A study published today on bmj.com highlights the need for people to be aware of the possible health risks associated with body piercing.
The study, carried out by experts at the Health Protection Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, looked at the prevalence of cosmetic body piercing, excluding pierced earlobes.
It found that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of all people experience complications as a result of their piercing. Although most problems associated with piercing are usually minor and self limiting, such as swelling, infection and bleeding after the procedure, some complications are more serious. Around half of those who experience complications consider them serious enough to seek professional help, most often from pharmacists, piercers or GPs.
Serious complications that result in a hospital admission are more likely to occur with piercings performed by a 'non-specialist' than with those performed by someone at a specialist piercing or tattooing shop. Despite this, 10 per cent of people are having their piercings done by 'non-specialists' including the person themselves or by a friend or relative. This includes tongue and genital piercings.
Dr Fortune Ncube, study author from the Health Protection Agency, said:
"This is the first study to look at the prevalence of and complications arising from what has become a popular piece of body art.
"It is vital that anyone considering a piercing ensures that they go to a reputable piercer to reduce the possibility of having problems. Much of the advice is common sense - don't try to do it yourself, make sure that you know enough about the procedure as well as the skills and experience of the piercer and make sure the environment is clean and hygienic.
"Your piercer should tell you how to look after the piercing afterwards and this is important to reduce the likelihood of infections. Serious problems are rare but if you experience anything unusual you should seek medical advice immediately.
"If piercing remains fashionable, almost half the female population might eventually have a piercing somewhere other than their earlobes. If this trend continues, to avoid complications and the burden on health services that these could bring, it is vital to continue raising awareness among piercers, their clients and health professionals about the importance of good hygiene and public health safety."
Although there have been no reported cases of contracting a blood borne virus such as Hepatitis B and C or HIV, through body piercing in the UK, this has been seen in other parts of the world and the study authors report that this remains a cause for concern.