Health Risks

Problems following body modification include:

Infection is one of the most frightening and potentially serious dangers associated with body modification. Two distinct phases are of concern: If you get the procedure done in unsanitary conditions, or with unsterile implements or jewellery, an infection can be transmitted. Or, if you fail to care for the wound properly throughout its healing period, you can get an infection after the procedure is done. Studies show that the risk of infection increases when either the practitioners’ technique or the aftercare is poor.
Our world is full of microorganisms (germs, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses). Many of these are harmless—or even beneficial—to us, but some are pathogenic (capable of causing infection or disease). We are all routinely exposed to countless germs, but many complex factors impact how they affect us, including the potency and amount of an organism entering the body, and how it gets in, as well as the strength of the immune system.

Viral Infections - The viruses hepatitis B and C and HIV are examples of bloodborne pathogens (micro- organisms that can cause disease when present in the blood). They are of particular concern because if the needles, tools or jewellery are not sterile, there is potential for these serious bloodborne diseases to be transmitted during body modification.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is quite fragile and dies quickly when exposed to air; the hepatitis virus, however, is easier to transmit because it is quite hardy. Studies show that hepatitis B can live on a dry surface for at least seven days! Even though the virus is robust, improperly performed body art accounts for a very small proportion of hepatitis transmissions. Hepatitis B infection can be prevented by vaccination. There are no vaccines available for either HIV or hepatitis C.

Bacterial infections can range from minor skin eruptions to deadly infections of the brain or lining of the heart. Never ignore a suspected infection: left untreated, certain kinds that start out as trivial can become lethal. Local bacterial infection (at the site of the body modification) is the most common sort, and deeper, larger, or systemic infections in healthy people are fairly rare.
The medical field has developed specific infection-control practices, called Standard Precautions (formerly Universal Precautions), for dealing with blood or other potentially infectious body fluids and any equipment that could be contaminated with them. Safe body modifications artists are educated about these procedures and adhere to them meticulously.

Jewellery embedding - where part or all of the inserted item sinks beneath the skin surface after piercing. This is usually caused by infection and has been observed after the use of ear-piercing guns. It can also result from insertion of items of incorrectly sized jewellery

Allergies to jewellery – this is often the result of allergy to metal components, e.g. Nickel, poor gold plating or the use of 9 carat gold materials. Practitioners should use either titanium, low nickel surgical grade steel or implant grade steel to avoid such problems. Eighteen carat gold is less likely to cause allergic responses than 9 carat, but is much softer than steel, may become pitted, and so is avoided by many practitioners... It should also be noted that allergies might exist to aftercare products and skin cleaning agents. Clients should be consulted on this before treatment commences.

Migration of jewellery – can happen to any pierced area, especially if inserted jewellery is too thin or is agitated before healing. This can also be a problem with implanted (subcutaneous) items used in scarification and piercing procedures, and results in jewellery migrating through or under the skin, away from the original point of insertion.  Migration can also occur if jewellery is incorrectly inserted in to piercing sites, e.g. if the shape of a client’s navel means there is permanent pressure navel tissue displacing on an item of jewellery after its insertion.
Scarring – when not a planned part of the treatment, this is sometimes the result of poor jewellery insertion, jewellery migration or of infection and poor healing generally. But it can happen even when a piercing is performed properly and heals uneventfully. Migration often leaves a small track of scarring or discoloration from where the piercing was initially placed. Rejection usually results in a split scar. Piercings of the ear cartilage are prone to disfigurement if a serious infection develops. The cartilage can collapse, causing a “cauliflower ear” appearance. Excessive scarring sometimes occurs in reaction to piercing, and it can be very difficult to resolve. If you have a history of problems with scarring or keloids piercing is generally inadvisable.

Severe localised swelling – can happen anywhere following tattooing or piercing, but particularly dangerous with oral piercing (proximity to airway), e.g. the tongue may swell to at least twice its normal size after piercing and this must be accommodated by the correct choice of jewellery. However, it may also be a sign of infection.

Bleeding – Must be expected following most piercing and sometimes occurs following tattooing, but may be persistent. High-risk areas include male genital piercing (Prince Albert / ampallang) and tongue piercing. Lips (labret) may also bleed profusely. These areas have rich blood supplies that may lead to haemorrhaging after piercing. Individuals taking aspirin, anticoagulant drugs or with haemophilia are especially likely to bleed.

Dental Complications. Tongue piercing poses particular risks to the mouth which include chipped teeth .

Problems associated with stretched Ears -Piercings that are stretched to large dimensions commonly leave significant voids that may be considered disfiguring; to correct them, plastic surgery is required. Stretching a piercing too quickly or attempting to expand unsuitably thin tissue leads to problems. One potential consequence of overzealous stretching is a blowout (part of the interior channel is pushed out, leaving an unsightly lip of flesh on one side of the piercing). This distortion will usually be a lasting reminder of your hasty actions unless it is surgically removed. Piercings that are stretched improperly can also suffer from thinning tissue that does not regrow.

Health Conditions
Certain medical conditions make body modification riskier, and in some cases inadvisable. Health problems that weaken your infection-fighting defenses, including diabetes, lupus, HIV/AIDS, and other immune system disorders, can make you slow to heal. You might be more vulnerable to infection, and if you do contract one, it could be more severe and harder to cure.
Some heart disorders make you susceptible to infective endocarditis (a potentially deadly infection of the lining of the heart or heart valves, previously referred to as bacterial endocarditis). If you have a history of this illness or serious cardiac problems like a valve replacement, an ethical piercer will require proof that you have consulted with your doctor before proceeding. If you ordinarily must take antibiotic prophylaxis (preventive treatment) before dental procedures, your doctor may recommend this before body modification. Cardiac ailments are one of the few preexisting conditions that can increase the risk of a fatal outcome: if you are advised against a body modification due to your health, heed your doctor’s word!
Appropriate medical advice should be sought before body modification by persons with the following conditions: pregnancy, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, allergies and immunodeficiency.

Rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, scars such as keloids, and other skin abnormalities are less serious health issues. If you are considering a body modification in an area affected by one of these conditions, seek an evaluation by your doctor.
Be honest about your medical history and respect a body modification artist who has the principles to decline you if the risk is unacceptable.