woman with shark bites piercingShare on Pinterest
ASashka/Getty Images

The shark bites piercing is a four-piercing combo with dual piercings on both sides of the bottom lip. If you’re familiar with other bite piercings, shark bites are basically twin spider bites.

Labret studs or rings are usually used for shark bites.

To accommodate swelling, long bars are usually recommended initially. Then, you can swap out for something smaller when you’re fully healed.

There are a lot of material options, but the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) recommends jewelry made from implant-grade metals or 14-karat or higher gold.

Jewelry made from high-quality materials lowers the risk of complications, like migration, allergic reaction, and an infection.

Choose jewelry made from:

  • Surgical stainless steel. Surgical stainless steel jewelry contains other alloys, including nickel. But it generally has a low release, making it safe for most people.
  • Titanium. Implant-grade titanium is nickel-free and safe for everyone. It costs more than stainless steel, but it’s a better option if you’re sensitive to other metals.
  • Niobium. Niobium is biocompatible, lightweight, and similar to titanium, but without the implant-grade designation. It’s also more affordable.
  • 14-karat or higher gold. Gold body jewelry needs to be 14 karats or higher. Avoid pieces that are gold-plated or filled, or gold vermeil or overlay. These contain other alloys under a thin layer of gold that can flake and chip off.

Shark bites require four separate piercings, and it typically costs from $140 to $200 for the whole shebang.

The cost can vary depending on location, the jewelry you pick, and the piercing professional’s skill level.

When pricing out your piercing, remember to factor in a tip. A 20 percent tip is customary.

In a professional studio, you’ll start with a consultation to go over the type of piercing and jewelry you want, and you’ll fill out a waiver.

Here’s what comes next:

  1. The piercing professional will disinfect the area using surgical scrub.
  2. You’ll rinse your mouth out with antibacterial mouthwash.
  3. They’ll mark the entry points for your piercings using a marker, so you can approve the placement.
  4. Then, they’ll use a clamp to gently pull your lower lip down and away from your teeth and gums.
  5. They will push a needle through your lip and then insert and fasten the jewelry.
  6. Steps 4 and 5 will be repeated for the rest of the piercings.
  7. The professional will clean the area.
  8. You’ll be given your aftercare instructions.

There are four separate piercings, so, even though the lower edge of the lip isn’t high on the pain scale compared to other areas, it can be uncomfortable.

That said, pain is subjective, so it’s hard to predict how painful it’ll be from one person to the next.

Your pain tolerance, the skill of your piercing professional, and how relaxed you are can impact how much it hurts.

Puncturing tissue always involves some risk.

Here are some possible complications to be aware of:

  • Infection. Piercings are open wounds and can be exposed to bacteria when you eat, touch your mouth, kiss, or give oral sex. Bloodborne infections are possible if a professional uses improperly sanitized instruments.
  • Swelling. It’s normal for four piercings that close together to cause significant swelling for the first 3–5 days.
  • Tooth or gum damage. The placement of shark bites piercings means your jewelry will rub against the surface of your gums and teeth, causing irritation and possible erosion.
  • Trauma or tearing. Doing everyday things, like getting dressed, eating, and kissing can bump or snag your jewelry. This can cause tearing or other trauma if you’re not careful.
  • Nerve disruption. Though the risk is really low, a small study found that facial piercings sometimes cause nerve disruption, which can affect eye alignment or cause chronic back pain.

How quickly you heal depends largely on how skilled your piercing professional is and how diligent you are with your aftercare.

Your overall state of health and your lifestyle also affect healing time.

Typically, for a piercing in that area, you’re looking at 2–3 months healing time.

Proper aftercare can help your piercing heal as fast as possible and lower your chances of complications.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for caring for your piercing.

While healing, do:

  • wash your hands before cleaning or touching your piercing
  • rinse your mouth with saline solution 4–5 times per day, including after eating, after waking up, and before sleeping
  • rinse or spray the outside of your piercings with saline solution or a piece of saline-soaked gauze
  • practice good oral hygiene with regular brushing and daily flossing
  • use a new, soft-bristled toothbrush and store it away from other toothbrushes
  • use mild soap to gently wash around the piercing
  • rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of soap from the area
  • gently pat the area dry with clean paper towels (Cloth towels can harbor bacteria.)
  • keep swelling down by sleeping with your head elevated and applying a cold compress to the area
  • let ice chips dissolve in your mouth to ease pain and swelling
  • be careful when you eat, style your hair, or get dressed to avoid snagging your jewelry
  • take over-the-counter pain reliever as long as you’re no longer bleeding

While healing, don’t:

  • touch your piercing with unwashed hands
  • play with your jewelry
  • chew gum or anything that can harbor bacteria (like your fingernails or pencils)
  • talk too much when your piercing’s new (It can damage tissue and cause scarring.)
  • engage in any oral sexual contact or kissing
  • share eating utensils or dishes with others
  • drink alcohol or use mouthwash that contains alcohol
  • smoke (It slows healing and increases your risk for complications.)
  • use soaps or skin products that contain alcohol, fragrance, or other irritating ingredients
  • expose the area to water from pools, hot tubs, or open water
  • take your piercing out before it’s fully healed

You don’t need to worry about tenderness, swelling, or redness in the first few days after getting your shark bites. If your symptoms linger beyond that or are severe or worsening, it could indicate a problem.

See your piercing professional or a healthcare professional if you notice:

  • severe or worsening pain, swelling, or redness
  • a lot of discharge that’s green, yellow, gray, or smells bad
  • rash or blisters
  • redness that’s spreading out from the site
  • skin that’s hot to the touch
  • fever, chills, or vomiting
  • confusion

Keep your jewelry in until you’re fully healed, even if you don’t like the way it looks. Removing it before it’s healed — even briefly — can cause injury or infection.

If you need to remove it before you’re completely healed, see your piercing professional and have them swap it out for you.

Again, you should keep your jewelry in until it’s fully healed.

After that, if you decide to retire the piercing, you can remove it yourself and let the tissue grow in. Just be sure to keep the area clean until the holes close.

If the jewelry is hard to remove, don’t try to force it. A professional can remove it for you safely.

Once the tissue grows in, you’ll be left with four tiny scars at the piercing sites.

If you’re ready to get those shark bites, these next steps can help you get the best experience:

  • Ask friends and family with piercings for referrals or find a piercing professional through the APP directory.
  • Visit any potential studios in person to check for cleanliness and permits or a license to operate.
  • Ask about the studio’s sanitation process.
  • Ask to see the piercing professional’s portfolio, which should include pictures of healed client piercings.
  • Check the quality of the jewelry they carry.

Shark bites are a type of piercing popular with body jewelry enthusiasts, consisting of four holes on either side under the lower lip.

Like most piercings, this style is generally safe, but it requires slightly different aftercare than other piercings.

If you get a shark bites piercing and experience excessive pain, swelling, or unusual symptoms, contact the piercing professional or a doctor for guidance.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.