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Surface piercings

Heal Time: 1 year or longer

Typical jewelry gauge: 14g - 12g

Best initial jewelry type: Flat surface barbell

Minimum age for piercing: 18


Many styles of jewelry have been experimented with over the years to get flat skin to “take” jewelry, and keep it in, without rejecting. Different ideas were tried—including curved barbells, flexible Tygon or PTFE, and even rings and straight posts—before the surface barbell was introduced in the mid-1990s.
A surface barbell is a variation on the straight barbell, bent into a staple shape (and often flat in the middle). The “uplifts” on the ends are of varying length, depending on the thickness of the tissue in the area being pierced. Flat discs are usually the best option for ends, at least for healing, but more ornate pieces can also be threaded onto the bars, such as small balls or flat gemstones. Surface bars that have 90-degree angled edges and height appropriate for the tissue pierced (which is generally between 1/16” and 1/8”) tend to work best. Some bottoms are flat, others are rounded, however, which is used is usually the individual piercers’ preference. Regardless, the shape of the surface bar that works best is one that does not put a lot of pressure on the piercing.
Surface bars generally work best for nape, horizontal piercings under the navel, and for some facial piercings—areas where distance does not change side-to-side. Surface bars tend to be more “stable”—with a better chance of long-term success—than surface anchors, so if a surface bar will work for the area, it’s usually a better choice than an anchor.
The care for surface piercings is the same as with most other piercings; the only difference is that healing times can be much longer, and that surface piercings can be a little trickier to keep clean—especially if it’s on the back of your neck! A consistent aftercare regimen is crucial, and you should plan on a good solid year for healing surface piercings—with shorter or longer healing times depending on the length of the piercing and where it is on the body.
One final note: Even once these piercings are healed, there is a chance that the body will reject it, and that the piercing will be temporary. If you’re looking for a permanent piercing, a surface piercing may not be your best choice, but if you’re looking for something a little different, you’ve come to the right place.


Can a surface barbell be put anywhere?

Yes. The problem is not finding a location where it can be placed, but finding a place where the piercing will heal. In order for a surface piercing to heal, the area must be relatively flat and not distort with the body’s motion. The most popular area for surface bars are the back of the neck (also known as a “nape” piercing), horizontally below the navel, and certain areas on the face. For most other areas, surface anchors are a better solution.

What about Tygon and PTFE?

Over the years, as piercers have experimented with surface piercings, one of the solutions was flexible jewelry—either Tygon® tubing or PTFE. However, there are various issues with this approach (e.g. Tygon should be replaced in a piercing every few months), and today most piercers prefer surface bars, as they put less pressure on the exit points of the piercing and therefore have a lower chance of rejection.

What is rejection?

Rejection is when your body treats your jewelry as an irritant and decides to push it out, or “reject” it. (This is the same way your body deals with a splinter or glass shard embedded in the skin.) With surface piercings, the warning signs are a thinning of the tissue around the posts, with the skin becoming red, shiny, or calloused—especially toward the center between the exit points. If the jewelry is close enough to the surface you may actually be able to see the jewelry through the skin.
If you think your piercing is rejecting, see your piercer immediately. Waiting too long to remove the jewelry can make skin discoloration and scarring even more severe. And if in doubt, stop by the shop anyway; one of our piercers can take a look at it and see if it needs to be removed.

How badly does it scar afterward?

As with any piercing, there will likely be a scar when you remove the jewelry. Scars are typically minimal when the piercing is removed while happy and healthy, but if you wait to take out the piercing until it migrates, the scar tissue can be more extreme and unsightly. If your piercing is starting to reject, early removal is usually your best option to minimize scarring.