Navel Piercing Beaten to Death
In this addition to my Blog series Beating Each Piercing to Death, I will be focusing on the Navel piercings. I choose to do this in September because this is the best time of the year to get the piercing. Every spring there is a huge increase in demand for Navel piercings. Mainly because people began to think and hope for summer and what better way to celebrate summer than to show off a piece of jewelry in your Navel. Whether at the beach, the pool or on a sunny day it's that prefect accent. However, Navels have a long healing period due to the location, length of the piercing and blood flow. In some cases a Navel piercing can take up to a year but for most it's at least a six month healing time. That means no beach and no swimming for at least six months. Making September the prefect time to get the piercing and have it healed in time for next summer.
In the twenty plus years that I've been piercing, the navel has got to be the piercing that I've done that most. When I started in May of 1994, I would guess that at least 8 out of the total piercings I did were navel piercings. It was the piercing that took Body Piercing into the main stream and launched a thousand piercers. Over the years it has declined in popularity but still is often the first piercing people get. Since there is always a large amount of them done on often inexperienced piercees, they have a long history of often being prone to problems and hard to heal. However with the right anatomy, jewelry and placement, the piercing can be an easy heal.
History and Background:
Though it is commonly believed that navel piercing dates back to the Egyptians Pharaohs who would wear a gem in their navel, there is no documentation to the fact. It maybe be more than another Urban Legend created by Doug Malloy. It's claimed that it was a sign of manliness and courage and the Egyptians believed that the navel piercing represented the transformation for life on Earth to eternal life in the beyond.
Though the piercing had been around since the 1970s but it would take a few changes in mainstream culture to bring it into the mainstream. In part this was do to the fact that it was considered sexual and taboo to show the mid drift. This is why the bikini was so risky when it was introduced in the 1950s and why showing a navel was banned from TV and Movies until the late 1960s. Also the navel was considered to be below the waste on men until the mid 60s and for the most part until low riders became popular in the 90s, on women too. During the 1980s mainstream culture and fashion began to expose the midriff and the waist bands of women's pants began to lower.
Two events would expose the general public to Navel piercing and bring not only the piercing but Body Piercing into the mainstream. The first would be fashion model Christy Turlington displaying her piercing at a London Fashion show and maybe creating even a larger impact was the Aerosmith video for Cryin' that featured Alicia Silverstone getting the piercing. When I began piercing I couldn't even count the number of times when clients referenced the video of two teenage girls running wild and getting their navel pierced. It also insured that the piercing would become an almost exclusive female piercing.
Migration, Anatomy, Marking and Placement:
Navels like people come all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Some will heal well with no problem while others can't be pierced or due to the person's anatomy can not be pierced. When deciding if the anatomy is suitable to be pierced build of the piercee and the shape of the navel needs to be considered. Risks or possible issues that might be caused by your anatomy should be discussed before hand and should effect what jewelry is suggested.
The key to whether a navel is going to be a good candidate to piercing is if there is a ridge with loose tissue. This can be determined by putting the index finger in the navel and then pinching the tissue with the thumb. There should be a thinner lobe like area or fold that can be pulled from the body. When we mark location of the piercing we will place our index and middle fingers on each side of the navel and pull down. This will cause the tissue to form an upside down "V" which dictates the loose tissue that can be pierced. If the tissue is not loose or there isn't enough of it, this can increase the risks to migration and rejection. Also the navel will need to be large enough to comfortably fit the jewelry in.
Marking is done while the piercee is standing or fully reclined. As mentioned above the tissue is pulled down to determine the length of the loose tissue or fold. I will usually make a small dot and then release the tissue so that it is in a natural state. Then I will draw a straight line leading down to the start of the navel or center of the fold. Then I will trace a line across the crest of the fold. Depending on whether the client has stated that they are going to wear only curved barbells or ring style jewelry will dictate how deep the piercing will go into the navel and where I mark the bottom hole. Often I will hold up the jewelry to insure a proper fit and to visualize how the jewelry will set in the piercing. Sometimes regardless of the jewelry chosen or preferred, the placement will require that the piercing is deeper into the navel. Anatomy may also require that the piercing be slightly off center or at an angle and should be discussed before the piercing is done.
Outies and Abdominoplasty:
Navels that are considered "Outies" often can not be pierced because they add pressure to the tissue and there is no room for the jewelry. The outie is a scar like remnant of the umbilical cord. Though I've had a number of requests to piercing the button of tissue, I've always refused because of the fact that it could be connected to the abdomen and internal organs. Thus making the risks that might present themselves with an infection too high to risk. When accessing a outie or partial outie, I will first do the piecing test to insure that there is enough loose tissue or a pronounced fold that can be pierced.
Abdominoplasty or tummy tucks can greatly effect whether the piercing will heal and greatly increase the likelihood of the piercing rejecting. This is mainly do to the reconstruction of the navel, lack of blood flow and the tightness of the tissue. Often there is so little loose tissue that the piercing can not be done at all. I have done a number of them in the past with mixed results. The key seems to be waiting as long as possible till after the procedure and giving the tissue time to loosen and become more natural. Even there you should consider the risks before getting the piercing and consult your piercer on the added risks including migration, rejection and infection.
Bottom Navel Piercings and Angled Groupings:
Like any piercing it comes down to anatomy and often the folded loose tissue does not exist on the bottom of the navel. The main issue this creates is that it turns the piercing more toward that of a surface to surface piercing. Meaning that it a great deal more prone to problems including complete rejection of the piercing. The other issue is that location is more prone to contact with pants and stress and abuses than the top of the navel. The best candidates are a navels that have the same structure on the top and bottom and are deep enough and large enough to have room for the jewelry.
Groupings of navel piercings can be done, it all depends on the shape, size and structure of the navel. Whether it's top and bottom or angled piercing if the structure and space are there, additional piercings can be done. However, like any grouping you should discuss and plan out the placement of all the piercings before getting the first more done. Sitting down with your piercer and planning out the placement of all that you are wishing to get done is a great deal easier than trying to squeeze in additional piercings later. Also often the sides of the navel are not formed enough to be pierced and just the angle and how the jewelry will lay will cause migration and rejection.
Jewelry Size and Types:
With Navel piercings often build and the navel's the shape and size will so greatly vary that rings are often the hands down best choice. That doesn't mean that I'm unwilling to piercing with curved barbells but my experienced has taught me that more often than not, rings are the best choice. For more information on the debate of Barbells Vs Rings to to my blog on the subject.
There are two issues that should be considered before choosing jewelry size and type:
- The first is the shape of the navel and how the jewelry will hang in the piercing. If the navel is shallow a barbell may work better but if the navel is deep or small in size a ring maybe a much better choice. The length of the jewelry should be long enough to fit loosely in the piercing. How large the jewelry will needs to be depends on the style of jewelry:
- Rings or circular jewelry: The jewelry should be at least an eighth of an inch larger than the width of the piercing. This should allow about 2/3 of the jewelry to be outside of the piercing. This will allow a piercing to healing in a 1/3 of a circle arch which will allow the piercing to fit comfortably into the anatomy of the navel. Jewelry that is too tight can lead to migration, rejection and scarring.
- Curved Barbell: Though the jewelry is designed to be a prefect 1/3 of a circle there should be at least 1/6 of an inch longer than the piercing to allow for swelling, easy cleaning and to allow the piecing to discharge easily.
- The second consideration is the thickness or gauge of the jewelry itself. The thickness can add the advantage of increasing the resistance against the body migrating or rejecting the piercing or the piercing being ripped or torn if the jewelry is caught on something. However, thicker jewelry will add weight to the piercing which can also increase the risks of problems. I would suggest nothing thinner than 14g and nothing thicker than 12g. Both are thick enough to give us the resistance we need without the weight that may cause issues.
- 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, depending on anatomy, I have found that a ring is the best option. It is not only lighter than Threaded jewelry, is more secure than threaded jewelry(no worrying about balls coming unscrewed) and is more forgiving if there is swelling and endless room for discharge to collect.
- Curved Barbells - A curved post that is about a third of a circle with threaded ball or end on each side. Another option is the threadless or pressure ends. With piercing the best option is the most simple design available either with matching or unmatching ball sizes. The most common would be the curved barbells with a small gem on the top and a larger ball with a gem on the side. I can't express enough to avoid ends that are large, shape, have sharp edges or anything that hangs off the jewelry. Even after the piercing has healed "Novelty" style curved barbells can cause a nicely healed navel piercing to have issues and should only be worn for short periods or not at all. Since navel piercings are popular there is a great deal of "novelty" low end jewelry that has flooded the market over the last 20 years or so, A majority is made in Asia with uncertified materials and substandard materials. The following should be avoided:
- Large gem settings or other large objects. First off you should consider if it will fit inside your navel at all. A large object that doesn't fit inside your navel will cause outward pressure on the piercing causing it to migrate, reject or have other problems. It doesn't matter if the piercing is fresh or well healed.
- Shaped charms or settings - Since Implant Grade Steel and Titanium can be very difficult and expensive to mold into shaped objects and polish. So even if the packaging states that the jewelry is made of a body friendly material, they are only talking about the post. These settings and charms are often made of substandard materials and then attached to the post. It is common to find the charms and settings are made of Chrome Plated Plastic, Pot Metal, Silver, Pewter, Bronze, Copper, Cadmium, Chromium and Tin. Some of these materials are toxic and others can lead to reactions, infections or other problems. Understand there are better manufactures like Anatometal that do make shaped objects and settings in Titanium, Implant Grade Steet and Gold but you are not going to find them at the department store or the "Alternative" shop at the mall. Also the price will be higher to reflex the skill and craftsmanship that went into manufacturing the jewelry.
- Dangling Charms - Often the chain and charms are made of substandard or materials that are not body friendly but the real issue is that they act like a boat anchor. Dangles as they are often called will catch on just about everything they come in contact with increasing the risks of damaging the piercing. I have only seen two cases where a navel piecing has been ripped out of the body and in both cases the jewelry had a dangle on it.
- Circular Barbells - A circular shaped horseshoe with two threaded ends. Can be used during healing and after the piercing is healed with one main concern, weight. Since the ends add additional weight to the jewelry it can increase the risks of migration. Has the advantages and disadvantages of a Captive Bead Ring but with the insecurity of threaded ends.
For more detailed information on what Jewelry to buy go to my blog Post Healing Jewelry Guide
I always do the piercing with forceps. Do not be sold this idea that a freehand piercing is going to be less painful. The reality is that the forceps are needed to pull the tissue away from the body, support the tissue and insure the angle of the piercing is correct. This is a huge factor with navel piercings because the tissue will need to be pulled from the body and folded to get a straight piercing. With freehand there is a greater risk of the piercing being angled wrong with the piercing deeper on one side than the other or the piercing being crooked. In fact because the forceps flatten out the tissue giving the needle a shorter distance to travel, the piercing is faster and less painful. The forceps should be tight but not painfully tight.
- Consultation and paper work
- Disinfecting the piercing area with a surgical scrub
- Marking the piercing while the piercee is standing at attention
- Reclining the piercee and attaching the forceps
- Lining up the needle and having the piercee do a deep breathing exercise.
- Injecting the piercing needle through the piercing area
- Removing the forceps, inserting the jewelry and closing the jewelry
- Stopping any bleeding and cleaning up the piercing area.
Hassles and Aftercare:
Navel piercings are prone to bleeding, redness and swelling. In most cases this will fade after a few days and usually looks much worst than it is and often these after effects will be slight and completely unnoticeable. The piercing will however be tender to the touch and can throb off and on right after the piercing is done.
Basic aftercare will involve hot soaks with warm water and sea salt twice a day and cleaning the piercing in the shower twice daily. 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 abuse including heavy or tight fitting clothing(especially pants or clothing that has a waistband that is against the navel), laying items against your stomach and sleeping on the piercing. Everyone reacts difference and of course is shaped different so experiment with different clothing to find what is comfortable for you. Since sweat tends to collect in the area, it is a good idea to clean the piercing after strenuous activity. When lifting heavy objects avoid using your stomach to support the object. If you are wearing panty hose or other clothing that is tight or covers the piercing, either roll them down below the piercing, cut out a whole for the piercing or wear a hard plastic vented eye patch over the piercing. This can also be helpful during sporting activities to avoid trauma to the piercing.
It is important to avoid stress and abuse to the piercing during healing and after. Mainly avoid sleeping on your stomach and try to sleep on your side or back. If you must sleep on that stomach try to elevate the piercing off the bed using a donut shaped pillow, rolled up nest shaped towel or a pillow under your chest. Also avoid clothing and sport safety equipment like chest protectors and other heavy items 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.
One of the biggest issues with healing is the length of time it takes the piercing to heal. On average a navel piercing will take six months to a year to finish the healing stage when it is no longer an open wound. This will require that you develop habits to reduce the risks of infection and abuse early on. Understand that it will not be in pain the whole healing time but navels are prone to going through periods of "grumpiness" and tightening and loosening. They will be tender and off limits to your sexual partner and this maybe something that you want to discuss with them before getting the piercing. Contact with a healing navel piercing of any kind can lead to infection or other problems. It doesn't matter if they are tender or not.
Pregnancy can impact a number of different piercing slightly but the impact on the location of the piercing is far greater. The rate in and the degree of growth in the area that happens can cause problems including migration, rejection and other problems even in a well healed piercing. Also since the are goes through a great deal of change the piercing that looked prefect will often be off center or look misplaced afterward and need to be re-pierced.
Everyone is different and I've had clients that have worn the piercing without issue through pregnancy without an issue. In fact, the piercing looked as good as the day it healed. However, often that isn't the case. There are a number of products that have come out in the last few years like flexible Bio-Plastic that isn't ridged and may reduce complications but the reality is that the changes in the body that pregnancy brings will require that the piercing be abandoned and redone. Also if you are having a hospital birth they are likely going to demand that you remove the jewelry for the birth.
What I've found is best is to take a wait and see approach and monitor how the piercing is reacting to the pregnancy. Then at the first sign of an issue, removing the jewelry and abandoning the piercing. The main reason is that the last thing you want to happen is the piercing to become infected or have other issues that may cause additional strain on the mother's body or put the baby at risk.
Navel piercings are one of the least painful piercings I do. Often clients will mention that all they felt was slight pressure. However, we are all wired differently and all have different pain experiences. Some people are just simply more sensitive in the area or the tissue is tougher which causes more resistance to the needle and more pain. I can tell you that often pinching the area hurts more than piercing the area.
Risks & Concerns:
As with any piercing the greatest risk is infection. This is increased with the fact that often navel piercings take a long time to heal and thus there is a higher risk to exposure of pathogens. This will mean a commitment to aftercare including 20 minutes a day of hot soaks, cleaning in the shower twice daily, controlling contact with and cleaning your environment around, good hygiene and developing habits to reduce abuse and cross contamination. Don't fool yourself it can be a commitment and a little life changing. Know your facts before hand and take steps to insure your piercing heals without infection or other problems.
Due to the location of the piercing and if you are sexually active, changing positions and activities may needed to be taken to avoid contact between the piercing and your partner. Make sure that they are aware of the piercing and understand that no part of their body can come in contact with the piercing. Also no bodily fluids from your partner should come in contact with the piercing and this does include sweat. It's never a bad idea to clean the piercing after sexual activity.
When I first started piercing a major cause of the issues and problems I saw with navel piercings could be traced back to clothing. Mainly because the jean style at the time was still those with a waste that was in contact with the navel. In the last year or so high wasted jeans have been making a come back, so I have added the waistband location back into my consultation and aftercare instruction. Never ever wear any clothing that is in tight contact with your navel piercing until it is completely healed. Even after the piecing is healed, you should limit contact. Panty hose or tights that are worn over the piercing should also be avoided. Oxygen is important in the healing and since panty hose and tights are usually not made of breathable materials wearing them not only can abuse the piercing but may also prolong healing. Consider rolling them down below the navel, cutting out a hole around the piercing or wearing a vented plastic eye patch over the piercing. In fact, If you are involved in any activity like sports where there maybe be contact, trauma or abuse to the piercing, protecting it with a plastic eye patch is a good form of prevention.
Migration and rejection area always a concern with navel piercings. Especially those with a larger build, pregnant, have had a tummy tuck or are externally thin. You should always discuss the risks of migration and rejection with your piercer before hand. This is not only to know the risks but to make an educated decision on jewelry style and size or whether getting the piercing is worth the risk. Usually rejection is slow and frustrating, let's face it no one like abandoning a piercing but if you are at a high risk for rejection, you should be prepared to remove the jewelry if there is a risk of the body completely rejecting the piercing. Not removing the jewelry will cause splinting of the tissue and often will result the nipple appearing to be split in half.
Pregnancy is also a concern. If you are woman who is considering starting a family, you may want to delay getting the piercing or at the least discuss how your piercing will be effected by the changes your body will go through. Of course pregnancy is an issue as I mentioned above but also the female body goes through a number of changes during pregnancy and this could effect how will the piercing heals and even cause a change or rejection of a well healed piercing. I strongly advise waiting if you are planning on getting pregnant in the next year. The strain of pregnancy combined with the stress of healing a piercing is asking for problems and depending on where the birth takes place and the medical personal involved they may require that you remove the jewelry during the birth.
Another concern is your work and play. If your work involves a lot of lifting you may have add discomfort in the abdomen with a newly pierced navel. Employment that involves contact with the stomach can cause stress, abuse and discomfort. Also, if you are involved with sports or other physical activity that will involve contact or stress on the area can prolong healing or at the least discomfort during healing.