The incredible popularity of the modern navel piercing (also known as belly button piercings) can be traced to a single event: the video for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” released in 1993. In it, Alicia Silverstone—actually, her body double—had her navel pierced by Gauntlet piercer Paul King. Soon after, Madonna was photographed extensively with her new navel jewelry, and model Christy Turlington was seen showing off hers at a fashion show in London.
Popular or not, not all navels are suitable for piercing. (While almost all navels can be pierced, the trick is healing the piercing—and not all navels are shaped to accommodate this.) In order to be a candidate for a navel piercing, you need to have a protruding lip of skin on the top (or, uncommonly, on the bottom) of your navel, with enough space behind the flap for jewelry to sit comfortably. The flap must have a definite front and back, with a clear edge dividing the two. If your navel has more of a rounded slope that curves under, if there is not sufficient space behind the flap for jewelry to properly sit, or if your navel collapses when you sit down, you may not be a good candidate for this one. (Describing the ideal navel for piercing can be difficult, but if you look at our gallery pictures you can start to see what we’re talking about.) If you’re interested in this piercing, come in and talk to one of our piercers. We can take a look at the way your navel is shaped and let you know whether we think this one will work for you.
One reason we’re so selective with anatomy is that navel piercings tend to be difficult to heal. We tell clients to prepare for six months to one full year of healing, and that’s no exaggeration. Navel tissue is not very vascular, as it’s simply scar tissue going back to when you were born. It is also considered a high-traffic area. As such, they’re prone to irritation from everything from the jewelry getting twisted when sitting or exercising to rubbing from tight-fitting clothing and waistbands. (This piercing is not very forgiving.) That being said, if you want a healed and attractive navel piercing for swimsuit weather, you’ll probably want to consider getting this piercing the winter before.
The jewelry we suggest for an initial navel piercing is most often a 12 gauge curved barbell. (Rings are not usually suitable for initial healing.) Healing can be difficult with anything too big, ornate, or dangly, but after healing the only limit is your imagination (or your budget). Check out our gallery to get some ideas.
Technically, anyone can have the skin around their navel pierced, however, anatomically, not everyone is setup to heal a navel piercing.
In order for a navel to heal properly it must have a good lip of skin above the navel (or in some cases, below) with space both behind and below the lip for the jewelry to sit without pressure. The lip of skin should be a flap (like an earlobe), with an obvious front and back to it and a defined edge between the two. Without a well-defined “lip” above the navel there is an increased chance for problems healing—including rejection. Likewise, attempting to pierce navels that do have a flap but do not have enough space behind them to allow jewelry to sit comfortably will generally result in a difficult and problematic healing process.
This is why when clients come to the studio requesting a piercing, we will have a piercer take a look at their navel and discuss the viability of the piercing first. If you come to us requesting a navel piercing and we think your navel does not have a good chance of healing properly, we will often decline to pierce it. We do not want to take your money and condemn you to a year or so of discomfort and hassle when we know that, in the end, you probably won’t get what you want. If your navel is not a pierceable shape, that doesn’t mean you’re too fat, too thin, or deformed; it’s simply that your navel is not shaped in such a way that we think you can heal the piercing.
Some people have enough of a lip on the bottom that it can be pierced—but very few. More often than not the answer is “no.”
It’s not recommended to pierce “outie” tissue. A normal navel piercing goes only through surface skin at the edge of the navel, while an “outie” navel is more complex than simple surface skin; it is residual scarring from the umbilical cord. As such, an infected “outie” navel piercing can become dangerous quickly.
With that said, some people with outies have regular lips of surface skin above or below them—sort of a combination “innie” navel with a little outie inside. Depending on the individual shape of the navel, this surface skin may be pierceable. However, this is entirely dependent upon your anatomy. Your best bet is to check with your piercer to see what’s possible.
The skin being pierced around the navel is not very vascular—meaning there is very little blood flow to the area. The less blood flowing to an area, the slower the healing tends to be. Due to its location, the piercing is also subjected to constant bending, stretching, folding, and friction. Both of these things contribute to a long healing process—anywhere from six months to a year.
With such a prolonged healing time, navel piercings are also more likely to develop problems during healing. While a properly treated piercing may never give you problems, a wound that is healing for up to a year has a much greater chance of getting irritated—or even infected. To prevent this from occurring, keep yours (and others') hands, mouths, and bodily fluids off of it during the healing process.
At Relic Moon, we generally pierce navels at 12 gauge. Our experience has taught us this tends to be the best size jewelry for most lifestyles. While it is possible to pierce, and heal, a navel with 14 gauge jewelry, you must be even more careful and conscientious with your care; the thinner the jewelry is, the more likely the piercing is to be injured, scarred, or even start to migrate when caught or pulled on. The thicker the jewelry, the more internal surface area you have, and therefore the more skin you have supporting the weight of the jewelry.
Think of it this way: if you distribute weight and pressure over a larger area or over more skin cells, the area becomes more resilient and resistant and, ideally, less prone to small tearing and scarring. It’s like carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder: A bag with thin straps cuts into your shoulder a lot more than a bag with wide straps since the weight is dispersed more evenly. As such, thicker jewelry can give you a little more of a chance of success with healing.
With any fresh piercing we generally recommend you avoid swimming for the first month, though the risk to your piercing depends on where you’re swimming. Saltwater and chlorine may be okay for your piercing, however, other bacteria in the water may be problematic. You can never be sure how balanced the chemical levels are in anyone else’s pool—or what else may be in the water. Ocean water tends to be great for speeding healing, but the water on a beach in the tropics is not the same at the water at the Jersey Shore. If nothing else, definitely avoid hot tubs, quarries, or lakes as the water quality is even more questionable.
If you do go swimming during the healing process, the most important thing to do is to make sure that you clean your piercing thoroughly afterward.
Sit-ups and exercise usually don’t present a problem for you or your piercing, but you may want to adjust your workout to avoid putting excess pressure on your jewelry or piercing—at least in the beginning. Listen to your body; if it hurts, don’t do it. (And sweat shouldn’t hurt your piercing, just be sure to shower afterward.)
Tanning itself will not affect your piercing, but tanning lotions and the chemicals in them can be problematic. If you do go tanning, make sure you don’t get lotion on the piercing.
Whether or not you take your jewelry out when pregnant is up to you, and what your particular body does. The shape of your navel will certainly change as your belly stretches to accommodate your growing little one. At later stages, the navel can stretch flat or turn inside-out, making wearing jewelry uncomfortable. Jewelry can also become increasingly difficult to keep in as your skin stretches, especially during the second and third trimester. Some women find this pressure so unbearable that they remove the jewelry and let the piercing close; others leave their jewelry in the whole time and have no pain or problems.
In many cases, especially if the navel piercing has fully healed before the pregnancy, jewelry can simply be removed and put back in after delivery. The piercing may shrink a bit in size, but the hole can often be stretched open later—making repiercing unnecessary.
If you remove your jewelry and your piercing completely closes, you can usually get it repierced after the birth. You should obviously wait until you are back to relatively normal functions before you ask any more of your body's energies. (On the same note, you should wait until after your child is done breastfeeding before getting a new piercing. Trying to heal anything while still lactating tends to be incredibly difficult as you body has energies directed elsewhere.) Also keep in mind that you will be holding your newborn close to you (often on your hip), and you don’t want to make healing even more difficult when your little one starts kicking his or her feet.