Rings VS. Barbells
I've covered this before but it is a subject that comes up over and over. So in this blog I'll be covering Rings Vs. Barbells and the advantages and disadvantages of both. Mainly this will cover the healing process because it is a subject that I cover daily with piercees. This is especially the case when it comes to Navel Piercings. I could not even begin to count the number of times that I have gone over this topic in detail with a client or debated the issue with other piercers.
In this blog I will be covering only the piercings that I have found are best done with a ring over barbells. There are a number of piercings that either because of the placement of the piercing or shape of the area in which a barbell is a better choice or the only choice. Top of this list would be Tongue Piercings, Labret and other Labret style Piercings, Industrial Piercings, and Frenum Piercings. These piercings require a straight post and a ring would without a doubt increase migration of the piercing and other problems mainly because the size of the ring that would be needed would need to be much larger than needed. There is also situation where the piercee's anatomy requires a barbell to reduce migration. For example, Female Nipple piercings where the piercee is well endowed, barbells compared to rings may reduce the amount of pressure on the piercing and thus reduce the likelihood of rejection and migration. An experienced and well trained piercer can adapt not only his placement and techniques to the ever changing anatomy that he or she is presented but can also suggest jewelry that will work better with the individual.
In my 19 years of piecing professionally, I have to say especially when it comes to Navel Piercing, even in the few cases where a barbell may have been a better choice, it was debatable as to whether the navel was deep enough to be pierced in the first place. So, one has to ask why Curved Barbells are so widely used for navel piercing? The answer is simply fashion.
If you look at the history and evolution of the navel piercing, curved barbell didn't really become popular for fresh piercing until the Navel craze of the mid 1990s. At the same time, it ushered in a period of massive growth in the industry and a demand for different jewelry designs. Thus the explosion of novelty navel jewelry and a huge selection of low grade cheap jewelry with countless amounts of sharp edges and items hanging off them. Since the ring is limited in design it's not surprising that a majority of this cheap jewelry tends to be barbells.
The question is why did a majority of ethical and experienced piercers suddenly start piercing with barbells? A majority of the responses were that the jewelry had a lower profile and would be less likely to be abused by getting caught on clothing, bedding and etc.. I found through personal wearing barbells that this isn't the case and I will go into that further but I have always felt that it had more to do with what their clients considered fashionable and less to do with what was the best option for healing the piercing. As piercer, there is a constant struggle between our ethics and turning a profit. Often stating flat out that you are unwilling to do a piercing with a type of jewelry the client wants, may loss you business and in almost all cases your competition is going to be more than happy to pierce with whatever jewelry they wish.
Over the years, I've developed a method of clearly stating the disadvantages of one jewelry choice over another and then allow the piercee to make an educated decision. A majority of the time, the client will almost always pick the jewelry that I suggest. Though even then I put restrictions on what I will pierce with and still refuse to stock jewelry that would cause problems during healing or after. Below are the points that I address with clients when facing the choice of jewelry.
Round One Weight:
Captive Bead and Beaded Rings are body piercing jewelry at it most simple form with only two parts. The ring and the bead or ball that is held in place by the tension of the ring. With Straight, Circular and Curved Barbells there is three parts. There is the post, and two ball or other shaped end that is either attached to one end or threads on to the post. Since there is an additional ball or end, the jewelry can weigh as much as a third more than a ring of the same gauge and size. With the common Navel Curved barbell in which one ball is much larger this can almost double the weight.
Heaver jewelry will add additional pressure, strain and abuse to the piercing during the healing period. All of which will increase the healing period and increase the risk of rejections or migration of the piercing and scarring. There is also the side effect of the gravity causing the jewelry to hang in the piercing with one of the ends of jewelry being pressed tightly against one of the piercing holes. This can block the bodies ability to discharge waste and debris from the healing piercing. It can also block the flow of oxygen to the piercing which could prolong healing.
Round Two Cleaning:
Since a barbell is a ridged length it and the ball is often rests against one side of the piercing, movement of the jewelry is limited. Thus making cleaning more difficult. With a ring the jewelry can be cleaned on one side and then rotated slightly to remove discharge from the jewelry. With Barbells there is no additional space to allow movement of the piercing at all.
Round Three Swelling:
As I stated above, with barbells there is a limited about of space with barbells. With a ring even if the piercing swells beyond the width of the jewelry there is more additional space to allow for swelling. It is a standard that the jewelry should be at lease an 1/8 of an inch wider than the width of the piercing. Meaning that if 3/8 of an inch of tissue is pierced, than the jewelry should be a 1/2 inch wide. If the swelling goes beyond that 1/8 with a barbell there jewelry will be too short and may cause damage to the piercing including to the jewelry being pulled into the body. With a ring the worst that can happen would be some minor migration but a barbell could become impacted into the piercing and need medical attention to be removed.
Round Four Placement:
This is a major concern with navels because often the end that sits inside the navel is too large to fit comfortably inside the navel. Thus the piercing has to be placed on the edge of the navel instead of the proper placement through the Natural forming lobe of loose tissue. If you take you index finger stick it into your navel and then pinch down with your thumb, you will feel a loose lobe of tissue and this should be pierced the same way any other part of your body should be, at a straight and equal angle. With barbells, often the piercing will have to be done almost at the edge of the lip of the navel. Thus ending up more like a surface to surface piercing than a normal navel piercing. Placement of the piercing should always be based on the shape and size of the piercing area and not to allow you to wear a gem setting the size of a cowboy's belt buckle.
There are those that claim that the placement should be different for curved barbells than it is for rings. To this I have to say yes and no. The fact is that often the case is that if the piercing should be placed deeper into the navel than a barbell is not the correct jewelry for that person's anatomy. I have found that my placement for both a curved barbell and a ring is the same, the correct placement to insure that the piercing heals heals correctly. There are plenty of less experienced "piercers" out there that are willing to pierce a navel shallow to allow for the piercee to wear a huge gem setting with thousands of charms hanging off them but my goal is to produce a piercing that will heal correctly and last a lifetime.
Round Five Blocking:
I already covered this in cleaning but I think it is important to address it again. During the healing process your body will produce discharge to remove waste and to expel foreign objects from the wound. If for one reason or another the piercing becomes infected, the body will need to have a clear path to push the infection, infected tissue and fluid from the body. If there is a large ball in continuous contact with one the piercing holes, this will only impede or completely block discharge. This is especially the case with Navel piercing where the bottom end is usually heavier than the top end and will pull the top ball against the top hole. Even with other piercings the barbell will tend to want to set against one side or the other.
Round Six Risk of Caughting on Clothing:
Most people will look at a ring and think that it since it takes up more room, it will be more likely to caught on clothing, bedding, towels and etc.. The reality is that since a ring has no points is less at a risk to caught on objects. The fact is that barbells especially with healing piercings where the jewelry must be longer to allow for swelling and cleaning, the barbells tend to stand out of the body like little fingers ready to get caught on anything and everything they come in contact with. Even with circular barbells often the opening between the two ends will allow things to get caught between them and snag the jewelry.
Anyone who has gone fishing understands how frustrating it can be to get snags as the hook drags against every thing it comes in contact with in the water. Barbells tend to be more like those fishing hooks getting snag on everything, while rings without openings to get caught on objects will not get caught.
Round Seven Security:
As I mentioned before barbells have ends that are threaded with the ends screwing off and on. While rings either have a fixed bead/ball or have a bead/ball that is held in place by the tension of the rings. Since the jewelry is attached to a living and ever moving individual that will spend most of their day in contact with clothing, bedding and the environment around them, those threaded ends can loosen and come off. Meaning that if the ends or balls are not checked on a regular bases, one could loss costly ends or have the jewelry fall out of the piercing. Which can result in loosing the piercing.
With Captive Bead Rings, the balls can fall out but it will usually take a great deal of force to do so. During the healing process it is best to limit the handling the jewelry as much as you can. Having to check the tightness of the ends all the time will only increase the risks of infection. With piercings that are in areas of the body where there is rough contact like genital piercings or when clothing and bedding are in contact with the piercing a great amount of the time, Captive Bead Rings are a better choice. Not only because of the limited maintenance needed but because the loss of jewelry is reduce. In other words rings are more secure than barbells. Of course, removing and changing captive bead rings is more difficult than barbells.
Round Nine Restricting Movement:
Many piercings are located in areas of the body that during physical and sexual activity will move, stretch or change shape, if the jewelry is too tight to allow this movement it can cause damage to both healed and healing piercings. Since a ring will need of a larger width of the piercing, there will be additional room for these movements and activities. Even in a healed piercing Barbells will need to be longer than the distance between the two piercing holes to allow for movement. Which will only increase the profile of the jewelry.
Round Ten Rejection and Migration:
This is a mixed bag and it really depends completely on the shape of the anatomy that is being pierced. It's a balancing act between weight, profile and size and there is no universal answer for everyone. Rings have a larger profile and are more at risk to contact clothing and bedding but are less at risk to be caught and are not as heavy. Barbells can tend to protrude from the body and get caught on objects, tend to be heavier but with straight and curved barbells the curve of the jewelry is flatter or non existent. Which with piercings that have a large distance between the piercing holes like Nipple piercings, will allow the piercing to be more straight and give the body a shorter piercing tunnel to produce.
One of the things that I piercer must consider when choosing the correct jewelry size is making sure that the section of the jewelry that will be in the piercing is as flat or straight as possible. With rings it needs to make no more than a quarter to a third of the overall size the jewelry. We want to create a piercing with jewelry that is the shortest distance from one hole to the other. Having too small of jewelry would create a arched curved that would require your body to produce a great deal more tissue.
If the curve is greater than it will increase the likelihood of your body migrating the piercing or forming additional scar tissue. It is the reason that nipple piercing pierced with small width rings will migrate as your body moves the piercing to make it easier to heal. Too tight of a curve can also cause the jewelry to not hang naturally, for example with nipple piercing, instead of hanging down they will stick straight out. The result is that over time they will be take more abuse and increase risk of damage to the piercing or lead to scarring.
This is why with Nipple Piercings larger width rings, in most cases at least 5/8 of an inch or straight barbells are the best choice. With larger anatomy barbells are almost always a much better choice because they allow a straight and thus shorter distance for the body to produce a piercing tunnel.
Round Eleven Changing Jewelry:
With Captive Bead Rings it takes practice to learn how to take the bead/balls in and out. With Barbells it's as simple as unscrewing the end to remove the jewelry.
Round Twelve Curved Vs. Straight:
There are parts of the body where it is important that the piercing be placed straight through a protruding piece of flesh but also has as low of a profile as possible to reduce risks to the piercing and the areas of the body around it. Oral piercings are the most obvious. Where the piercing is done straight through the tissue and the jewelry needs to have limited contact with gums, teeth and bones.
Then there is other parts of the body where the tissue protrudes slightly like a lip or eyebrow where the jewelry needs to be curved to fit into the natural shape of the body. Due to weight and the fact that jewelry must be longer than the piercing area, rings are often the best choice and then once healed a curved barbell that fits slightly loosely is the best choice.
Round Thirteen Healing Time:
As I already covered above, the jewelry in the piercing needs to be as flat as possible. Though straight and curved barbells are more flat or straight, they add additional weight and the ends can block oxygen and discharge, they can prolong healing. If the piercing placement and jewelry size is correct, a ring may produce a faster healing time with less problems. However if it is a situation where the ring needs to be a much larger width than is needed to clear the tissue around the area, it may add additional weight and abuse to the piercing and prolong healing. A good example would be tongue piercings and some ear piercing like a conch where the jewelry needs to be much larger to fit around the tissue surrounding the piercing.
Round Fourteen Fashion Vs. Effectiveness:
When approaching piercings as a collector it is easy to have a vision of what the piercing and jewelry will look like when it is pierced. Often this idea is based on a photo we have seen or maybe even been sparked by a style of jewelry we like. The problem is that too often this does not fit the piercee's anatomy or the jewelry choice would cause complications during healing and even after the piercing is healed. Understand just because you see a photo of a piercing you like on the internet, it doesn't make it a good idea for you. Often most of the photos are taken only moments after the piercing was done or piercing was done especially for that photo shoot.
Culturally, we tend to perceive piercing as a fashion statement and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it is a statement that will produce a good outcome and isn't going to effect your long term health and well being. If you go to an experienced and knowledgeable piercer and they try to talk you out of your jewelry choice, don't just go to another one because they will do whatever you want. Chances are there is a number of reasons for the piercer's beliefs and they are the expert and chances are they are looking out for your best interests. If the customer was always right there really would be no reason to look for an experienced and knowledgeable piercer in the first place.
I've experience clients in the past that have flat out demanded jewelry that wasn't correct and I flat out refused to do the piercing or change the jewelry. Being fashionable is not always in your best interest. You may think that size four shoes are the most fashionable size but if your feet are size five, wearing size four is going to cause lasting damage to your feet. The same can be said of wearing incorrect or poorly sized jewelry.
Round Fifteen A Comfortable Fit:
The human body expands and contracts during different stages of life. Since a barbell is a set length and a ring can add additional room, over time you may find that a ring is more comfortable. However, either way, barbells or rings will require changes in length during life changes and in any case should be loose fitting. I always try to point out in my aftercare when it comes to choosing jewelry that it is loose fitting with extra room for movement and the changes that your life go through. Jewelry that is too small can completely destroy even a well healed piercing.
Round Sixteen Collecting Contaments:
Barbell ends, especially those that are shaped can have cracks and crevices where dirty, pathogens and debris can collect and be introduced into the piercing. Barbells are at a great risk because the ends are commonly in contact with the piercing holes. Also there is the issue of this collecting in the threading of the barbell and ends and the space between the ends and the barbell's post and then be introduced into the piercing when the jewelry is changed.
This can also be the case with Captive Bead Rings but the ball can easily be adjusted so it is not in contact with the open piercing.
Round Seventeen Sub-Standard Materials:
There is a number of different barbell ends and even captive bead ring closures on the market. A large amount of them are shaped objects. From large gem settings to shapes like frogs, bunny, skulls, soccer balls, etc... Even though the package may state that the jewelry is made of a body friendly material like Implant Grade Steel or Titanium, the manufacture is only stating that the post or ring section of the jewelry is made of that material. This is usually the case because materials like Titanium and steel are hard or expensive to form into these shapes. Thus the charm shaped end is made of a substandard material or is plated. You should always be leery of shaped objects unless it is solid 14kt or better gold and the price should reflect that it is solid gold and not filled or plated. The greatest risk is that most of these materials will tarnish and lead to a fungal infection. The risks are a great deal more when it comes to barbells when these ends will always be in contact with the piercing and skin. Especially in tight areas of the body like the navel and mouth.
Though at a reduced risk rings with shaped objects should be avoided in fresh and healed piercings.
Round Eighteen Infection Risks:
Since Barbells tend to wear in the body with one end or the other laying against the piercing there is an increased risk of blocking the body's ability to expel the infection and an increased risk of the infects becoming septic with the infection developing into an inward traveling infection. Also since there are limited or reduced signs of infection due to the blockage, an infection may not be noticed until immediate medical attention is required.
Since the ring is not going to block the discharge there is a reduced risk of infection and if one occurs the signs of infection will not be blocked by the jewelry.
Round Nineteen Training Jewelry:
In most cases the jewelry that is pierced with the correct size, shape and type for the piercing to heal correctly. Also it has been chosen to make the healing as easy as possible and promote quick healing. Once the piercing is healed the jewelry can be changed. Often there is the misconception that the jewelry the piercing is done with is the only jewelry that can be worn in the piercing. In most cases this is not the case and in fact due to the need for larger jewelry during the healing, a smaller piece of jewelry maybe need to reduce problems after healing.
Whenever I'm presented with a client that is dead set in their choice of jewelry, I try to point out that the jewelry is not permanent and that it can or may need to be changed after the piercing is healed. In the life time of a piercing the healing time is the shortest. In most cases, we are talking about a period of months compared to a life time after the piercing is healed. If the jewelry is incorrect the piercing may not heal, get infected, scar or have some other problem that will cause the piercing to have to be abandoned. In hind sight it's better to consider the piercing jewelry as training jewelry.
Round Twenty Conclusion:
Is there a prefect choice that universally fits all people and all piercings? No, each piercing and person has special needs when selecting the correct jewelry. Rings tend to be more flexible and lend themselves to a larger majority of different body types and piercings. However, there was piercings and anatomy that scream out for a barbell. The best thing you can do is listen to your piercer's suggestions and make an educated decision.