If you’re a ‘90s kid, you’ll remember sticking those sparkly, fake studs on your lobes or elsewhere on your body (especially if your mom made you wait to get your ears pierced). We loved decorating our body with those plastic gemstones—even if we knew they would peel off in about five minutes—just for the chance of being one of the cool kids.
Today, you might be bemused by pierced people sporting a similar look with genuine gemstones sticking from places that are seemingly unpierceable, like the arm, hip, or flat areas of the face. This alluring piercing—professionally referred to as the surface anchor piercing, but you’ve probably heard the term dermal piercing—is actually easier to get than it might seem, but it is more medical in nature.
For those who are a bit squeamish when it comes to piercings but still want a unique look, here’s a beginner’s guide to dermal piercings.
A dermal piercing appears on flat areas of the skin, like the cheekbone or above the collarbone. They are single-entry piercings, which means that there is no exit hole. Instead, a dermal anchor is fitted beneath the skin, and the dermal top is screwed directly in.
Dermal anchors often feature a “foot”—an elongated end—for a more secure hold, but you can also get round dermal anchors that will likely be less permanent. The anchor will stay in your skin at all times, allowing you to switch out the tops. If you choose not to wear a dermal top, you will have a small hole in your skin where the dermal anchor sits.
Dermal piercings have had difficulties remaining legal in many states. While it’s largely a safe procedure, some states consider it an implant, which should only be inserted by a doctor. Most piercers argue that they are not implants because they are more of a temporary-permanent piercing, and they’ll only stick for a few months in many people.
It’s important that you check your state’s laws to make sure that it’s legal before undergoing the procedure. (You don’t want to go to a shady piercer just to get the piercing done.) If necessary, road trip to a state where it’s allowed to ensure that you see a properly licensed piercer.
Since the dermal piercing has no exit hole, the procedure is a little different than other piercings.
A dermal piercing can be done one of two ways: with a dermal punch or with a needle.
If you use a needle, your piercer will poke a hole in your skin and move the needle to create a small pocket beneath the skin where the anchor will be placed. It must be pierced deeply enough so that it stays secure and your body won’t reject it. You will experience pain, but you might be surprised to find that it’s a little less than you expect. This depends on your personal pain tolerance, however, and some have reported more intense pain. The dermal top is then screwed into the anchor.
A dermal punch actually removes a bit of tissue. It might seem as though this option would be more painful than using a needle, but the razor-sharp edge of the punch makes it a less painful process. However, many states forbid the use of dermal punches except by a medical professional, so make sure that you know your state’s laws before asking for this option. Once the hole has been made, the anchor is slipped inside, and the dermal top is screwed in.
Like any piercing, the pain level of the dermal piercing depends upon your personal pain tolerance and the expertise of the piercer. You might be surprised to find that the dermal piercing hurts less than you expect.
This is one piercing that you want to find an experienced piercer for. It can be tricky to perform this piercing, and as mentioned previously, legislators and piercers tend to disagree on the safety of this procedure, so prove legislators wrong by setting your dermal piercing up for success.
Try to find a piercer who has done this procedure a few times. Don’t be afraid to ask for their portfolio and shop around. One of the main causes of piercing infection is unsanitary tools, and the success of your piercing begins with your choice of piercer.
Dermal piercings, like most body piercings, take about 1-3 months to truly heal. However, because of the locations that dermal piercings are often placed, there’s a lot more risk that they will catch on clothing or other items.
For the first few days, your piercer is likely to put a bandaid over your piercing to protect it. From there, pay extra close attention to what you’re doing and wearing so that it isn’t getting continually bumped and caught on things. Be sure to change your bandage and that it’s not putting pressure on the jewelry.
Like other fresh piercings, a simple saline solution is usually what’s recommended to sanitize this one. Dermals are a particularly invasive body modification, and they do have a higher chance for allergic reaction and rejection, so watch for signs of that during the healing process.
Keep in mind that the skin will heal around the anchor, and many anchor types have little holes in them to allow the tissue to heal through the holes. Because of this, you could see a buildup of scar tissue around the anchor. Additionally, you might need to have a piercer remove the anchor if you decide that you no longer want your dermal piercing.
You should also invest in high-quality metals for your anchor. The metal needs to be safe for long-term wear.
It used to be that piercers that did microdermal piercings were few and far between, but with the rising popularity of this body mod, just about any reputable body shop has at least one piercer qualified and experienced in dermals.
Call around to your local tattoo shops and piercers, and ask if someone there does this in particular. Educate yourself about dermal piercings and the dermal piercing process, then ask your piercer about their process in order to vet their expertise. If you notice any red flags, keep shopping.
Prices will, of course, vary from shop to shop, but the general going rate for a dermal piercing is around $75 – $100 each.
If you’re brave enough, a dermal piercing can add that exotic flair that you’ve been looking for. Make sure that you find an excellent piercer, maintain good aftercare practices, and understand that this will likely be a semi-temporary piercing, and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy this piercing for some time.