Note that I do guest piercing at fine studios around the United States, and specialize exclusively in nipple and genital piercings for adults of all genders. For information about booking an appointment with me, visit this page.
As it says in my book, The Piercing Bible:
"The contrast of metal jewelry through the flesh of a nipple is truly exotic and striking. Nipple piercing defines the region, frames the tissue, and makes the nipple stand at attention (though it doesn’t necessarily cause the nipple to remain erect at all times). Prior to the early 1990s, when navel piercings became popular, nipples were the most prevalent location for body piercings.
Modern piercing enthusiasts—particularly in the gay and SM subcultures—explored the erotic potential of their bodies and started what has become the current style of nipple piercing. These days, people from all walks of life are experiencing the delights of this piercing. For some, it is simply an aesthetic preference or fashion statement; for others it reigns as a favorite in the realm of sexual and sensual pleasures."
Nipple piercings are one of my specialties (in addition to male and female genital piercings). I can tell you from my professional exprience—having performed over 50,000 piercings in my career—that nipple size, configuration, texture, color, sensiitivity, and other aspects vary tremendously from person to person.
Every human body really is unique, which is one of the reasons you must seek an expert to perform piercings of this region. It is extremely common to see nipple piercings that are not optimally (or even close to properly) placed. Not only do they lack an attractive aesthetic, but poor placement and improper jewelry selection can make them far more painful than necessary, difficult or impossible to heal, and could even be disfiguring.
If you're someone who does not derive any sensual/sexual enjoyment from your nipples, that is an EXCELLENT reason to get them pierced! Many piercees who've said things such as, "I don't even know what these things on my chest are for," have come to delight in the sensations that can come from pierced nipples!
If you're an individual who has highly sensitive or tender nipples, you may find that getting the procedure done is more intense, but most piercees tolerate it very well when I do the job. And most absolutely love their nipple piercings. The vast majority of clients report that it wasn't nearly as bad as they were anticipating! Women may find that nipples are more sensitive just before or during your period, so take that into consideration when scheduling your piercing.
I advise waiting at least a year following any localized surgery including reduction, augmentation (even if no areaolar incision is made), or other breast-area procedure.
If you wish to see how quickly and gently I can perform the piercings, I have videos available here.
A competent piercer will insert jewelry that is safe, comfortable, and designed to facilitate healing. While rings were very common years ago, I normally use straight barbells for initial jewelry now. If you look at the image below (the one that is marked with arrows for proper placement), you can see a curved bar in a nipple piercing. Observe how it can have the same problem as a ring that is too small--curving the piercing channel.
Commonly, I use 12 gauge for most female nipples that are average or larger in size, and usually 14 gauge for small nipples on both men and women. The correct diameter is highly anatomy dependent!
One aspect of choosing the jewelry size is cruicial: making sure it fits the tissue when it is at its widest resting state. It is common for the nipple to become erect (and therefore narrower) during cleaning and marking process. But if a piercer doesn't spread it back out to check how wide it can become, the barbells (or rings) often ends up too small. This can be very painful and result in serious complications including migration, scar tissue formation, and even embedded jewelry. You can visit my blog post with photos about a nipple piercing nightmare in which a piercer inserted jewelry without measuring the nipple at its widest.
Virtually all adults’ nipples—even tiny flat ones—are pierceable if they are pliable. Whether you prefer the angle of your piercing to be horizontal, vertical, or somewhere in between, it will work best if it is placed in the natural creases of your tissue. Depending on the shape of your chest, the “horizontal” placement may be more visually appealing if the outer side is placed just slightly higher than the inner side. This will barely tilt the ring up at a slant that frames the area nicely. A true horizontal placement can look a little droopy at the outer edge, depending on the angle and shape of the breasts or pectoral muscles.
If you have well-developed nipples, the piercing should be placed in the creases at the base of the nipple where it rises from the areola.
If your nipple is defined with substantial height, the piercing can safely go in as little as 5/16 inch of tissue. If you have flat nipples, the piercing should encompass a minimum of 3/8 inch of tissue when the area is relaxed.
If your nipples are relatively featureless, without an elevated tip, the tissue in the visual center of the nipple should be pierced so that the jewelry will rest evenly within your areola. (The piercing routinely extends into the areola, especially on men, but this is still considered a nipple piercing.)
If you have elliptical or odd-shaped areolas, it is sometimes best to cheat one side of the piercing a little further from the tip of your nipple in order to have the ring appear more centered in the pigmented area.
And that's just for starters in understanding some of the placement considerations!
Nipple piercings can take a while to heal: For men, around 3-4 months or longer, and for women around 6 months or longer. The healing course tends to have "up and downs" throughout that time. Tenderness may come and go due to the fit of clothing, sleep habits, physical activities, and other factors. Women often find that nipple piercings experience a flare-up (secrete, swell, or become painful) just prior to and during menstruation, even after the healing period.
Nipple piercings may regress for no apparent reason after many weeks or months of stability. If your piercing takes an excessively long time to settle, I'd suggest trying different jewelry or care regimens until you figure out what works best. The experimentation can require patience, but adjust at least one aspect if you seem to be having healing problems.
Nipple piercing can be a revolutionary cure for inverted anatomy! If the tissue can be coaxed out and pinched up, then it can probably be pierced. The jewelry blocks the nipple from returning to its retracted state. However, the tissue can fight against the jewelry. If this pressure is too forceful, migration is likely. Because of the extra stress placed on the tissue, flexible plastic may be better for healing, and 12 gauge is a preferred minimum rather than 14 gauge, if the tissue is large enough to accommodate it. The full alteration may not be seen until metal jewelry is inserted later.
The nipple pictured at right is only slightly inverted. This type of anatomy is no problem to pierce, as you can see in the image below of the same nipple, the tip everts easily.
Nipples that are very tight to the chest, dense, and hard to pinch up may be difficult to pierce and are apt to have a harder time healing. There's so much to know!
If you wish to have an anatomy consultation for nipple piercing suitability, you can sign up for one on the linked page. I'd need to see photos of your nipple(s) "relaxed" and erect. Additionally an image of you pinching up the tissue in such a way as to demonstrate whether this is an easy or difficult task (or you could add that in the comments section).
Below are links to some additional information about nipple piercings that is available on this site: