity. As a result, you may perceive pain more intensely than if you weren’t nervous.
So if you feel nervous or worried before a piercing session, the puncture may hurt more than if you feel relaxed.
How Can You Minimize Piercing Pain?
First, ensure your piercings come from licensed, experienced piercers. These folks underwent hundreds of hours of training before getting their license. They likely have also passed licensing exams issued by their state health departments.
Having a licensed piercer do your piercing comes with a lower risk of mistakes. Errors, such as puncturing the wrong spot, can cause severe, even excruciating, pain. They can also lead to complications, such as infections, that may cause even more pain.
Just as crucial is to choose quality nose rings, earrings, nipple rings, barbells, or hoops. For instance, surgical steel is your best bet for piercings other than those in your lobes.
Gold, silver, and stainless steel are okay for standard earlobe piercing. That’s because they’re less likely to trigger metal hypersensitivity, which 10% to 15% of people in the U.S. have.
Having a good night’s sleep before the procedure may also help ease the pain by making you feel more relaxed. Likewise, sleeping for 7 to 9 hours every night after that may help your piercing heal faster and better.
You may also take extra-strength acetaminophen at least an hour before your piercing. Avoid ibuprofen as it thins the blood and may make you bleed more.
Depending on the piercing site, putting an ice cube against it before the procedure may also help. Wrap the ice in a clean towel or soft tissue to avoid an ice burn.
Don’t hesitate to ask your piercer to use numbing cream if you feel nervous. It may make your piercing cost more, but it can help dampen your pain, and knowing that may help you feel more relaxed.
Piercing Pain Can Be Tolerable
As you’ve learned in this guide, piercing pain severity varies from one person to another. It mostly has to do with one’s pain threshold and tolerance, but the type and location of piercing also affect it. The general rule of thumb is that the more nerve endings in that area, the more painful it can be.
Still, you can make your piercing hurt less with adequate preparation. Lastly, work only with a licensed piercer who’ll also teach you proper piercing care.
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