Health risks of body art and piercing sites

What is body art?

Body art is a term used to describe procedures that decorate or adorn the body. This includes implantation or marking skin permanently by injection, incision or heat. 


Current practices include tattooing, body piercing, branding, scarification, and other extreme modifications such as 3-D art like beading.


Invasive body art is where skin penetration takes place using an appliance or instrument including lasers, needles and intense heat.

Read consumer information on body art (Healthy WA).


Body artists undertaking such procedures must fully comply with provisions outlined in the Health (Skin Penetration Procedures) Regulations 1998 (external site)and the Code of Practice for Skin Penetration Procedures (PDF 324KB).

Read more about skin penetration procedures and the law.

Physical risks of body art

There are a number of physical risks associated with body art. These can include:

  • scarring
  • rejection (where the body pushes a piercing out)
  • embedding (where skin grows over the piercing)
  • tearing
  • nerve damage
  • excessive bleeding.

Operators should also discuss the permanency of body art with their clients.

Bacterial infections

There are numerous bacterial infections that can be spread through poor hygiene standards or if the appropriate aftercare is not followed.

Such infection can damage the appearance of body art and even become life threatening.

Blood-borne viruses

If the equipment used in the body art procedure is contaminated with infected blood, there is a risk of transmitting a blood-borne virus. This could include:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

Other potential risks

In addition to infection, some body art – depending on its type and location – carries other serious risks.

Mouth, lips and tongue piercings

Risks can include:

  • potential blocking of the airway or difficulty breathing due to swelling
  • difficulty speaking or chewing
  • possible oral surgery to retrieve lost or submerged objects within the tongue tissue
  • mouth irritation or damage to teeth and gums if the wrong jewellery is used
  • damage to nerves in the tongue, which can in turn lead to:
    • swelling
    • airway obstruction
    • increased amount of saliva
    • permanent numbness
    • loss of taste.

Tongue splitting

Risks can include:

  • speech impediment (disruption to normal speech)
  • numbness
  • loss of taste.

Eyebrow piercings

This can damage the nerves responsible for eyelid movement.

Nipples piercing

A risk associated with nipple piercing is the inability to breastfeed.

Piercings of the skin’s surface (neck, wrist or forearms) or beading (3-D body art)

There is a risk that the skin tension will put pressure on the jewellery, causing it to be rejected (pushed out) of the skin.

Produced by

Public Health