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Why are Rings Harder to Heal a Piercing With?

In the early days of body piercing, a ring (round wire jewelry with a single pressure fit bead) was the most common style of jewelry. This is because the simple design was easy and inexpensive to produce.  Many of the first studios even made their own rings in-house. The downside to this is the subtle variation from ring to ring as a result of being hand-made. A modern quality ring from a manufacturer is made from an implant grade material, has a flawless mirror finish, and beads that fit without any gaps between the wire and bead. The quality of a ring made by an individual piercer will vary from piece to piece without reliable consistency. Imagine the difference there was from studio to studio in those days…
In today’s era of piercing the standard for high quality jewelry is well established and it’s more practical for studios to order from manufacturers. Today, jewelry made by computerized machines is 100% consistent. Certainly not all companies offer jewelry that is made to high quality standards, but that’s a different topic and studios purchase from whomever they choose.These days, with so many jewelry options, rings are far less common for fresh piercings. In the 1980’s and 90’s you might be told piercings might have initial healing times of 9 months, a year, or even longer. This would be for three main reasons:
  1. Rings were commonly used because of low cost and accessibility
  2. Lack of understanding of the best jewelry size for piercings
  3. Aftercare techniques weren’t as developed

Due to a few decades of trial and error, we now see much faster healing periods  We now know with much more certainty what styles and sizes of jewelry are best suited for a new piercing and modern aftercare allows the body to heal itself rather than working against it.

But what’s up with rings?  Why do they make healing harder?  This is a very easy question to answer with three considerations:

  1. They apply extra pressure to the piercing because of their curvature
  2. They move more, causing more friction
  3. They’re often too thin in gauge and too small in diameter..

A piercing needle does one thing and one thing only, it creates a perfectly straight channel through the body. Sometimes piercers use curved needles for piercings, but the piercing (channel) itself is still straight. If you in install a ring (or circular barbell) you force the straight channel to arch, compressing the tissue.  A curved barbell like those we commonly put in navel and rook piercings will do the same thing, but to less of a degree. Also, because the ring is round, it moves more than a barbell. It will swing back and forth and roll through the piercing. A barbell however will move much much less. Less friction will always be better for healing. Lastly is size. Very few clients ever walk into the studio and ask for the largest jewelry, they ask for the smallest. However, the best request is really for the most appropriate size of jewelry for healing, which is not usually the smallest. When a piercing is healed well enough, usually in about three months, there are always other jewelry options, but the healing period really requires jewelry with a specific fit.

 This is a side-view of a piercing needle. They’re available in many sizes (length and gauge) and piercers will select the one necessary for the piercing they’re about to perform.

 Only the tip of the needle is sharp. This means the needle creates an incision smaller than the overall thickness (gauge). This small portion of the needle is responsible for the shape of the wound (straight incision.)

 Let’s consider this the body part we’re about to pierce. The standard piercing goes through two separate and opposing surfaces. Think of the two lines above as the front and back surfaces of any ear piercing, top and bottom surfaces of a tongue, or left and right surfaces of a nipple.

 Here the needle is pushed through the tissue.  Remember, only the tip is sharp, so as the point of the needle slides through the tissue the remaining portion of the bevel stretches the incision to the gauge of the needle, which is necessary to get the jewelry inserted.

 This image shows the shape of the piercing (wound) without the needle or any jewelry installed. An initial piercing is a perfectly straight channel through the body.

 Sometimes we need to use a curved needle. Certain piercings might be hard to get to or be challenging to install jewelry into and curving the needle can help us get our angles right or better place our hands. Daith and Tragus piercings would be good examples of piercings we might curve a needle for.

body piercing rings When a curved needle is used, nothing else changes about the shape of the wound. 100% of the channel is created by only the tip of the needle which is never curved.

body piercing rings This image shows the shape of the wound after a round or curved piece of jewelry is installed. The wound, which is created as a straight channel is forced to arch, which stretches the tissue on one side of the curve and compresses on the other. This effect adds additional stress to the tissue that now has a new puncture wound. Don’t forget jewelry adds pressure equal to its weight, and moves with the body causing friction.  All jewelry has weight and moves. Rings however will move a lot more than the alternatives and generally weigh more too. These combined factors are the reasons why piercings with rings don’t usually heal as easy or as well as they might with barbells. Most of the time we’re happy to change jewelry styles if a piercing is healthy at the three month mark and a lot of times that’s how long it takes for us to really know if a piercing will work for long term wear. This really is the best time to wear a ring in a piercing. Speak to a piercer about the pros and cons of any jewelry option the next time you’re in the mood for a new piercing.

John Johnson
John Johnson is a professional body piercer at New Flower Studio in Long Beach, CA. He's also a Red Cross instructor and authorized OSHA trainer. He manages the online curriculum for the Association of Professional Piercers and is a member of ASTM International.