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Lip and Labret Piecings Beaten to Death

In the first installment of my piercing blog series Each Piercing Beat to Death, I will be covering Labret and Lip Piercings. In this blog I will be covering the History and Background, the difference between a lip and a labret, the different placements and groupings, jewelry types, hassles, healing and the risks.

History and Background:

The word labret comes from the word Latin word labrum which means lip or the structure that encases the mouth. The first reference to piercings comes from anthropology and the use of the term in reference to tribal cultures that wore jewelry that protruded from the mouth. The term was used for both what we call lip or labret piercings regardless of the location and also is used to refer to other body modifications including the mouth or the lips.

Historically, a number of tribal and prehistoric cultures wore jewelry in or altered the shape of their lips and mouths. Often used as a form of tribal marking, involved a rite of passage into adulthood or defined the social status of the wearer. The style, jewelry and location ranges from simple piercings to the more extreme Lip Plates of many African tribes and can be found in just about every area of the globe.

In modern piercing, the term Labret pronounced "Lay-Bret" or "Lay-Bret" has been used to reference a piercing below the lip in the center of the chin with post style jewelry. While a lip piercing has been used to reference a piercing that is closer to the lip and pierced with a ring. As the industry has progressed a number of names have been used to describe alternative placements including Beauty Marks, Medusa and Cheek. Also in recent times groupings of two or more are called by a single name. For example two lower lip piercing on one side of the mouth is called Snake Bites or Snakebites Piercing. To only add to the confusion, Piercers and Piercees alike have often came up with their own names for groupings and placements.  In some cases the same placement or grouping of piercings maybe called a number of different names. 

Difference between Labret and Lip Piercing:

It seems I have this conversation a number of times a day and include it in every consultation I have with a piercee that is wanting a "Lip" piercing. The terms can be confusing even to the most seasoned vet. In recent years I've decided to avoid confusion to break oral piercings that enter and exit the mouth in two families; Labret and Lip. My reasoning is that both styles or families have both a different angle and Jewelry types that will work with the piercings. The first question I always ask is what type of jewelry they wish to wear in the piercing because the angle and placement limits the style of jewelry that can be worn comfortably and safely in the piercing.

  • Lip Piercings - Traditional referred to a piercing that was done with a ring and located on the outer area of the lower lip. The piercing is done at an angle that matches the natural curve of the lip much more outside of the mouth. Depending on the anatomy of the piercee, it can appear to be almost vertically placed and completely outside of the mouth, especially when done in the center of the lower lip. Ideally it will be placed about an 1/8th of an inch below the darker tissue of the lip on the inside and below the harder tissue on the edge of the outside of the lip. Due to the location a ring is often the best choice for piercing. However in a majority of cases a curved barbell can be worn. However a Labret Stud may cause discomfort and damage to teeth as the disc prone to get caught on teeth. Since a majority of the jewelry is outside of the mouth, there is less contact with teeth, gums and the bone structure of the mouth and there is a reduced risk of damage unless the piercee is prone to chewing and playing with the jewelry. 
  • Labret Piercings - In the past, this term referred to a traditional Labret that is located below the lips and centered. This is where the confusion begins as many clients will come in asking for a lip piercing because they don't want a location that is centered or below the lip, A Labret is pierced at a 90 degree angle to the tissue outside of the pigment area of the lips. Due to the angle and the placement it requires a stud style post jewelry like a Labret stud with a disc on the inside and a ball or other barbell end on the outside of the mouth. Since the placement is deeper into the mouth than a lip piercing, the jewelry is limited to this type of jewelry or an oval or tear drop shaped ring to allow a comfortable clearance to wrap around the lip while reducing contact with teeth, gums and the bone structure of the mouth.

Marking and Location: 

I couldn't begin to name the number of times I have a client come into the studio or answered a call and had no idea what piercing they were referring to. There were times when it felt like a game of trying to stump the piercer. The fact, that the piercing may have done thousand of piercing with that placement or grouping but either knows it by a different name or simply called it two or this or two of that. With the internet, there is an endless change in the names given for a piercing, especially groupings. Sometimes it's a case of someone getting a piercing, taking a photo of the new piercing and then posting it with a name they made up. So, it's important to describe the grouping or placement you are looking for to insure that you and your piercer is on the same page.

Also insist that your piercer marks the location of the piercings before they do them. There is a growing trend of piercers not marking piercings before they do them. This is dangerous on a number of different levels but it also creates a situation where they piercee's input into placement is reduced. Since the piercing or piercings are on your face, they will be seen by every person you come in contact and piercing that are miss-placed or appear off, well draw additional attention. Seeking out the thing that seems out of place is hard wired into us as a survival skill. So people and yourself will find their eyes more drawn to a piercing when it doesn't fit into the structure of your face or doesn't match the other piercing. 

A good piercer will not mind taking the time to remark or mark several locations to make sure you are happy with the location. The only thing is fight the urge to touch the area after the surgical scrub has been applied. If you feel that you will need to touch the area, do so before your piercer has disinfected the area. Usually verbal hints like, "More to the left" or "A little higher" are descriptive enough for an experienced piercer.

After the piercer has marked the piercing, fight the desire to get the piercing over with. Take your time, study the location and if you have someone with you, ask for their opinion. If the marking seems off from what you desired, ask your piercing to adjust the marking. If he or she feels that the placement won't work well, they should give you a detailed explanation as to why they feel this location or that is better. Out of the entire piercing experience the Jewelry selection and Marking of the piercing, that are a collaborative effort. The piercer should guide you through the process but you should also be asked for input.

Smile, Pout and Relax:

Depending on the piercing placement location, your piercer should ask you either before marking and/or after to smile, frown or pout. What they are doing is insuring that the placement is not into muscle tissue or areas that will cause additional swelling, would be at a high risk of contact with gums, teeth and bones or may cause other problems. Also a skilled piercer is gauging how the piercing will look with different expressions and whether it enhance your facial structure. 

Afterward they may want to adjust or move the piercing to avoid areas that expand and contract a great deal or crease when you smile. This is especially the case with muscle tissue which will greatly increase your chances of swelling, could prolong healing and require you to wear overly long jewelry even after the piercing is healed. Your piercer may also feel or pinch the tissue to study the structure of your mouth. 

Different Placements:

  • Lip Piercings:
    • Traditional Lip Piercing - Pierced on either side of the lower lip with a ring or curved barbell. Should avoid the corner of the mouth and shouldn't be through the "Smile" muscles. Inside it should an 1/8 of an inch inside of the Dry or smooth skin of the inside of the mouth and an 1/8th an inch below the thick tissue of the edge or rim of the lip. In most cases the piercing maybe pierced a little more into the lip and then migrate to the spot. The angle should match the natural curve of the protruding lips.
    • Vertical Labret Piercing - Also known as an Angle Kiss Piercing or Jestrum Piercing when it is done through the upper lip. Placement and the angle of the piercing is the same as a lip piercing but is done in the center of the lower lip in alignment with the philtrum the vertical groove below the Septum. Usually the lip protrudes a great deal more at the center and the angle can be almost vertical. It can be pierced with a ring or longer than needed curved barbell to allow for swelling. After healing a snug curved barbell can be worn and may reduce migration that is cause by ring wanting to lean to one side or the other.
    • Labret Piercings:
      • Labret Piercing - Also known as a Lip or Lowbret piercing. Traditionally located below the lip and in the center of the chin in alignment with the philtrum, Septum and base of the chin. It can be located pretty much anywhere a lip piercing can be but needs to be a little more below the lip and the angle of the piercing is at a 90 degree angle with the tissue. When angled correctly the disc of the Labret Stud will lay flat against the skin. Due to the location and angel of the piercing, a Labret Stud style barbell or with lower and centered located piercing a Fishtal Labret will need to be worn during healing. After the piercing is healed an oval or tear drop shaped ring can be worn if it is long enough to comfortably wrap around the lip. If you are wanting to wear a ring it maybe a better option to get a lip piercing.
      • Beauty Mark Piercing - Also known as a Monroe, Madonna, Chrome Crawford,  Steel Crawford and Crayfish piercing. Angled in the same way as a Labret piercing but is located on either side of the philtrum but inside of the smile line. Usually I place it in alignment with the slant of the nostril. Jewelry is limited in the same way as the Labret piercing.
      • Medusa - Also known as a Cleft Piercing, Upbret Piercing or KA Piercing. Angle is the same as a Labret piercing and requires the same type of jewelry but it located in the center of the philtrum about half way between the Septum and the upper lip. Jewelry is limited in the same way as a Labret Piercing.
      • Cheek Piercing - Also known as Dimple or Dimples Piercing. Placed outside of the corner of the mouth and the "smile" Muscles and Parotid ducts in alignment with the edge of the smile line and the first molar above and below the gum line. Usually when marking I have the piercee pucker and draw their cheeks in to find the best placement. There are a number of risks involved with cheek piercing. These include piercing the muscle tissue and causing prolonged healing and swelling beyond the jewelry length. However the biggest is effecting the Parotid ducts that supply saliva to the mouth. There are cases of the duct becoming block or secreting into the piercing. Often the jewelry must be much longer than what would be called for with other Labret piercings.

Groupings:

I don't know how many times I've had a client call or stop by the studio and ask for a piercing name that I've never heard of before. Often this is because the names are used to describe a grouping of piercings that I"ve been doing since 1994 but didn't hear them called a ________ piercing until the last 5 or 10 years. I have preformed countless snakebites and spider bites that we simply call two lip or labret piercings. The reality is that the piercings can be grouped or placed to fulfill your desire. The only limit is your anatomy.  For example, I had a client a number of years ago that was obsessed with triangles. She came in and said she wanted a triangle. I started in with my advice and consultation on the female genital piercing called a Triangle. She waited patiently as I went into my spill about the rare anatomy needed and began leading her to the piercing station to evaluate her anatomy. She didn't seem to understand we were talking about two different piercings until I asked her to disrobe. A little freaked out, she asked why on earth would I need to know what was down there for me to pierce her mouth. After a round of laughter, she told me that she had seen the name on the web and thought that was what it was called. What she wanted was a triangle made up of a Medusa, two labret piercings on below her lip on each side and a centered labret.  

So when you call or stop by your piercing studio, don't be surprised if the piercer has no idea what the name you found on the internet is. It is important to also describe the piercing you want to be to make sure you are both on the same page. In my years working as a Bartender and the services industry, one of the most important lessons I learned is to repeat back the clients request. Often I will reply with a standard name and then describe the piercing to make sure we are talking about the same thing. For example if someone comes in asking for Snakebites, I immediately reply, "Snakebites, two lip or labret piercings on the sides of the lower lip." 

Later on I will go on a little bit about marking but I can not stress the importance of insuring that your piercer marks the piercings. Not only to allow you to judge the placement but to make sure that you are both talking about the same grouping. There is an impulse to get it over with but it is a lot easier to change a marking than it is to have the piercing or piercings re-pierced. 

It is also important that you if you are planing on getting a grouping done but only want to do one at a time that you make your piercer aware of this. There is no reason that a grouping can not be done in stages to fit your budget, fears or pain threshold. However in some cases there needs to be some planing involved with the first piercing to insure that it will be easy to match in the future. You may want to ask your piercer to mark all of the piercing in the grouping to get an idea of how it will look in the future. I often do this when a client has a goal of a number of piercings in a small area and then give them the choice of which they want to start with.

  • Snake Bites or Snakebites - Either a set of lip or labret piercings on the both sides of the lower lip. I usually align them with the out edge of the nostril.
  • Spider Bites - Either a set of lip or labret piercings below the lower lip and side by side on one side of the mouth.
  • Angel Bites - A set of Beauty Mark piercing on each side of the philtrum. I usually place them in a alignment with the natural angle of the nose.
  • Cyber Bites - Combination of a Medusa piercing and a traditional centered Labret Piercing. It can also be done as a set of lip piercings.
  • Vampire Bits - Grouped like a spider bite but with the rings wider apart. Almost always done as lip piercings with the piercing on the outside placed even with the end of the nose and the centered placement a little off center. 
  • Dolphin Bites - A set of two Labret or lip piercing on the lower lip that are just off center on each side. Basically Snake Bites but in the center.
  • Canine Bites - Four piercings in total. A combination of Snake and Angel Bites
  • Shark Bites - Four piercing in total. A combination of two sets of spider bites on each side.
  • Dimples - A set of Cheek Piercings

Groupings are only limited by your imagination and your anatomy, If you have an idea, ask your piercer.

Jewelry types:

  • Lip Piercing Jewelry:
    • Captive Bead and Beaded Rings - A circular ring with a fixed bead or ball or a bead or ball that is held captive by the tension of the ring. Should only be worn in Lip Piercings. Due to the angle in which labret piercing are pierced, a large width would be required to comfortably wrap around the lip. Which would greatly increase the discomfort and catching on teeth and gums which could lead to damage to teeth, gums and the bone structure of the mouth.
    • Curved Barbell - A Curved shaped post with two threaded ends. In most cases a curved barbell can be worn in a lip piercing depending on the shape and placement of the piercing. 
    • Circular Barbell - A circular shaped horseshoe with two threaded ends. Though the width can be adjusted if needed there is the added risk of the gap between the balls or ends getting caught on teeth.
  • Labret Piercing Jewelry:
    • Labret Stud - A post with a flat or dome shaped disc on one side and a threaded end on the other side. Most common used piercing jewelry when it comes to Labret piercings. Since swelling is a fact the jewelry will need to be often much longer than needed or is comfortable and will need to be replaced once the piercing is healed.
    • Fishtail Labret - A L shaped post with a ball or other end on one side. Not as common as they once were and do not work well with multiple piercing or piercing that are above the lips or pierced close to the lip. The advantages are that they can be shaped to fit naturally to the shape of the piercee's mouth and have no sharp edges to wear on gums and teeth. However they take up more space and are not as secure as Labret Studs. 
    • Oval or Tear Drop Shaped Rings - A ring that is oval shaped or flatten. With Labret piercings, a ring that is oval shaped maybe comfortably worn in the piercing. Though if you are wanting a piercing that you can wear a ring in a majority of the time, a Lip Piercing is a better option than a Labret piercing.

Hassles and Aftercare:

Most Lip and Labret piercings will take from 8 to 14 weeks to heal and will require that you follow both Oral Aftercare Instructions(first 2 to 4 weeks) and Basic Aftercare Instructions until the piercing is healed. This will involve rinsing, doing soaks and cleaning in the shower twice daily. For the first 3 to 5 days your piercing will be at risk for swelling and you will have to change your diet to reduce risks of swelling. So you will want to avoid Alcohol, Tobacco, Hot and spicy food or anything that might agitate the piercing.

Also you will need to keep your clothing, bedding, or anything that may contact the piercing clean, avoid swimming, and kissing and sexual contact with the piercing until it is healed.

Risks:

Since the jewelry is located in part inside your mouth. There is a high risk of contact with gums, teeth and the bone structure of your mouth. Since the jewelry in a majority of cases is made of a hard metal, continued contact can cause damage. At the time of piercing the jewelry size is larger to allow for swelling and to reduce risks should be replaced with shorter jewelry after the piercing is healed to reduce these risks. Understand even if the piercing is placed correctly, you downsize the jewelry and do everything right, wearing the jewelry can still cause damage. To reduce these risks avoid playing with the piercing and activities that may increase contact with teeth, gums and bones. With Labret piercings avoiding opening your mouth wide maybe needed to reduce catching the jewelry on teeth.

 

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