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Nostril Piercing Beaten to Death - Revised Edition

In this the third installment of my piercing blog series 'Each Piercing Beaten to Death' I will be covering Nostril Piercing in depth. The very first piercing I ever did was a nostril piercing on my very good friend Jay. Then when I opened the old Axiom on E. 5th, the first piercing that I did was also a Nostril piercing a few minutes after I first hung up the open sign. There is no doubt that nostril piercings have been with us for a long time and continue to be very popular. I would even go so far as to say they are becoming a social norm.  It's the nostril's fault the structure and the way they seem to fit naturally into the structure of the face seems to scream to be pierced. 

History and Background:

The Nostril Piercing is often only associated with the cultures of India and Pakistan, however, the practice is must more widespread throughout the tribal cultures of South Asia and the Pacific including the Aboriginals in Australia. Also, the piercing is practiced by the tribal cultures of Africa and the Americas. In India, the piercing is done traditionally on the left-hand side which is believed to make childbirth easier. The idea comes from Ayurveda medicine that believes the left side is associated with the female reproductive organs. The piercing is done to honor the Hindu Goddess of marriage Parvati and the jewelry worn in the piercing may disclose the wearers cultural standing. The women of the Pashtuns and Pahari cultures will often pierce both sides. The jewelry is constructed in a way that is not easily removed to ensure that if all of their gold is taken from them, the jewelry can be used to pay for their funeral. 

Though the 19th-century French actress Polaire wore a peril in her left nostril and there are very few examples prior to the punk movement, where the piercing was worn. Though mostly in subcultures. Nostril piercing began to find it's way into Western culture with the Punk sub-culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, in most underground musical sub-cultures, the piercing was commonplace by the mid-1980s. Today it is the most common piercing outside of the earlobe and is worn by those from just about every walk of life and interest. 

Anatomy. "The Correct Side" and Location:

The placement of the piercing should be in the center of the supra-alar crease. However, placement can be toward the front or back and even below. If you have a desire to wear a ring but your crease is high on the nostril either a large ring will be needed or the piercing will have to be lower. It is important that you make your piercer aware of what style of jewelry that you are wishing to wear in the future and/or if you are planning additional nostril piercings. Usually, the placement will need to be adjusted to adapt to small rings and multiple piercings.

I think the most common question I'm asked by a piercee is "Which is the correct side?" The answer is your personal or cultural preference.Usually, if you are part of a culture or sub-culture, you should know the correct side. If you are not, this doesn't mean that you are going to suddenly be putting out, "signals" that you are unaware of and even if you encounter someone from that subculture, they are going to quickly know that you are not part of it. So, which side is completely personal preference. 

So, here are some questions that you should ask yourself, when choosing which side:

  1. When you close your eyes, which side do you picture the piercing on or seems natural to you?
  2. Which side you normally sleep on? Since you are going to want to avoid sleeping on the piercing, the other side will be the better choice.
  3. Which profile do you like most? The piercing will draw attention to that profile. So, if you like your left profile better than your right, pierce the left.

Placement and Marking:

When I mark the piercing I take into account the shape of the nostril, the curve of the supra-alar crease and the jewelry selected. Often the center of the nostril is the best choice but sometimes this will not flow with the overall shape of the nose and will seem out of place. If the crease is really pronounced and circular, I will often mark it where the crease begins to angle downward. If the jewelry is a ring and the crease is really high on the nose, the mark may have to be lower to allow for the ring to fit around the bottom of the nostril or a larger ring will be needed.

When your piercer shows you the marking, take your time and study the placement, think about how it fits into the shape of your nose and how it will look. The best method is to hold the mirror at arm's length and then slowly draw it towards you. Most people will see the piercing at arm's length or further away and their first impression will be at that distance. If you feel that the piercing needs to be adjusted, please vocalize this and resist the need to touch or point out the area.

Alternative Placements and Groupings:

There is really only two placements that can be pierced on a nostril, the first is the traditional location through the supra-alar crease or slightly below and the much rarer high nostril piercing. The high nostril is placed above the supra-alar crease but below where the cartridge connects to the bone. It is important that you consider eyewear before getting a high nostril piercing and I strongly suggest that you bring your glasses with you to avoid a placement that will be effect by wearing glasses.

Nostrils like earlobes can be pierced easily with a number of piercing. However, there may be restrictions on the type of jewelry that is going to work best and how many. It all really depends on how large the area is. In most cases, Nostril screws are not going to be the best option for multiple piercings because of the room needed for the curved wire. Labret Studs, Rings, L-bends or small barbells maybe your only options. 

Jewelry Types:

It is my experience that Rings and Nostril Screws are the best options for healing a nostril piercing. It really depends on three key factors:

  1. The person"s anatomy and what will fit and work best.
  2. The person's employment situation
  3. Security of the jewelry.

The jewelry needs to be at least 20g through 18g is standard. Thicker gauges can be used if there is a desire and the piercee's anatomy will allow it. Though added weight may add to the healing time and increase problems.

  • Captive Bead or Beaded Ring - A circular ring with a fixed bead or ball or a bead or ball that is held captive by the tension of the ring. For piercing and healing, I have found that a ring is the most secure option. It's main advantages is that it is a great deal more secure than a Nostril Screw or L-Bend. Also, there is the added space the ring will allow for swelling and since there is not an end against the piercing holes, it doesn't block discharge. However, the ring needs to be large enough to ensure that the area that is inside the piercing is as flat as possible. Having too small of a ring can cause problems during and after the healing including, prolonged healing, scarring and tearing. Also, the pressure on a well-healed piercing can cause issues as the smaller ring adds pressure and stress on the piercing. The easiest demonstration is placing your right index finger over your left and form a cross, Now, tighten your right finger, notice the pressure on your left index finger as you tighten it. The same happens to the much softer tissue around a piercing. Larger rings can cause issues with work and will have a high profile which could cause additional contact and stress during healing. Rings in 18g to 10g can be used from 3/8 to 1/2 inch width
  • Seamless Rings - .Same as the Captive Bead or Beaded Ring accept there is no ball or bead. Instead, the two ends meet. It has all the advantages and disadvantages of CBR and BR's with the added concern of the seam working its way into the piercing. So, it's important to check the location of the seam on a regular base.
  • Nostril Screws - A wire with a end that has been shaped into a question mark bent in half. It is based off a Traditional Eastern Indian design. The flat part of the wire sits in the piercing while the curved wire lines the inside of the nostril. The advantage is that the jewelry can be adjusted and customized to first each person. However, when used in a piercing the flat portion of the jewelry that sits in the piercing needs to be longer than needed to allow for swelling and discharge. This increases the risk of the jewelry falling out of the piercing when it is caught. Extra precautions need to be taken to ensure that contact with the jewelry during healing is reduced. Once the piercing is healed the jewelry can be adjusted to fit more snug to the piercing. The other disadvantage is those with small noses or piercings that are low, may find it frustrating that the end of the jewelry slides out of the bottom of the nostril and can be seen visibly hanging down.  Sometimes this can be adjusted to reduce this but not always. When choosing jewelry for piercing make sure that the head or part that is visible, is noticeably larger than the wire. Also the back of the head should be flat. Avoid prong styles and trumpet-shaped heads. They will dig to the soft tissue and sometimes pull through completely. I prefer 18g or 16g nostril screws.
  • L-Bend - A nostril screw but instead of the wire inside the nostril being curved, it is straight. The advantage is that it is easier to change than a Nostril Screw but the disadvantage is that it isn't as secure and is more prone to the end hanging out of the inside of the nostril.
  • Barbells/Labret Studs - A straight post with ends that thread off or a held in place by pressure. I do not pierce with Barbells for a number of reasons. However, small barbells and labrets can be as secure as a ring but have the look of a stud. Though often the size of the stud has to be much larger than those of nostril screws and l-bends to allow for threading. Also, the ends can come unscrewed and create a dangerous situation of the jewelry being inhaled. Threadless or pressure held ends are more prone to this. Also, most barbells are only available in 16g and larger. Barbells 18g to 10g can be used with a width of 5/16th to 3/8th depending on the thickness of the tissue.
  • Jewelry That I Do Not Suggest:
    • Nostil Bones - This is a straight post with a setting on one side and a small ball on the other. The jewelry will usually go in really easily because the ball is the same size or slightly smaller than 18g. However, the post is thinner and the piercing will shrink to the thickness of the post. Which means to remove the jewelry you will have to force the larger ball through the now smaller piercing or have the jewelry cut. 
    • "Nose jewelry" or Ear Post Jewelry - The length of earlobe posts in normally shorter than is needed to pass through a nostril piercing. The backs are next to impossible to get on and since the backs can slide they will tend to either fall off or tighten. Wearing the post without a back will greatly increase the chances of jewelry loss and completely losing the piercing.

Sliver and Sliver Poisoning:

Argyria or Silver Poisoning is caused by contact with the chemical components of sliver or silver dust. This exposure is at a much higher risk in areas where there is a mucous membrane like the nose. Prolonged contact with silver jewelry in a nostril piercing can cause localized Argyria which is a purple grey darkening or tattooing of the piercing area and the area around the piercing. This is why you should never wear silver jewelry, especially in areas of the body that are mucous membranes like Nose, Mouth, nipples, and genitals.


For years I have been doing the piercing by placing a small cork inside the nostril to support the tissue, though with piercees where I felt the cork would distort the tissue, I will use either a needle receiving tube or support the tissue by setting a set of closed Pennington forceps on the inside of the nostril. Though depending on the piercee anatomy, I will do the piercing completely freehand taking care to avoid the tissue inside the nostril.  Since there is a vast difference in anatomy, sometimes it will be a combination of all three. The piercing should be done into the nostril to ensure the correct placement. The piercing should never be clamped with forceps because it will change the angle of the piercing that may cause problems during healing. 

The piercing should be angled to the tissue through I was taught to do the piercing at more of a downward angle when it is pierced with a nostril screw than with a ring. The idea is that the nostril screw will fit more flat to the inside of the nose while a ring needs to hang straight. Experience has taught me that the anatomy dictates the angle. Nostril screw should be bent to fit the anatomy when they are resized once the healing is done.

Piercing with Barbells and labret studs are a great deal more complicated than a normal piercing. This is mainly because of how the jewelry closes. Since it will be near impossible to screw on a threaded end inside a nostril or even insert a threadless end, the piercing is either done inside to out, usually with forceps or a taper pin. As I stated before I do not suggest clamping the piercing. The taper method is a technique that is tried and true of using a taper pin to push the needle out and then the end of the taper is inserted inside an internally threaded post or threadless post and then the jewelry is inserted from the inside of the nostril. The added step increases the risks to complications and will lengthen the time the piercing will take. Also, there might be additional bleeding and there is an increased likelihood of the jewelry being lost during insertion. If you are wanting a stud style jewelry, the nostril screw is a better option for piercing with. Once the piercing is healed, you can replace the jewelry with a barbell or labret if you wish.

The piercing is usually very quick, especially with a nostril screw since there are no balls to insert or thread. Most would say that the pain on a scale of 1- 10 between a 1 and a 4. It is not uncommon for the piercing to bleed, especially on the inside and for the eyes to water. 

Hassles and Aftercare:

Nostril piercings are prone to redness and swelling. In most cases, this will fade after a few days and usually looks much worse than it is. If the piercing was done with a nostril piercing, extra precautions to avoid contact with jewelry should be taken. To avoid catching the jewelry, avoid the area when your a washing your face, drying off after showering and changing clothing. The jewelry if caught just right can flip out, not only is it very difficult and sometimes painful to get the jewelry in, this usually happens in areas where retrieving the jewelry will not be easy like right over the bathroom sink.

Basic aftercare will involve hot soaks or compresses with warm water and sea salt twice a day and cleaning the piercing in the shower twice daily. Healing time ranges between 8 to 20 Weeks. Also, you will need to take steps to reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination. For more details go to Basic Aftercare Instructions. Due to the location of the piercing, you need to take precautions to avoid the piercing coming in contact with cosmetic and hair products. Since sweat tends to collect in the area, it is a good idea to clean the piercing after strenuous activity, especially if you use hair products. 

It is important to avoid stress and abuse to the piercing during healing and after. Which side you naturally sleep on should be considered before getting the piercing. Sleeping on the piercing especially during the piercing can cause migration and other problems. If you are a stomach sleeper try sleeping with the pillow push to the side that isn't pierced. Also, avoid clothing and sports safety equipment like helmets and masks that are tight in the piercing area. If you are required to wearing safety equipment for a job or sport that is tight fitting in the area, you may want to consider a different piercing. 

If you or your barber or hairdresser is using spray bottles on your hair, make sure they cover the piercing with a clean paper towel. There are two concerns. The first is that the chemicals and other items in hair products will get into the open wound and cause a reaction. The second is that you will introduce a foreign pathogen into the piercing. So even if it is just tap water, cover the piercing. 

Cosmetic, especially powder based foundations and other foundations should be avoided in the area until the piercing is completely healed. The biggest risks are that the cosmetic will get into the piercing or block the piercing hole and not allow it to discharge properly.  The same goes for sunblock. Also, avoid contact with glasses and keep them clean.

Risks & Concerns:

Since the piercing is on the face, there is a concern about permanently scarring. If the piercing is healed correctly there will be a small indented scar but if the piercing encounters problems during or become infected it can cause additional scarring. With post jewelry with small ends, there is a risk that the end can be pulled into the piercing when the piercing swells. If this happens, contact your piercer because the jewelry may need to be changed or adjusted. Taping a small piece of Micropore paper tape can help to keep the jewelry from becoming impacted but you should still see your piercer.

Nostrils are sometimes prone to glandular cyst and Hypertrophic Scarring. Often problems are caused by improper aftercare like abuse to the piercing, changing the jewelry before healing is completed, wearing cosmetics on or around the piercing, etc... However, sometimes you do everything right and you still have problems that may require medical assistance. If the piercing doesn't look right SEE YOUR PIERCER!!!