Ah, nipple piercings. So cute, yet so intimidating. Getting one is a little more complicated than your typical old lobe piercing, of course, and it can certainly hurt, but don’t let that stop you if your heart is set on it. The know-how of a trained professional and proper aftercare techniques will make the process as smooth as possible. We spoke with professional body piercers and a dermatologist about what you should know before you’re ready for a nipple piercing, then asked four New York City women what it was like to get theirs done. For courageous viewers, we even captured footage of one of the women’s piercings, done by professional piercer Kirsten Lee at Studio 28 in New York City — view the full video below.

Meet the experts:

How do I find the right nipple piercer for me?

It’s important to go to a reputable piercing shop (please don’t just wander into the first place you see with a flashing neon “body piercing” sign). Talk to friends who have had theirs done, read Yelp reviews, and check out the references of the Association of Professional Piercers.

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TJ Cantwell, the owner of Studio 28 tattoo and piercing studio in New York City, says it’s key to choose a piercer you feel at ease with. “We always want our clients to feel comfortable in our shop. If you feel uncomfortable about the shop or your piercer, you should not get [a piercing] done,” Cantwell says. Obviously, any legit piercer will be nothing but professional. This is someone who will be performing a body modification on your boobs, so pick someone you like. Also important: According to Cantwell, all items used by your piercer should be pre-sterilized and opened in front of you.

What is getting a nipple piercing like?

“As far as what to expect, you should expect to have a great time,” Cantwell says. Some people are more comfortable with needles and latex gloves than others, but lying back to have your nipples pierced is totally glam. Your piercer will wash up, put on gloves, and have sterile materials ready. Any reputable piercer will also act sort of like a meditation teacher, helping you keep calm and instructing you to breathe as they pierce you. The actual piercing happens very quickly. “We tell our clients to take a deep breath in and let it out. By the time they are done letting it out, we are done with the piercing,” Cantwell says.

What type of jewelry is best for new nipple piercings?

You’re going to want a straight barbell for the piercing: Rings move around too much and disrupt the healing process. Very rarely, a curved barbell is used for people with inverted nipples. The jewelry your piercer initially uses will be longer than what you’ll eventually swap it out for, to account for swelling. As for the metal, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you use is implant-grade. Titanium, steel, and gold work best because they’re less likely to cause an allergic reaction than a nickel-containing metal, says Joshua Zeichner MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Gold rarely causes a reaction in the skin. Because of the high cost of gold, titanium or steel may be used for piercings because they also carry a lower risk of causing an allergy than a nickel-containing metal,” Zeichner says.

What nipple piercing risks should I know about?

As with any piercing, nipple piercings come with some potential risks, like rejection, infection, and allergic reaction. A rejection is when your body literally rejects the piercing, even to the point of pushing it out of your breasts (ouch). Your body usually rejects piercings due to improper piercing techniques, angles, and jewelry quality, so it’s critical to see someone who knows their stuff. 

Cantwell says that thankfully, nipple piercing infections are pretty rare these days due to the sterile environments and techniques used by qualified piercers. Piercings do still come with a slight risk of localized infection, although studies suggest that the chances of systemic infections — ones that spread throughout the body — are very slim. If you suspect you have any complications, you should see a medical professional straight away. “Most of the time clients think they have an infection, they actually have an irritation, usually caused by some outside trauma to the piercing,” Cantwell warns. “The best way to avoid an infection is to go to a high-quality piercing studio with implant-grade materials and follow their aftercare instructions.”

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