Cross-culturally, lip piercings have a long-standing history: from the Pre-Columbian cultures of South America, and the famed lip plates of Africa, to the silver pins or bone plates of the Tlingit in the Northwest, and the Inuit of the Arctic with their carved and beaded ivory labret jewelry. Lip and labret piercings have been practiced on every continent, and have symbolic and aesthetic significance in dozens of cultures.
Lip piercings are any piercing which pass through the lip or lip area. This means that there are several different locations where the piercing can be placed: from the center of the lip to the outside corners. (These various placements also come with their own “unofficial” names, from “snake bites” to “medusas;” however, they are all lip piercings.) Lip piercings generally refer to piercings done on the side of the lower lip or closer to (or at) the center line. The term “labret” generally refers to a single lip piercing placed below the center of the lower lip, about halfway between the bottom edge of the lower lip and the crease at the top of the chin. The height can be varied anywhere between this crease and the edge of the lip, provided it will sit comfortably against the gums on the inside. Labrets, like any lip piercing, can also be done in pairs. Beauty mark piercings (also called “Monroe” piercings after Marilyn Monroe’s famous mole) are off-center upper lip piercings. Philtrum piercings (sometimes referred to as “medusas”) are also located above the upper lip; however, instead of being place off-center, they are placed in the center of the lip line in the dimpled space directly under the septum of the nose.
Initial jewelry for lip, labret, and Monroe piercings are a 16 gauge post. At first, this jewelry will be longer to accommodate for swelling, but as with any oral piercing, after healing (approximately 6 to 8 weeks) you can and should switch to a smaller post to avoid oral damage or trauma. Since lip piercings are both external and internal (oral) piercings, a portion of the jewelry is inside your mouth; this means that there is always a risk of tooth or gum damage, and wearing oversized jewelry is one of the prime causes for this type of damage. One word on swelling: The swelling of all lip piercings is often rapid and significant—often immediately after the piercing. (Ice and ibuprofen are good solutions for immediate swelling relief, and for more ways to deal with swelling view our oral aftercare page.) During healing, the piece you needed initially may stick out like an antenna. Bear with it as long as you can, and talk to your piercer if you feel it is causing you trouble; lip jewelry may occasionally be changed before the healing is complete if its length is interfering with healing. More often than not, though, you’ll need to deal with it until healing as complete, as changing jewelry too early can result in swelling again. Your piercer can decide what will be best in your situation.
Lip Piercing FAQ
Does it hurt?
A little, but it’s about the same as other piercings. Oral tissue is very soft and easy to go through so many say their lip and/or labret piercings were some of their easiest to sit through.
Will it scar if or when I take it out?
This depends on how your body scars. Faces don’t tend to scar too severely, so on most people an abandoned piercing hole doesn’t look any worse than an old chicken pox or pimple scar—or an ear piercing with the jewelry removed. But again, this depends on your body.
Will the piercing affect eating?
A lip piercing can definitely make eating more delicate for the first few days, but it won’t force you to change too much of your diet during healing. Simply eat what is easiest.
What about kissing and oral sex?
Ideally, you should wait until you are healed to do anything involving fluids, even with a monogamous partner. You have an open wound in your mouth, so anything in your partner’s saliva or body fluids can more easily be passed to you, and your partner can also be exposed to your blood and more. Any oral sex during healing should be fluid-safe, and if you decide to kiss your partner anyway, at least have him or her rinse their mouth before and clean your mouth and piercing after.
Can I damage my teeth?
If you bite the post hard enough, yes, but gum damage is more of a risk than tooth damage. With all lip piercings done with a post, the disc back can sometimes irritate sensitive gum tissue, or in some cases lead to gum damage or erosion. The best way to eliminate this risk is to shorten the post as soon as it’s comfortable to do so (about 6 to 8 weeks after piercing).
Why is the initial post so long?
Regardless of their placement, all new lip piercings need jewelry with sufficient length for swelling, as they will swell quite substantially. Once the piercing is healed (between 6 and 8 weeks) a post that is more snug-fitting can be put in.
How easy is it to hide?
Unfortunately, there is no way to hide this piercing during healing. Afterward there are options, including clear quartz glass retainers.