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Published Thursday, October 12, 2023

A Guide To Piercing Retainers For Surgery and Other Medical Procedures

When it comes to surgical procedures that require the removal of body jewelry, it's best to consult with your surgeon or healthcare professional for personalized guidance. They'll provide instructions on what kind of piercing retainers, if any, are safe to wear during your procedure.

However, sometimes medical guidance is more complex than it seems. If you're wondering how to preserve your piercing while undergoing a medical procedure or how to effectively advocate for yourself as a pierced person, this guide to piercings and surgery will help.

The Risks of Wearing Body Jewelry During Medical Procedures

Medically speaking, a piercing can be defined as an "unnatural tract through tissue that is then held open by artificial means." Essentially, it's a wound your body tries to heal by activating your immune system, creating scar tissue, or simply "closing up" when given the chance.

All forms of jewelry are generally taken out or removed before or during most medical procedures. This is because it's unsafe or will somehow interfere with your procedure. For example, metal can interfere with blood cauterization because the units that cauterize blood rely on electrocurrents. Jewelry can also increase things like surgical burns and infection or snag on medical equipment.

Do You Actually Need Piercing Retainers for Surgery or Procedures?

It's possible that you don't need a retainer. For example, removing jewelry from a mature, well-healed piercing may not be necessary for a brief imaging procedure like an MRI. And as we'll discuss later, many MRIs and imaging procedures don't necessitate the need to remove jewelry at all.

Even if you do have to remove your jewelry, you may not need a retainer. It depends on what kind of procedure it is, how long it will take, and the maturity and health of your piercing.

Follow your medical professional's guidance and wear surgery-safe body jewelry when directed. But feel free to ask questions or educate others when appropriate. Your provider may agree that you don’t need a retainer, or at least be able to explain in more detail why you do.

How Can You Keep a Piercing Open During Surgery?

If you have to remove your jewelry for your procedure, you can keep your piercing open by wearing a retainer. The retainer should be made of a surgery-safe material specific to your procedure.

Which Piercings Can You Use Retainers For?

Piercing retainers for surgery are available for many types of piercings. The most popular areas to wear retainers include:

Which Retainer Materials Are Procedure-Safe?

Body piercings and surgery generally don't mix. This is why most materials aren't procedure-safe. However, there are three general surgery-safe retainers you should look for. They're glass, PTFE plastic, and bioflex plastic.

What is the Most Surgery-Safe Retainer?

According to the Association of Professional Piercers, the most surgery-safe body jewelry is a non-metallic barbell made of PTFE or other inert plastic. Also known as Teflon retainers, PTFE retainers are made from a flexible, inert polymer material that's compatible with many medical procedures. PTFE retainers can be easily bent and cut to fit specific piercing placements. Consult with a trusted professional piercer and your medical provider to decide if this is the best option for you.

Is Bioflex Safe for Surgery?

Most professional piercers endorse bioflex as safe for surgery. Bioflex is a flexible, biocompatible plastic often used during medical procedures. That said, not everyone shares this opinion. This is because bioflex and other inert plastics are porous, which can create a "biofilm" and heighten infection risk, especially in sensitive areas like oral or genital sites. However, many people wear bioflex retainers in healed piercings and have no problem.

Is Glass Safe for Surgery?

While glass is safe for many imaging procedures, it's not advisable for invasive surgical procedures where cutting into the body or bleeding occurs. The risk of shattering or breaking is too significant. Discuss this with your medical provider.

Can You Wear Retainers While Under Anesthesia?

The National Institutes of Health discourages wearing retainers or body jewelry while a patient is under anesthesia, particularly if the jewelry is in an oral site. Wearing any jewelry in the mouth increases the risk of aspiration or swallowing.

What Kind of Retainer Is Best for Imaging or MRIs?

Most imaging, MRI, and radiology procedures don't require the removal of jewelry unless the jewelry obscures images of the treatment area. However, if you must remove your jewelry, we recommend glass retainers. Glass is ideal for retainers because it's inert, transparent, and doesn't leave an afterimage on x-rays or imaging scans. Lead-free Borosilicate Glass, in particular, is entirely nonporous and safe for the body.

Can You Wear a Piercing Retainer for Surgery if Your Piercing is Fresh?

Since surgery-safe retainers should be non-metallic, and plastic isn't recommended for a fresh piercing, you may need to forego the retainer altogether. Before your procedure, purchase an appropriate insertion tool or taper. You can use this to help you reinsert your jewelry. You can also hire a professional piercer to reopen or re-pierce the area if needed.

What Can You Do If You Can't Wear a Retainer or Jewelry At All?

If you can't safely wear a retainer or jewelry, you can purchase an insertion tool or taper before your procedure. You can use it to help re-stretch or reinsert your jewelry as soon as you're able.

Final Notes on Piercings and Surgery

There's simply nothing more important than your health and well-being. When undergoing medical procedures, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare professional for personalized guidance about piercing.