Here’s What It’s Really Like To Get A Nipple Piercing

Despite the pain, I was (and remain) obsessed.

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Nipples are having quite the year. From Kim Kardashian’s faux nipple bra at Skims to the street style set rarely attending parties sans a sheer top, it seems like the days of disguising your nips under pasties and lingerie have come and gone — at least until the next trend cycle. Given that baring it all for friends, strangers, and photographers is fairly par for the course these days, it only seems fitting that nipple piercings have reentered the chat, with celebrities like Rihanna, Bella Hadid, Keke Palmer, Rooney Mara, Miley Cyrus, and dozens more all adding an extra dash of sparkle to their chest-baring ensembles.

Body jewelry already has a certain rebellious quality, but the IYKYK quality of nipple piercings makes them feel especially taboo. “It feels almost subversive to get pierced in a place that only the person who has the piercing is allowing people to see,” says Adrian Castillo, a professional piercer at 108 LA and 108 BK, who sees clients requesting nipple piercings about 5 to 10 times per month. The body adornment also fits in perfectly with the 2010s indie sleaze revival spotted all over the Spring 2024 shows. “I think the popularity of nipple piercings ebbs and flows depending on how culture is feeling at any given moment,” explains Castillo. “I feel we are in a rebellious era, and people [are] wanting to go against the status quo.”

Personally, I’m no stranger to body piercings — I have my septum and belly button pierced, along with 15 others around my ear lobes and cartilage — and I’ve always been curious to dip a toe (err, breast?) into this particular style. So, a few months ago, I set out for Castillo’s Brooklyn studio eager, and slightly apprehensive, to see what all the nipple piercing fuss is about in 2023.

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How to Prepare for a Nipple Piercing

The process of getting pierced starts well before you enter the shop. Although it might be tempting to indulge in a little liquid courage, Castillo recommends skipping the booze and instead prioritizing getting a good night’s sleep prior to your appointment. “Definitely [do not be] hungover,” he says, since alcohol can thin your blood and make you more susceptible to bleeding and bruising when you’re getting pierced. I’d also suggest eating a good meal beforehand, especially if you’re a fainter, even though you’ll be laying down when the needle hits your skin. Oh, and don’t forget to shower — your piercer will appreciate it.

Choosing Your Piercing Jewelry

The days of exclusively stainless steel or titanium piercing jewelry are luckily behind us (unless that’s your vibe!) so you’ll have a few different color options to browse for your nipple piercing. Most studios, 108.BK included, have yellow and rose gold jewelry, and your piercer can help you decide which color and style — a bar or ring — is best for your anatomy and skin tone. You’ll also likely need to pierce with a bar and then switch to a ring once it’s healed.

After measuring me for the placement — remember, everyone’s nipple anatomy is different — and chatting about my gold preferences, Castillo recommended a titanium bar that was slightly longer to allow for the jewelry to move while it heals (this helps to keep the piercing clean and free from infection) with two yellow gold barbells that screw on at either end. The majority of my other jewelry is also yellow gold, so this choice felt like it fit in seamlessly with my established curation of piercings. “People will usually upgrade to fancy gold pieces with chains and decorative ends once they're fully healed,” says Cassi Lopez, piercer and founder of So Gold Studios in Brooklyn, who often does custom nipple jewelry at her shop.

Does a Nipple Piercing Hurt?

I won’t sugarcoat it — yes, this piercing hurts. A few friends had already told me that it was one of their more painful piercings so I went in knowing that I needed to be calm, cool, and collected. I might have had to give myself a pep talk on the way over to the studio, and I’m not the only one. “I do find that nipple piercings are the ones that people will cancel or no show on the most,” says Lopez.

Still, you’re sticking a piece of metal through your nipple, which is quite sensitive on its own, so if it didn’t hurt at all, that would be miraculous. Overall, I’d rate it as the third most painful of my piercings — my nostril and my rook (the cartilage in the upper ridge of your middle ear) are number one and two — but it’s fairly manageable if you’re in the right mindset.

What Happens During a Nipple Piercing?

Once he cleaned the area and I laid down on the table, Castillo recommended I hold my t-shirt above my head in case I needed to squeeze something during the piercing (spoiler alert: I very much did). He told me to take a deep breath in, and when I let out the air, he maneuvered the needle through the base of my right nipple. The whole ordeal was over in about 20 seconds from the initial needle stick to the placement of the jewelry. I remained lying down for a few more seconds to allow my breathing to normalize and to make sure I didn’t feel lightheaded, then sauntered over to the mirror to check out my new piercing. Despite the pain, I was (and remain) obsessed!

How Do You Heal from a Nipple Piercing?

After I got home, I took Castillo’s advice and popped two ibuprofen to help minimize swelling and ease the lingering pain, which felt more like a dull ache by that point. I also took care to avoid sleeping face down or wearing tight clothing or bras since putting even the slightest amount of pressure on my nipple prompted a sharp, painful zap. This sensitivity continued for about three weeks, but lessened every day so long as I didn’t bump the jewelry. I highly recommend paying close attention when you shower as well, especially if you use a loofah. You do not want to catch the piercing on the mesh and pull, trust me.

“The healing process is much like the healing process of any standard ear piercing,” says Castillo. “There will be some blood, some inflammation, all within the first week or two, but for the most part after those first few weeks you will definitely forget that it’s there.”

To keep the piercing clean, I decided to make my own DIY saline rinse, instead of buying something premade. I mixed warm water and salt in a small shallow cup, slightly wider than a shot glass, and dipped the piercing into it for about ten seconds. After the first three weeks, I simply rinsed the area with unscented soap while I showered. Otherwise, the healing process has been fairly straightforward. As Lopez says, “The best thing you can do to speed up healing is to keep the [piercing] clean and dry and maintain your overall health.”

Can You Pierce an Inverted Nipple?

I actually had inverted nipples before this piercing, and I had explored the possibility of getting them pierced prior to my corrective surgery earlier this year. “Inverted nipple piercings are always a toss-up,” says Castillo, who has successfully pierced many throughout his career. “In my initial assessment I’m honest about my ability to try and make it work. If your body just wants the nipple to be inverted then it’s really hard to change that with just a piercing.”

Some nipples, like those with a grade 2 or grade 3 inversion, are already difficult to extract manually, and therefore might not be a good candidate for a piercing. You don’t want them to reject the jewelry and become infected. If you want to explore a piercing, talk with your doctor and a skilled piercer who has experience with inverted nipples to confirm if it’s a good choice for you. For myself, the jewelry can also help prevent nipple reinversion post-surgery, which is a welcome bonus.

How Much Does a Nipple Piercing Cost?

Like any piercing, the price of the service depends on your location, both geographically and the particular shop that you visit, in addition to the cost of the jewelry itself. At 108.BK, a nipple barbell will run you between $250-$350 depending on the type of metal you choose, as well as the fee for the piercing, which is usually $60, plus tip. If you’re willing to pierce your skin with a foreign object, I’m a big proponent that cost should not be the driving factor behind your choice of piercer. Instead, find a welcoming shop with a skilled piercer that you vibe with, rather than the cheapest option.

How Do You Choose A Piercer?

Piercings remain wildly popular, which means that there are many options to find a safe, high-quality experience, especially in larger cities. However, that does not always mean that walking into a shop off the street with zero research is a wise idea.

“[When] getting pierced, whether it’s your ears, nose, or your nipples, go to someone who you trust and who makes you feel safe and comfortable,” says Castillo, who has also pierced my ears multiple times over the last five years. “The best reviewed piercers can be the most stale transactional experience, [so] be present with the feeling you get when you’re with your piercer.” Obviously, this is a more intimate experience than piercing your earlobe — news flash: you are going to be topless for at least ten minutes — so ask for suggestions from your community, check online reviews, and schedule a consultation to ensure that your piercer is the right fit for you.

Overall, I’m thrilled with my piercing and I’m happy to report that it’s healed faster than many of my ear piercings, likely because it’s not getting knocked around during blowouts or haircuts. I still avoid wearing super tight sports bras, but that’s more of a personal preference anyway, and I love the way you can just see a hint of the jewelry through a t-shirt. Now I just need to work up the courage to channel my inner Bella Hadid and go out dancing in my best mesh top, gold nipple barbell on full display. Sounds like a promising New Year’s resolution to me.