Nostril Piercing: Jewelry Considerations - Barbells and Flatbacks

Threaded ends for nostril piercings (and other assorted placements) by BVLA available at Rockstar Body Piercing

Barbells and flatbacks are available in several materials, although the most popular for the nostril is titanium threadless options from Neometal.  18 gauge is the most common, but thicker is available. Threaded options are available in gold, steel, and titanium from a variety of excellent jewelry manufacturers (Anatometal and Industrial Strength, for instance).  For nostril piercings, I prefer a fixed ball or small disk on the inside of the nose.  This is so the client doesn’t have to tighten a threaded end inside their nose, and reduces the risk of inhaling the jewelry.

Flatbacks can be worn on nostrils that are very even planes, inside to outside.  If the disk hits the inside of the nose at an angle, it can become very uncomfortable for the client.  In those instances, a barbell will be more comfortable and will heal better.  For this reason, starting with barbells rather than flatbacks tends to be the best choice while you gain experience piercing nostrils with barbell style jewelry.

Figure A: The nostril piercing on the left is angled such that a flatback rests comfortably and will heal well.  The nostril piercing on the right is angled in such a way that the flatback will cause irritation.  If the placement on the right is the aesthetically better choice, a barbell with a ball on the inside will be the more comfortable choice.

When performing a piercing with a barbell or flatback, care should be taken to allow room for swelling.  While the nostril isn’t particularly prone to swelling, it does in fact happen.  If you were to measure a ¼ thick nostril with a pair of autoclave safe calipers, a 5/16 length barbell is the safest bet.  I tend to avoid starting less than 9/32 in length, though healed nostrils can often accommodate ¼ and even 3/16 length barbells and flatbacks.

The ball and disk size on barbells and flatbacks inside the nostril should be very small.  2.5mm disks and 3/32 inch balls.  I have used larger disks when there are no structures inside the nostril that would be irritated by a 3mm or 5/32 disk.  That said, in most nostrils bigger jewelry is simply unnecessary and can take away from the aesthetic of a well placed and fitted nostril piercing with a barbell.

Another type of “barbell style” nostril jewelry is an older design called a nose bone.  A nose bone has a gem or ball or regular sized ornament on one side, and a tiny ball at the other end.  The idea behind a nose bone is simple: the tiny ball can go in easily and be removed easily, but provides just enough friction that it doesn’t fall out of the nose.  This style of jewelry should not be dismissed for healed piercings.  It can be made by reputable body jewelry companies and out of appropriate materials.  That said, the nose bone has become synonymous with bad jewelry quality and the design has been abandoned by most piercers.  Nose bones should never be used for initial piercing, and should only be tried by clients with exceptionally well healed piercings.  I’d suggest that someone trying a nose bone should regularly change their jewelry to avoid the fistula of the nostril piercing from shrinking around the thin post making removal uncomfortable, and potentially damaging to the piercing.

Adam Block, one of my favorite piercers (and favorite people), wears nose bones by BVLA.
Adam pierces at The End is Near in Brooklyn, New York.  These are 16g with ~14g beads at the end. 

Flatback and barbell nostril jewelry is especially effective in multiple nostril piercing projects.  I’ve worn two nostril screws at once in the same nostril, and while I found it comfortable, many clients will find all that metal to be quite a nuisance.  A little extra room should be given for swelling when doing multiple nostril piercings in the same sitting, so accommodate with at least an extra 1/32 of an inch.  

Whether using threadless or threaded barbells, many clients actually prefer a little extra length on their barbells so the can actually grab the inside without tools to remove or change their jewelry.  (Techniques for threading ends in fresh piercings will be discussed in subsequent blog posts).

Finally, one advantage barbell styles have over nostril screws is that they do not need modification by the piercer.  My colleagues Rob Hill and Brian Skellie were quick to point out after my last blog entry that a nostril screw does dull and lose surface finish even when using brass lined tools and gauze.  Repolishing a nostril screw is possible to do in house, and I encourage piercers using nostril screws to consider this extra step.

Next entry: Jewelry Considerations - Rings.

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Turquoise and Gold

Double Helix piercing by Jef Saunders performed at Rockstar Body Piercing

Nostril Piercing: Jewelry Considerations - the Nostril Screw

Nostril Jewelry in Rose, White and Yellow gold by Body Vision Los Angeles

(This blog entry is geared toward professional piercers working in studios. Please feel free to read this if you are not a pro piercer, but do not attempt to perform piercing outside of a piercing studio or without appropriate training beforehand. Looking to become an apprentice? Read my blog entry about the subject here.) There are several jewelry options to discuss for initial nostril piercing, and we will separate these into two general categories that our clients can relate to: hoops and studs.  Piercers tend to dislike the vagueness of these terms, but we can use them to effectively communicate with our clients and use them as umbrella terms for lots of different jewelry options.  Hoops can be captive bead rings, fixed bead rings, continuous (otherwise known as “seamless” rings), segment rings, “clickers”, circular barbells, etc.  Studs can be barbells, flatbacks, nostril screws, nose bones, etc.

Let’s focus first on studs, as they tend to be the more popular jewelry style for most of our clients.

Nostril screws

Nostril screws come in a variety of materials, but because of the need to bend them to fit, steel and gold are significantly easier to work with than titanium.  20 gauge and 18 gauge options work best, although thicker options are available.  Nostril screws are usually ¾ of an inch (19.05 mm) long but can be ordered from manufacturers longer or shorter. Nostril screws should be purchased straight, and then bent to fit each client individually.

Pre-bent nostril screws are available, but because of their “one-size-fits-all” nature, they should be avoided.  After all, your clients come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  Applying a one-size-fits-all piece to every piercing is bound for failure.  Also, the swoop or curve on the end of a pre-bent nostril screw tends to be very “tight”, which is to say curved far too much.  When the curved backing of a nostril screw is very tight, it is not at all comfortable for initial piercing and insertion.  Nostril screw bending is a skill that is not difficult to master and can be done without repolishing if a few precautions are taken.

Occasionally, you may encounter a “genuine Indian design” nostril screw that is made out of high karat gold and is very thin; these can be worn in healed piercings but are not advisable for initial piercing.  

Nostril screws get a bad reputation because the end can hang out of the nostril looking very aesthetically displeasing.  This is usually because of an issue with the angle of the piercing, but can also be due to improper jewelry bending.  The former can’t be fixed without re-piercing, the latter is usually fixed with a few subtle adjustments.

How to bend a nostril screw has been the subject of much debate.  While there are many correct and effective ways to bend a nostril screw, this is the technique I use to minimize damage to the wearing surface of the jewelry, and allow for a long end of the nostril screw to anchor at the back of the nostril.
If you are unfamiliar with bending nostril screws, I suggest a minimum wearing surface of about 5/16ths of an inch.  With time, and evaluating your client’s anatomy, shorter is possible while still allowing room for swelling.  Always make sure 5/16ths is long enough.  On thick noses I have bent nostril screws as deep as ½ an inch!
I wrap the nostril screw with a couple layers of non-woven gauze.  I then use a brass jaw pliers at approximately that 5/16ths depth at a 90 degree and to the dome.
Using my pointer finger, I brace the jewelry for a quick bend at exactly 90 degrees.  Slow movements can result in a “curvy” bend rather than a precise 90 degree bend.

The bend is made.
At this point we are half done.  This 90 degree bend would be very easy for our clients to accidentally pull out of their new piercing.  Our next step is to put a subtle curl right at the bend to hold the nostril screw in.
Again, I’m covering the jewelry with gauze to protect it from the tool.  I align the portion after the initial 90 degree bend so that I can push down slowly with my thumb, giving it a simple arching curve.
The curve has been made.  The more you curve at this point, the less likely the jewelry is to fall out by getting snagged.  Unfortunately, this makes it more uncomfortable to insert and remove, as well as less likely to catch on the back of the nose so that the end of the jewelry hangs out of your client’s nose.
The finished product.  

If you have performed this procedure correctly, the jewelry is free of damage in the wearing surface of the nostril screw.  

Nostril piercings are usually placed in such a way that angling the curve back towards the face is the most comfortable, but in rare cases, curving the nostril screw so it catches on the tip of the nose is possible.  The standard approach is shown below. In this figure, it is labeled “A” and will be where most nostril screws face.  Sometimes a very far forward placement is aesthetically pleasing, and there simply isn’t enough length on the nostril screw to catch the back of the nose.  In this instance, reversing the curve and facing the nostril screw forward is a suitable solution (in this figure, it is labeled B).  It should be noted that in most instances, angling the nostril screw back is the more comfortable for the client, and they may find a different style jewelry appropriate if a nostril screw facing forward causes discomfort.

In the next installment, I will address barbell and flatback jewelry considerations.