Health risks of pierced nipples

While seemingly harmless, nipple piercings do carry health risks that you should be aware of. The most common are infection and bleeding, which can occur soon after the piercing or years later. Scars, tears, and nerve damage are also possible. These may have to do with how the piercing was done, how clean the wound was, or both.

This article takes a closer look at some of the risks of body piercings. It also provides some simple tips on what you can do to reduce your risk.

infection caused by perforation

Men and women with piercings may experience skin redness, irritation, bleeding, pus, or drainage. These are all signs of infection. High fever, chills, pain, and increased warmth are signs of a rapidly worsening infection.

The most common types of infections include:

Bacterial infections

All body piercings require proper care as they heal. Any open wound caused by a puncture can easily become infected. What many people don’t realize is that in some cases, the healing process can take a relatively long time.

Nipple piercings take one to two years to fully heal. In some cases, the piercing won’t close even after the jewelry is removed, leaving you vulnerable to recurring infections.

Bacteria on the skin itself are the most common source of infection. However, you can also be infected by bacteria in a swimming pool or pond.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver and is spread through contaminated blood. Needles, especially in tattooing and piercing settings, are one possible source of infection.

It is for this reason that piercing devices must be disposable or fully sterilized after each use—not just sterilized. Piercing and tattoo parlors in the United States are strictly regulated and licensed by health authorities to prevent blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B.

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An abscess is a painful abscess that may form under the skin due to an infection. They are a common complication of nipple piercings, causing redness, swelling, bleeding, and pus. They can also occur in other parts of the body.

A nipple abscess cannot be treated with antibiotics alone. Instead, it must first be drained and cleaned, usually surgically. After the drain, your healthcare provider will prescribe a course of antibiotics to fight the infection.

In some cases, your piercing may need to be permanently removed to prevent further infection.


If the wound becomes contaminated, the perforation can lead to bacterial infection or the formation of an abscess. Hepatitis B infection is also possible if the puncture is performed in unsterile conditions (usually by an unlicensed practitioner).

Subareolar nipple abscess overview

puncture wound

In addition to infection, pierced nipples can cause other problems. These complications can result from poor perforation technique, healing problems, or placement of perforations on delicate tissue.

traumatic tear

A piercing anywhere on the body can tear the skin if jewelry accidentally gets stuck on something or gets jerked. Tears can also occur if you move suddenly during the piercing.

Some tissues, such as the nipple or genitals, are particularly delicate and prone to tears. Even so, if the technician does not pierce enough skin to keep the skin stable and secure, the risk of tearing increases.

In some cases, the tear may be severe enough to require corrective surgery. A tear from a clitoral piercing may also ultimately reduce sexual sensitivity.


Punctures eventually injure the skin, while wounds cause scarring. This is more likely to happen if you get an infection after your piercing.Even if you don’t, piercings can cause raised pigmented scars called Keloid.

Keloid scars are usually larger than the original wound. Some can grow to very large sizes and become unsightly and soft to the touch. If a keloid has problems, surgery, laser treatment, or cryotherapy (the use of freezing to remove abnormal tissue) may be needed.


nerve damage

Although rare, perforations can sometimes damage nearby nerves, causing persistent pain, discomfort, or loss of sensation. You are more likely to have nerve damage if you have an infection or traumatic tear.

One area where nerve damage is common is clitoris. Genital piercing of the clitoris is associated with a high incidence of decreased sexual function and loss of clitoral sensitivity due to nerve damage.


Some people believe that nipple piercings increase the risk of breast cancer. To date, there is little evidence of this.

Because nipple piercings are associated with an increased risk of abscesses and keloids, some believe this means that piercings can lead to other abnormal growths, such as cancer. This is not true.

A 2018 study published in Dermatology Online Abscesses caused by perforated nipples were sometimes mistaken for inflammatory breast cancers in initial investigations, according to reports. Other studies have found the same thing.


Piercings can cause traumatic tears, scarring, and nerve damage, especially in delicate tissues like the nipple or clitoris.Despite what some claim, nipple piercings do no lead to breast cancer.

reduce risk

There are many steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection after a piercing.

Choose a Licensed Technician

When choosing a technician, be sure to choose someone who is licensed, qualified, and experienced. Under no circumstances should you or your friend attempt to pierce your own ears, nipples, eyebrows or other body parts.

keep skin clean

After the needle is inserted, your skin must be clean, dry and free of infection to avoid contamination. After the piercing, your technician will give you instructions on how to keep the piercing clean and disinfected until it is fully healed.

Avoid touching piercings

During the healing process, avoid touching the piercing unless it is to clean the wound. Most technicians will even advise you to avoid sexual contact while you heal, as your partner’s hands or mouth contain bacteria that can contaminate the wound.

To avoid getting in the way, wear a soft fabric over the piercing and avoid pulling the garment down.


To reduce the risk of infection after piercing, choose only a licensed and experienced piercing technician. Keep the skin clean before and after surgery and avoid touching the piercing until it has fully healed.


Despite their growing popularity, body piercings still carry certain health risks. Chief among these is the risk of infection, including bacterial infections, abscesses, and blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B.

Perforations can also cause traumatic tears if they are placed on delicate tissue and/or accidentally pulled or jammed. Scarring is also possible, including enlarged growths called keloids. Nerve damage may also occur, particularly genital piercing of the clitoris.

To avoid infection or injury, always use a licensed technician and follow post-operative care instructions until the wound is fully healed.

Despite claims to the contrary, nipple piercings do not cause cancer.

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