The Health Risks of Pierced Nipples

You can get almost any part of your body pierced, including your nipples. While nipple piercing seems pretty harmless, it does carry health risks that you should be aware of. The most common are infections and bleeding, which usually occur shortly after getting a piercing but can happen even years later. Scars, tears, and nerve damage are also possible. These may be related to how the piercing was done, how clean you keep the wound or both.

The article looks closely at some of the risks of body piercing. It also offers a few simple tips on what you can do to reduce the risks.

male nipple piercing
 richardarno / Getty Images

Blood-Borne Viruses

Getting any kind of piercing can increase your risk of acquiring a blood-borne virus, especially if the equipment used is not properly cleaned and sterilized. Here are some viruses you should be aware of.

Herpes Simplex Virus

There is a risk of herpes simplex virus through oral piercings, but no evidence of skin piercings or nipple piercings.

Hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis B is a virus affecting the liver that is transmitted through contaminated blood. Needles, particularly in tattoo and piercing settings, are among the possible sources of infection.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection spread through contact with infected blood, including by needles contaminated with the blood.

It is for this reason that piercing equipment must be disposable or sterilized—not just sanitized—after each use. Piercing and tattoo parlors in the United States are strictly regulated and licensed by health departments to prevent blood-borne infections like hepatitis B and C.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

While HIV is less likely to occur from a single needle stick than from prolonged needle-sticking like when getting a tattoo, there is still a small risk of transmission.

Abscess Formation

Abscesses are painful lumps of pus that can form just under the skin due to an infection. They are common complications of nipple piercings, resulting in redness, swelling, bleeding, and weeping pus. They can occur in other parts of the body as well.

A nipple abscess cannot be treated with antibiotics alone. Instead, it must first be drained and cleaned, often surgically. After draining the abscess, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection.

Sometimes, your piercing may need to be permanently removed to prevent further infections.


A piercing can cause a bacterial infection or the formation of an abscess if the wound is contaminated. There is also a possibility of hepatitis B if the piercing is performed under unsterile conditions (typically by an unlicensed practitioner).

Nipple piercing can cause problems besides infections. These complications can result from poor piercing techniques, problems with healing, or the placement of a piercing on delicate tissues.


A piercing anywhere on the body can rip through the skin if the jewelry accidentally catches on something or is yanked. A tear can also occur if you suddenly move while getting a piercing.

Some tissues, like the nipple or genitals, are particularly delicate and prone to tears. Even so, the risk of a tear is increased if the technician doesn't pierce enough skin to keep it stable and secure.

In some cases, the tear may be severe enough to require corrective surgery. The tearing of a clitoral piercing may also end up reducing sexual sensitivity.


Piercing ultimately wounds the skin, and wounds can cause scarring. This is more likely if you have an infection following a piercing. Even if you don't, a piercing can cause a raised, pigmented scar known as a keloid.

A keloid is usually larger than the original wound. Some can grow significantly and become unsightly and tender to the touch. Surgery, laser therapy, or cryotherapy (freezing to remove abnormal tissues) may be needed if a keloid becomes problematic.

Nerve Damage

While rare, a piercing can sometimes damage nearby nerves, causing persistent pain, discomfort, or the loss of sensation. You are more likely to develop nerve damage if you have had an infection or a traumatic tear.

One area where nerve damage is common is the clitoris. Genital piercing of the clitoris is associated with high rates of diminished sexual function and the loss of clitoral sensitivity due to nerve injury.


Piercings can cause traumatic tears, scarring, and nerve damage, particularly on delicate tissues like the nipple or clitoris.

How to Decrease the Risks

You can take several steps to decrease the risk of infection after getting a piercing. The most basic one is knowing how long it can take to heal from the piercing.

All body piercings require proper care as they heal. Any open wound caused by piercing can easily become infected. What many people don't realize is that the healing process can take a relatively long time in some cases.

Nipple piercings take anywhere from two to four months for the initial healing process. For some people, it may take even longer.

Choose a Licensed Technician

When choosing a technician, be sure to select someone who is licensed, qualified, and experienced. Under no circumstances should you or a friend attempt to pierce your own ear, nipple, eyebrow, or other body parts.

Keep the Skin Clean

Your skin must be clean, dry, and free of infection to avoid contamination once the piercing needle is inserted. After the piercing, your technician will provide you with instructions on how to keep the piercing clean and sanitized until it is fully healed.

Avoid Touching the Piercing

During the healing process, avoid touching the piercing unless it is to clean the wound. Most technicians will even advise you to avoid sexual contact while healing as a partner's hands or mouth contains germs that can contaminate the wound.

Wear soft fabrics over the piercing to avoid snags and yanking down clothing.


To reduce the risk of infection following a piercing, only choose a licensed and experienced piercing technician. Keep the skin clean before and after the procedure, and avoid touching the piercing until ample healing has occurred.


Getting a body piercing can carry certain health risks, particularly the risk of infection. This includes bacterial infections, abscesses, and blood-borne infections like hepatitis B.

Piercings can also cause traumatic tears if placed on delicate tissues and/or accidentally yanked or snagged. Scarring is possible, including the formation of enlarged growths called keloids. Nerve damage may also occur.

To avoid infection or injury, always use a licensed technician and follow the after-care instructions until the wound is fully healed.

A Word From Verywell

Deciding to pierce your nipples can be a major decision. Certain infections can be permanent, and if something goes wrong, there can be long-lasting effects. Talk with your piercer or your healthcare provider about all of the possible health risks and long-term potential effects of piercing your nipples so you can make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do nipple piercings increase the risk of breast cancer?

    Because nipple piercings are associated with an increased risk of abscesses and keloids, some people assume that piercing can cause other abnormal growths, like breast cancer. This is not true.

    A 2018 study published in Dermatology Online reported that abscesses caused by nipple piercings are sometimes mistaken for inflammatory breast cancer during the initial investigation. Other studies have found the same.

  • Do your nipples change when pierced?

    They might appear more noticeable or pronounced, due to the jewelry, but the nipples and areolae themselves do not change.

  • Can you breastfeed with pierced nipples?

    Yes, you can, but you should remove the jewelry before breastfeeding. This is so your baby does not choke on it, and for cleanliness. It's recommended to remove the jewelry for the entire duration of breastfeeding, but some people choose to remove the jewelry each time they breastfeed. Washing your hands before and after removing and replacing the jewelry is very important to reduce the risk of infection.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Messahel A, Musgrove B. Infective complications of tattooing and skin piercing. J Infect Public Health. 2009;2(1):7-13. doi:10.1016/j.jiph.2009.01.006

  2. World Health Organization. Hepatitis B.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C.

  4. Leibman AJ, Misra M, Castaldi M. Breast abscess after nipple piercing: sonographic findings with clinical correlation. J Ultrasound Med. 2011;30(9):1303-8. doi:10.7863/jum.2011.30.9.1303

  5. Lee B, Vangipuram R, Petersen E, Tyring SK. Complications associated with intimate body piercings. Dermatol Online J. 2018;24(7).

  6. Moulton LJ, Jernigan AM. Management of retained genital piercings: a case report and review. Case Rep Obstet Gynecol. 2017;2017:2402145. doi:10.1155/2017/2402145

  7. Breuner CC, Levine DA, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE. Adolescent and young adult tattooing, piercing, and scarification. Pediatrics. 2017;140(4). doi:10.1542/peds.2017-1962

  8. Abbass K, Adnan MK, Markert RJ, Emig M, Khan NA. Mycobacterium fortuitum breast abscess after nipple piercing. Can Fam Physician. 2014;60(1):51-52.

  9. La Leche League International. Nipple piercings.

Additional Reading
Originally written by Lisa Fayed