The puncturing of the face was already proven 5000 years ago in Egypt. The piercing of the nostril, nasal septum and ears was also known in ancient America; Mayans practiced it as well as indigenous people in the Amazon.
In ancient cultures, such facial piercings served religious purposes: The Mayans, for example, stuck their tongues (and their penis) to bring a self-sacrifice to the gods. On the other hand, it marked the status, a phase of life, possession or belonging to a group.
The Mursi in Ethiopia cut their lower lip and stretch it further by using clay plates. After a few years you can use a clay plate the size of a saucer. In western eyes, this looks like a blemish on the lower lip. Some historians even see this as the original purpose. Ethiopia was an important hunting ground for Arab slave traders, who specifically sought out local women for their beauty in order to sell them as sex slaves. The extensive holes in the lower lips made the potential victims worthless for the slave hunters, the thesis said.
This origin cannot be proven, however, for the Mursi, the size of a woman's plate lip is an expression of beauty - the larger the plate lip, the more sought-after the wearer is.
In Ethiopia the Kichepo and Surma also wear plate lips, in Mozambique and Tanzania the Makonde, in Chad the Sara.
In the Zo’é on the Amazon, ethnologists suspect a similar origin as in Ethiopia. Here, too, the widened lips of the women served to make them unattractive for the hostile neighboring tribes.
That would be logical. The indigenous people traditionally lived in small groups, and robbery was commonplace. Even with the Zo’é, the pegs made of light wood have long been a beauty ideal and above all they define the belonging to the tribe.
The large wooden sticks of the Zo’é had no practical purpose - on the contrary. They regularly lead to bone deformities in the jaw, and those who wear them have to bite their food with their molars.
Other ethnic groups in South America who wear lip pegs are the Botokudo, Suya and Kayapo in Brazil.
Lip pegs are known from the Stone Age of Northwest America. Indigenous people used materials such as bones, ivory, stones or metals that they pushed through a pierced hole in the lower lip. The Aztecs used gold pegs, the Inuit combined them with tattoos.
The difference to the lip plates lies in the emphasis on the jewelry: it is not the size of the hole that decides, as with the Mursi, but the pen, which is clearly visible on the chin. Indigenous cultures stick similar stakes through their nasal septum or earlobes.
Status and gender
The Tlingt in western Canada used lipsticks to define the status of women. They pierced pubescent girls with copper wire, then insulated them in a hut for a while. When they married, the women received a wooden stake, which they pushed into the branch canal; they continued to expand the canal, and the older they got, the bigger the pegs got.
The lip peg and its size thus characterized both sex and maturity and age. Men, on the other hand, wore mustaches and chin beards to express their masculinity.
Western facial piercings in the modern age
Earrings have long been established in western societies for women, and for men for decades. Before they were taken for granted in everyday life, like tattoos they were a hallmark of sailors. They stuck a new earring every time they crossed the equator.
Until the 1980s, facial piercings in Germany were largely restricted to jewelry worn on the ear. The most common were plugs in the left ear, in northern Germany, for whatever reason, earrings in the right ear were the hallmarks of homosexual men.
Jewelry in the nostril was still unusual 40 years ago and was primarily popular with the subculture of punk. Other places on the face such as punctured cheeks and lips also spread here, usually carried out unprofessionally. Safety pins in the earlobes, nostrils and cheek were notorious.
In contrast to the piercing trends in the mainstream today, it was about anti-aesthetics, an emphasis on ugliness, about shocking society.
Which piercing for whom?
No area of the body offers as many places for possible piercings as the face. They range from the eyebrow and eyelid to the chin and lower lip, to the little ribbons, tongue and cheeks, from the nostrils to the nasal septum and the bridge of the nose.
The application of jewelry to different places on the face is not only common today with a counterculture, but with different types. Whether and which piercing suits a person can only be decided individually. For example, it could be roughly said that a plug in the nostril is particularly suitable for a person with a small nose and an oval face, and someone with a large prong shouldn't also attach a thick gold ring, but lifestyle also plays a role.
Piercing around the eyes
Eyebrow piercings can be vertical in the outer third of the brow or horizontal. They healed after about 4 weeks and are suitable for ball closure rings. Be careful when trying yourself. Nerve strands run near the eyebrows, and improper stinging can cause numbness or even partial paralysis of the face.
Few people can be stung over the cheekbones, but it is possible, even if it takes several months to heal. Eyelid piercing is associated with complications. The piercer pierces the thin skin on the outer edge of the eyeball. Since we are constantly moving the eyelids, the healing takes a long time.
Forms of nose piercings
The Austin bar piercing is at the tip of the nose. The canal heals in two to three months; the bridge piercing is located on the nasal bone between the eyes and may take up to two months to heal. The nasal length piercing pierces the nostril, nasal septum and the second nostril. It takes about three months for healing to finish.
The rhino piercing lies at the tip of the nose and is directed inwards, the nostril piercing is much better known. In addition to piercing the earlobes, a ring in the wing of the nose is one of the first recognized facial piercings.
Possibilities for piercings in the mouth area
The Ashley piercing is located in the lower lip and takes up to six months to heal. According to the Inuit tradition, Inuit piercing is used to stick stakes through the skin below the lower lip. It extends from below the lower lip to the middle of the lower lip and heals in about a month.
The jestrum piercing is located in the middle of the upper lip and takes up to six months to heal. The lane piercing is also in the lower lip, but horizontal and therefore heals slowly.
Labret and lowbret piercing are both below the lower lip, the lowbret very close to the chin.
The frowny piercing starts in the mouth, namely between the lip ribbon and lower lip. It heals quickly, sometimes after two weeks. The uvula piercing sits on the palate. These mouth piercings heal quickly, which is mainly due to the wound healing effects of saliva.
Tongue and tongue ribbon piercing
Tongue piercings are considered among the more common forms to be the hardest to heal. But that's not correct. In a regular procedure, the piercer pierces the tongue vertically and then pulls a rod through with a venous catheter. In the days that followed, the tongue swelled strongly; those affected should above all eat liquid food and porridge.
As with the other variants in the mouth, the following also applies here: saliva prevents infections. However, infections in the tongue, when they form, are problematic because they interfere with eating and drinking.
A rare variant is the piercing on the tongue strap.
Punks pulled safety pins through the outer cheek skin in the late 1970s. Today's cheek piercings, on the other hand, are rods that run through the cheek from the inside out and close with a ball at each end. It takes up to two months to heal, and the wearer should take special care not to contaminate the wound in the first few weeks, especially when eating.
The nick piercing starts on the inside of the upper lip and emerges from the skin below the eye.
Around the chin
The chin piercing sits at the tip of the chin. An exact healing time cannot be specified, in any case the healing takes a long time, since the chin moves constantly when speaking, chewing and breathing through the mouth and it can hardly be avoided that we hit objects with it.
Mandible piercing is named after insect mouthparts and is located inside the mouth under the tongue between the chin and mouth. The branch canal healed only after six months.
Possible further facial piercings
Other shapes are possible and can be observed at piercing and tattoo conventions. This includes rings and plugs in the skin of the forehead and temple as well as on the bridge of the nose or at the bottom of the eye above the cheekbones.
However, these regions are exposed to external stimuli to a high degree, so there is an increased risk that the wound becomes infected when it heals, and even after the healing, rings tear easily out of the skin. In addition, the layer of skin on the forehead and over the cheekbones is very thin, so that too little tissue is available for stable piercing. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
- Keddie Grant: Symbolism and Context: World History of the Labret and Cultural Diffusion on the Pacific Rim. Circum-Pacific Prehistory Conference, Seattle, August 1-6, 1989 (PDF; 1.7 MB)
- Aglaja Stirn: Piercing - Psychosocial Perspectives of a Social Phenomenon. (PDF) 2003