Glossary Of Body Piercing Terms
bookmark this page

A Glossary of Body Piercing Terms and Definitions – Plugging the Holes of Knowledge

Body piercing is becoming more and more popular these days and there are dozens of different types of piercings you can get. There are also lots technical terms for the how’s and why’s of the procedures and taking care of them afterwards.

When you walk into a piercing parlor to get a new piercing, whether it’s your first or your fiftieth, you may hear some words you haven’t heard before. Once you’re in that chair and about to have a hole put in your face or some other body part, you may be too intimidated or swept away by the adrenaline of the moment to stop and ask “What the heck are you talking about?” But you should always know exactly what’s going on, so take a look at the terms below and you’ll know what’s going on every step of the way and be prepared to ask intelligent questions.

  • Alcohol Swab
    A small cloth or cotton ball swab saturated in isopropyl rubbing alcohol that used to be used to clean the area of skin before a piercing. This is no longer done because of its limited effectiveness in getting rid of enough bacteria and the tendency to overly dry the skin. Don’t use these to prep the area for piercing.
  • Alloy
    A metal that is comprised of a mixture of at least two different types of metals. For instance, 18K gold is only 75% pure gold, but is preferred because pure gold is too soft to be used for most jewelry.
  • Anaphylactic Shock
    An extreme allergic reaction, usually to an antibiotic given to treat an infection or other disease. In rare cases, if a piercing becomes infected and penicillin or some other antibiotic is given to an individual that is allergic to it, they may suffer the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, which include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, mouth and tongue, rapid pulse, collapse, and even death. It can be treated with immediate medical attention.
  • Anti-tragus
    The ridge of cartilage that is opposite the tragus, which comes out over the ear canal.
  • APP
    The most prominent trade organization for professional body piercers, the Association of Professional Piercers. This non-profit group has very high standards and works on legislation to enforce health and safety standards in the industry. Their website is
  • Argyria
    If silver jewelry is used for a piercing, the skin around the area will often turn black as silver is leached into the wound. This condition is called Argyria, and is one reason why you should never use silver jewelry until a piercing is completely healed.
  • Attachments
    Any type of dangle, add-on or trim that can be attached to a barbell or ring to enhance the look of the primary body jewelry. Some attachments may be stationary while others may swing or move.
  • Autoclave
    A high temperature, medical sterilization device that uses high pressure steam heat to sterilize all tools and piercing equipment before being used.
  • BME
    The most knowledgeable online ezine to all things related to body modification, including piercing and tattooing. The focus tends to be on the more extreme side of body modification.
  • Barbell
    Standard piercing jewelry with a rod that goes through the piercing and a ball at either end to hold the bar in place.
  • Belly Button Ring
    Also called a navel ring, this is a piercing, usually a curved barbell, that goes through the flesh at the top of the belly button and comes out the actual belly button opening.
  • Body Modification
    Refers to any kind of procedure that deliberately changes or enhances the body for aesthetic or personal reasons, but especially certain forms of body art such as piercing, stretching, scarification and tattooing.
  • Bridge Piercing
    A rare piercing horizontally through the bridge of the nose. This is difficult and can be painful due to the thickness of the area.
  • Calipers
    A measuring device used to accurately determine where to place piercings on the body and to determine the size and gauge of jewelry needed for tongue piercings. It can be used to measure distances and thicknesses.
  • Cannula
    A narrow plastic sleeve around the outside of a piercing needle. When piercing, the sleeve stays in place after the needle is withdrawn and is then used as a guide in order to put the jewelry into place before being removed.
  • Captive bead ring
    A popular style of ring that holds a bead in place tightly by clamping it between the two bent ends. The bead can only be removed by opening the ring with special pliers.
  • Cartilage
    Tough, rubbery tissue that gives shape to areas such as the nose and ears. It is more pliable than bone but thicker and stronger than skin tissue. It does not have much blood supply, so it takes longer to heal when pierced.
  • Chloroxylenol
    An antiseptic solution that is very effective in piercing aftercare because it fights bacteria, yeasts and fungi. It is available in products such as Provon® medicated lotion soap.
  • Chondritis
    A bacterial infection of the cartilage. If you suspect that you have this, see a doctor, as it is very difficult to treat.
  • Circular barbell
    Also called a horseshoe ring, this is curved barbell that makes an incomplete circle with a small gap and balls at either end.
  • Clamp
    A medical clamp with tong-like ends used to hold either skin or other instruments during piercing procedures. It helps stabilize the area for accurate piercing.
  • Claw
    A curved, tapered piece that comes to a point on one end that resembles an animal’s claw and used as a piercing accessory, often in the lobes. Usually made of glass, metal or bone.
  • Conch
    The shell-shaped area tucked into the center region of the ear.
  • Curved barbell
    A barbell that is slightly curved, but not as much as a circular. It is usually used for eyebrow or belly button piercings. Some people call this a bent barbell or bananabell.
  • Daith
    The part of the ear that broadens out slightly extending down from the upper curve of the outer ear.
  • Emla®
    A brand name for a product that contains lidocaine, a numbing agent that will prevent or reduce pain if applied prior to having a piercing done.
  • Expander
    A plug that is slightly wider at one end to be used to stretch or enlarge a piercing.
  • Eyelet
    A hollow tube or cylinder that is put into a punched or stretched piercing.
  • Fistula
    A medical term referring to any opening or break in the skin that is lined throughout its length with skin. Any time a piercing has fully healed, it has formed a fistula.
  • Gauge
    A measurement used to indicate the size of a barbell or other piece of body jewelry. The larger the opening, the smaller the gauge (traditional pierced earrings are an 18 gauge, a belly button piercing is usually around a 14 gauge, but ear plugs can be larger, up to a 6 gauge or more).
  • Helix
    The outer ring of cartilage of the ear, often the site of multiple piercings that are ‘stacked’ along this rim.
  • Keloid
    Scar tissue built up around a piercing, usually thickened and darkened. Keloids should be treated by a doctor and may have to be removed surgically.
  • Labret
    Either a piercing of the center, lower lip or the jewelry that goes there. When referring to the jewelry itself, the labret is a barbell with a ball or decorative piece on one end and a flattened piece on the other so that it fits comfortably between the inside of the lip and the lower gum line.
  • Monroe piercing
    A labret piercing on the side of the upper lip that resembles a birthmark such as Marilyn Monroe’s. Also sometimes referred to as a Madonna piercing.
  • Mastitis
    A painful inflammation of the breast tissue usually caused by a bacterial infection. It is sometimes caused by a nipple piercing that has been improperly cared for.
  • Migration
    The movement or shifting of body jewelry away from its original placement. In severe cases, the jewelry may push its way right out of the skin. The slower the healing, the faster the migration. Belly button rings often migrate, while ear lobe piercings rarely do.
  • Nipple Rings
    Usually straight or curved barbells going through the flesh of the back of the nipple on a man or a woman.
  • Nipple Shields
    Round or elaborately shaped decorative plates that go around the nipple behind and piercing. It is held in place by the nipple ring that goes through it.
  • Nose Ring
    A ring for a side nostril piercing that is usually a fine gauge captive bead ring.
  • Nose Stud
    A straight or curved bar with only one ball on the outer end that is to be inserted into a side nostril piercing.
  • O-Ring
    A thin, rubber ring that fits snugly on the end of a plug to keep it in place in your piercing.
  • Oral piercings
    Any piercings that have to do with the mouth, including tongue, lip, cheek and labret piercings.
  • Parking
    The tendency for some piercings to shift slightly to one side or the other, such as in a navel piercing, because it is more comfortable.
  • Piercing Gun
    A spring-loaded device used to shoot a piercing stud through soft tissue for piercing. Usually this is used only to pierce the ear lobes for standard earrings, and should not be used for other body piercings because it is not accurate and cannot be sterilized properly. Members of the Association of Professional Piercers will not use a piercing gun for any type of piercing.
  • Piercing Needle
    A fine, hollow needle specifically used to pierce a small, clean hole in the flesh to allow jewelry to be passed through. This leaves a smoother, cleaner opening than a piercing gun and reduces the risk of infection.
  • Plug
    A solid plug made from any number of materials that is placed in a stretched piercing, most commonly in an earlobe.
  • Resorption
    The dissolving of bone when a piercing has been poorly placed so that it rubs against the bone and causes it to disintegrate over time. A poorly placed labret can cause resorption of bone in the jaw line.
  • Retainer
    Piercing jewelry made of nylon or acrylic, usually clear, designed to keep a piercing open but be nearly invisible. Often worn when you wish a piercing to go unnoticed (a job interview, etc.).
  • Ring Closing Pliers
    Pliers made specifically to reduce the gap in body jewelry such as captive bead rings without damaging the jewelry. They come in various sizes to accommodate a wide range of jewelry.
  • Ring Opening Pliers
    Pliers designed for opening body jewelry like captive bead rings so that the bead can be changed or released without damaging the jewelry. These come in various sizes to accommodate a wide range of jewelry.
  • Rook
    Piercing of the anti-helix, the cartilage area of the ear directly below the upper curve of the outer ear.
  • Scaffold
    A piercing of the ear where the barbell goes through more than one area of the ear, such as through two different areas of the ear rim. Also called an industrial piercing.
  • Septum
    The cartilage structure that divides the two nasal passages of the nose. A septum piercing usually goes through the fleshy area just below the cartilage at the base of the center of this area.
  • Taper
    A rod, usually of stainless steel, that is larger at one end than the other and is used to stretch the opening of a piercing. These are available in gauges to match the size you desire to stretch your piercing to. You put the smaller end through your piercing and gradually ease the taper through until the larger end has stretched the opening to the desired gauge.
  • Tongue barbell
    Similar to a standard piercing barbell, except the ball at one end is not removable. This is the ball that is on the top of the tongue and prevents it from being swallowed accidentally. The bottom ball is fitted on securely underneath the tongue.
  • Tongue Rims
    Piercings along the outer edge of the tongue, usually done with rings.
  • Tragus
    The ridge or cartilage opposite the inner curve of the ear that protrudes over the ear canal and is attached to the front side of the face.
  • Tube or Tunnel
    Open or hollow plug for a stretched piercing so that the opening is held open and you can see through it.
  • UV Reactive Jewelry
    Body jewelry that reacts to ultraviolet light by fluorescing. Especially popular for wearing to raves and clubs.

About the Author

Lori Wilkerson is a full-time freelance writer who loves her work because it gives her the opportunity to learn more about the world every day. Right now, she knows a little bit about almost everything, and a lot about body jewelry, wholesale body jewelry, and toe rings. She has two dogs who are spoiled and one teenager who is not.

This article on the "Glossary of Body Piercing Terms and Definitions" reprinted with permission.

Copyright © 2004 Evaluseek Publishing.