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A sternum piercing is a type of surface piercing that’s located on any point along the sternum (breastbone). Although sternum piercings are often placed vertically between the breasts, they may also be done horizontally.
Surface piercings have a separate entry and exit point in the surface layer (epidermis) of your skin.
They’re anchored using barbells shaped like open staples or curved rods. The bar or rod is inserted underneath the skin, and the jewelry’s decorative tops sit on the skin’s surface.
Although sternum piercings are traditionally a type of surface piercing, some people opt for dermal implants to create a more subtle look.
Unlike a surface piercing, dermals don’t have a separate entry and exit point. Your piercer will create one small hole and insert a base, or “anchor,” into the middle layer (dermis) of your skin.
The actual jewelry is screwed into the top of post. It sits on the epidermis, giving the appearance of beads on your skin.
Flexible rods are the standard for sternum piercings. You can choose a straight-line barbell or a bar that’s slightly curved. Each is secured with two beads that sit on the surface of the skin.
Although your jewelry options are somewhat limited, you may have more to choose from in terms of materials. A lot of this depends on your personal style and skin sensitivity.
Talk to your piercer about the following options:
Surgical titanium. Titanium is considered hypoallergenic, making it a go-to selection for people with sensitive skin.
Surgical stainless steel. Stainless steel is also considered hypoallergenic, however irritation is still a possibility.
Niobium. This is another hypoallergenic material that’s unlikely to corrode.
Gold. If you’d rather go with gold, quality is key. Stick to 14-karat yellow or white gold during the healing process. Gold higher than 18 karats isn’t as durable, and gold-plated jewelry can lead to infections and allergic reactions.
According to Body Piercing Magazine, this piercing typically costs between $30 and $40. Many shops charge separately for the jewelry, which may add another $10 to $20 to the overall cost.
You’ll also want to factor in a tip for your piercer — at least 20 percent is standard.
Make sure you ask your piercer about costs related to aftercare, such as saline solution.
A sternum piercing is usually done with a 14-gauge needle. Here’s what to expect:
- Your piercer will clean your skin, making sure it’s completely sterile.
- After the area is dry, they’ll mark your skin with a pen or a marker to ensure that the entry and exit holes are created in the right spot.
- Then, they’ll push the needle into the proposed entry hole and out of the proposed exit hole.
- Your piercer will likely hold the skin in place with forceps while they thread the bar through the holes.
- Once the bar is set in place, they’ll screw a bead onto each end.
Pain is possible with all piercings. Generally speaking, the fleshier the area, the less the piercing will hurt.
Some people may find that the skin in this area is on the thinner side, while others find that their sternum is covered by a thick layer of skin.
It ultimately comes down to your individual body type and pain tolerance.
Making an appointment with a reputable piercer can decrease your risk of complications.
However, no piercing is completely risk-free. You should discuss the following risks with your piercer before taking the plunge:
Displacement. If the bar isn’t inserted deep enough, it may become dislodged within the dermis and move to another area of skin (migrate).
Infection. If the piercing isn’t done in a sterile environment — or aftercare is neglected —bacteria can spread deep within the skin and result in infection.
Rejection. Migration and rejection are common with surface and dermal piercings. If your body views the jewelry as an intruder, your skin tissues may expand until the jewelry is completely pushed out.
Scarring. If you experience rejection or otherwise retire the piercing, a small scar will form as the hole heals shut.
A sternum piercing typically heals within 6 to 12 weeks. If you don’t follow your piercer’s aftercare recommendations, the piercing may take longer to heal.
You may experience mild pain and swelling during the first couple of weeks. These symptoms should gradually decrease as the healing process continues.
They usually aren’t cause for concern unless the piercing is also leaking yellow or green pus, hot to the touch, or showing other signs of infection.
Proper cleaning and care are crucial to the success of your sternum piercing.
During the healing process, do:
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching the area.
- Use a new paper towel each time you clean the piercing.
- Clean twice daily with a sea salt or saline solution.
- Gently wipe away any crust that’s formed between cleansings.
- Cover the piercing to protect it from getting wet during showering, if possible.
- Pat the area dry after each cleansing or after taking a shower.
- Be careful when removing shirts, sweaters, and other clothing to prevent snagging.
At the same time, don’t:
- Apply makeup or spray fragrance around the piercing site.
- Wear tight clothing around the piercing.
- Allow your hair to get tangled in the jewelry.
- Play high-impact sports or engage in other activities where collision is possible.
- Submerge the pierced area in a bath, pool, or other body of water.
- Use antiseptics or antibacterial soap to clean the piercing.
- Rub the surrounding area with a towel — pat dry instead.
- Pick off any crust that forms around the piercing.
- Change the jewelry for at least three months, or until the piercing has healed.
- Play with or remove the jewelry.
While mild pain and swelling is normal for any new piercing, other symptoms could indicate more severe health concerns.
See your piercer if you experience any of the following signs of infection or rejection:
- redness that extends beyond the piercing site
- severe pain
- severe swelling
- skin that’s hot to the touch
- yellow or green discharge
- foul odor
With rejection, you may also experience:
- jewelry displacement
- jewelry that hangs or droops
- complete jewelry dislodgement
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There’s no real timeline for a sternum piercing. That said, nontraditional piercings like this may be rejected over time.
Whether this happens within a couple of months or after several years depends on how well you care for the piercing.
Once your dermal piercing has completely healed (about three months), you’re free to change out the beads that hold the barbell in place.
You may to see your piercer for the first jewelry change; they can confirm that the piercing has healed and ensure that the first jewelry swap is smooth.
If you do decide to change the jewelry yourself, carefully follow these steps:
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching the area.
- Clean the area with a sea salt or saline solution.
- Pat the area dry.
- Carefully twist the existing ball tops off using a counter-clockwise motion.
- Quickly twist the new balls into place in a clockwise motion.
- Clean the area again and carefully pat dry.
If you change your mind during the healing process, talk to your piercer about removing the jewelry. They can determine whether it’s safe to do so before the healing process is complete.
If they do remove the jewelry, you must continue cleaning the area until the holes have completely healed.
The process is much easier if you want to retire the piercing after it’s long been healed. Simply take the jewelry out, and the holes will close up on their own.
A sternum piercing is a popular type of surface piercing, but it’s not for everyone.
Before you get your sternum pierced, be sure to shop around a few reputable shops until you find an experienced piercer you’re comfortable with.
The right piercer will also be able to answer any questions you have about the piercing process, aftercare, and overall healing.