:: Septum ::

"So what's next, a bone through your nose??!"

Why, yes, for some of us that is the next step. If you are one of these, this section is for you. (And if you were the one asking the stupid question, read on; you may learn something.)

Septum piercing, as you can imagine, has been around longer than we can document. It is the prototypical "native" piercing that ethnocentric European explorers and ethnographers have been shocked by since the 17th Century. And many folks are still shocked today. Beyond the usual prejudices against piercing, casual onlookers are disturbed by the idea that the piercing goes through the "bone" of the septum, and that it must be excruciatingly painful. Neither is the case. In actual fact, a properly done septum piercing will not touch the cartilage, and is often very easy to get and to heal.

If you stretch your upper lip down over your teeth (not with your hands, silly!), your nostrils will stretch out too. In this position, pinch your septum with the tips of your index fingers. You can feel the hard cartilage above, and the thicker, tougher skin at the bottom of the septum. In between the two, you will feel a strip of thinner, softer skin. This is where the septum piercing goes. Placement is usually towards the front of this strip (away from the face, under the tip of the nose), but it will depend on the person. Everyone has a "sweet spot," where the skin is soft and flexible and the piercing will be easiest to take and to heal. When the piercing is done in this spot, pain should be minimal and healing should be an easy 6 - 8 weeks.

The procedure varies with piercer. It is usually done lying down, with the piercer leaning over your head, although some piercers will leave you sitting up. Many piercers will simply clean the area and have you stretch your nose down to feel the sweet spot. They will then use a hollow receiving tube to put pressure against one side of the septum, and line up the needle on the other side. As you exhale, the needle will pierce your septum and go into the receiving tube. Jewelry is inserted on the back of the needle, and the piercing checked for perfection. Some piercers will use a specially designed septum clamp to hold the septum steady as they pierce. Other piercers have other tricks to ensure a straight piercing.

The exact method does not matter as much as the result. The piercing should appear straight and even to the face. It should not be through either the hard cartilage above the sweet spot, or through the thicker skin below. It also should not be back against the face, but rather closer to the tip of the nose, so it hangs at the front end of your nostrils.

Septum piercings are easy to clean--twice a day with either antibacterial soap or EarCare--but it is essential that you do so. For one thing, a dirty septum piercing will smell as the dead skin cells inside build up, and you will be in a perfect position to smell it all. Also, while infections here are very rare, they can be quite serious, requiring prompt medical attention. So avoid them at all costs with some simple daily hygiene. Keep dirty hands off the piercing! You don't need to play with it or turn it through all day. If you need to center the jewelry, do so by grabbing the ball, rather than the actual ring. And cut down on smoking! Just think how much tar and nasty smoke residue is going into your piercing from each inhale and exhale, let alone each cigarette.

Jewelry for septums can take many forms. If you're dying to wear all those cool wood, steel, glass, bone or horn tusks and spikes you've seen, patience. They're not really meant for healing. At first you'd be better off with something more comfortable. Go crazy later.

If you need to hide it during the first 8 weeks (before you can change your jewelry), your best bet is a septum retainer. These look like a glorified staple, and are made to fill the hole and turn up inside your nostrils, so no one can see. They can be niobium, titanium or stainless steel (or even glass in thicker sizes), and are an inexpensive and discreet way to start. (You can also wear them later, whenever you need to hide the piercing.)

You can also use captive bead rings or circular barbells, in whatever diameter flatters your face. Many people opt for proportional rings, around 7/16" or 1/2" diameter, but the size will depend on your nose and the look you want. Check out different ball sizes, especially on circular barbells. It can make a dramatic difference. One note on circular barbells: they are really not meant to be worn as retainers. Some people can turn them up inside the nose like a retainer, but this depends on the diameter, the ball size, and the size of your nostrils. Don't count on it being possible or comfortable. If you need to hide it, choose a retainer for healing. You can always accessorize later.

The gauge can usually be anywhere from 16g to 12g. Some people have room for a 10g piercing, but care must be taken not to pierce too large, or you risk nicking that cartilage mentioned earlier. (Big ouch!) After healing, stretching is not difficult, provided your piercing is firmly centered in that sweet spot. If the piercing is too near the cartilage, or if if you stretch large enough to be near the cartilage, the jewelry will put pressure on it and can be quite painful. (It is possible to actually remove a section of cartilage to facilitate massive stretching, but this is a more extreme procedure for those who have already tried the normal route.)

One further note on settling: Many people use their facial muscles asymmetrically. They may smile more with one half of their mouth, twist their lip when they are thinking, or flare their nostrils or wipe their nose when they are nervous. And many people sleep on one side of their face. What this means for your piercing is that even a perfectly straight piercing may begin to heal slightly skew if it is constantly pushed or pulled one way by your muscles, hands or pillow. If you notice your piercing healing slightly crooked in the first week or two, when your hands are clean, tweak it back the other way (touching only the ball if possible). Try to ensure that it is always hanging straight. This way, you are compensating in the other direction for whatever is happening to it, and keeping the piercing channel from healing crooked. After a couple weeks, the channel will be pretty much set, and you can stop fussing with it. (And if you have the misfortune to have a not-perfectly-straight piercing from the start, training it this way can sometimes correct the problem. It can also sometimes help during the healing of a fresh stretch.)

So that's the septum. Not too hard to get or heal, provided your piercer knows what they are doing. Cut out the cigarettes, keep your hands off and clean it well, and you should have a happy, pain-free piercing in no time. Then you can put a big ol' bone through it and go scare the normals.