Intended for healthcare professionals


Body piercing in England: a survey of piercing at sites other than earlobe

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 19 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1426
  1. Angie Bone, specialist registrar in public health medicine1,
  2. Fortune Ncube, consultant epidemiologist 1,
  3. Tom Nichols, statistician 1,
  4. Norman D Noah, professor of public health2
  1. 1Centre for Infections, Health Protection Agency, London NW9 5EQ
  2. 2London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  1. Correspondence to: A Bone, South West London Health Protection Unit, Lupin Ward, Jasmine Tower, Springfield Hospital, London SW17 7DJ abone{at}
  • Accepted 9 April 2008


Objectives To estimate the prevalence of body piercing, other than of earlobes, in the general adult population in England, and to describe the distribution of body piercing by age group, sex, social class, anatomical site, and who performed the piercings. To estimate the proportion of piercings that resulted in complications and the proportion of piercings that resulted in professional help being sought after the piercing.

Design Cross sectional household survey.

Setting All regions of England 2005.

Participants 10 503 adults aged 16 and over identified with a two stage selection process: random selection of geographical areas and filling predefined quotas of individuals. Results weighted to reflect the national demographic profile of adults aged 16 and over.

Main outcome measures Estimates of the prevalence of body piercing overall and by age group, sex, and anatomical site. Estimates, in those aged 16-24, of the proportion of piercings associated with complications and the seeking of professional help.

Results The prevalence of body piercing was 1049/10 503 (10%, 95% confidence interval 9.4% to 10.6%). Body piercing was more common in women than in men and in younger age groups. Nearly half the women aged 16-24 reported having had a piercing (305/659, 46.2%, 42.0% to 50.5%). Of the 754 piercings in those aged 16-24, complications were reported with 233 (31.0%, 26.8% to 35.5%); professional help was sought with 115 (15.2%, 11.8% to 19.5%); and hospital admission was required with seven (0.9%, 0.3% to 3.2%).

Conclusions Body piercing is common in adults in England, particularly in young women. Problems are common and the assistance of health services is often required. Though serious complications requiring admission to hospital seem uncommon, the popularity of the practice might place a substantial burden on health services.


  • We thank the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) for its assistance in preparing the questionnaire, obtaining the sample, and collecting the data.

  • Contributors: AB participated in the design, analysis and interpretation of the study, and drafted the paper. FN participated in the design, analysis, and interpretation of the study, commented on the drafts, and is guarantor. TN participated in the design and interpretation of the study, performed the statistical analyses, and commented on the drafts. NDN participated in the design, analysis, and interpretation of the study and commented on the drafts. All authors saw and approved the final version.

  • Funding: Department of Health.

  • Competing interests: NDN has acted as a paid hygiene consultant to acupuncturists and manufacturers of ear piercing equipment and an unpaid hygiene consultant to tattooists and beauty therapists. He has also acted as an expert witness in judicial cases concerned with the hygiene of skin piercing.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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