The Sternum Piercing Saga

A surface piercing is one that is done on a part of the body that is not really hospitable to piercings, a place that is not flat and hangy (like the earlobe) or even concave (like the belly button). It requires the creation of a canal underneath the skin where the jewelery is inserted. The particular one I chose for myself is called the “sternum piercing” and is a fun misnomer. I’m not so nuts about body mods that I would put holes through my bones, but I like the shocked look it gets out of a person who knows where the sternum is.

See! sternum! My piercing lies on the fleshy part above that– pic brought to you by Wikipedia

Before deciding on this piercing, I did a bit of research. I realized that there is a good chance of rejection if it is not done properly and then not cared for sufficiently. Rejection is your body pushing out the bit of metal you payed good money to get pushed in. It’s a natural process and works the same for piercings as it does for splinters. The skin around the foreign body will begin to die, allowing the tidbit to rise closer and closer to the surface until it is completely pushed out. The best way to avoid rejection is to make sure it isn’t bumped around and to keep it very clean. That may fool your body into forgetting it’s there.

I decided on the sternum because I felt it was an area that I could be most cognizant about and that was generally used and abused much less than the rest of my torso, stomach, legs, arms, etc (the beauty of a surface piercing is that it can go anywhere). I also wanted a bit of skin I could easily hide, or grandly exhibit. I will tell you now, that I was pretty much wrong on all counts. That part of my body did get a lot of contact (from messenger bags to tight hugs) and I had to rethink my professional wardrobe.

What I did do well was choose my piercer. Honestly, I was just lucky. I figured the best of the best would be at the NYC Tattoo and Piercing Convention (May, 2006). And Brian Decker truly is. The procedure took about five minutes, but the prepwork took much longer. He made sure the bar fit me perfectly, disinfected everything in front of me, and triple-checked to make sure the dots he marker on my chest were where I wanted them. When finished, he topped the piercing with flat disks to minimize possible snagging. I replaced those with regular balls after a few months because people constantly tried to check if the “stickers” could be pulled off.

I was also an idiot and failed to follow the simple advice of “leave it alone.” This began the downward spiral toward rejection which was only accelerated by damage. One day I didn’t realize a necklace snagged on the lower ball until I looked up and felt the bottom portion of the piercing tear out. Despite everything I tried infection set in and I finally had the piercing removed about six months into its stay in my body because the constant pinching pain was too annoying. The piercing left behind small wounds which later became ugly keloids.

During the 2007 Tattoo Convention I found Brian again and got my sternum readorned. Why did I do it? After having it taken out, I spent a bit of time missing the piercing and hating the keloids that took its place. There was some aesthetic worth to it, as well as the quiet excitement of having something good for shock value. My genetics already hinted at my tendency towards rejection, as well as keloid-formation, but in the end, I think it was keloid-hate as well as the desire for adrenaline that resulted in me going through with it, again.

You can read about me hassling Brian for the piercing in the second half of this article. The man is an innovator and does not lag behind the bodymod times. He explained to me that I had a better chance with microdermals as well as with the better quality jewerly (implant grade titanium) he now had at his disposal after opening up his own shop (Pure Body Arts). If I didn’t already have two keloids I wanted to cover up, I would have just gotten a single ball somewhere in the center of my chest. Needless to say, I got the keloids punched through and nice new shineys where the ugly used to be.

After months of drowsing the newly pierced sternum with “sterile, isotonic, buffered saline” in the form of a generic contact lens solution as per Brian’s instructions, I felt confident that all was well. Unlike the first time around, the brand new piercing didn’t even swell or redden despite the abuse my flesh just took.

But the sad end result was that this time it took nearly nine months for the piercing to become a pain rather than a shiny pretty thing I enjoyed. See below for the ickies. I actually just cleaned it off, so there is no gook on it, but I think you can imagine it if you try.

Observe the redness and the swelling. For the eagle eyed among you (despite shitty webcam), realize that you are now able to see the bars, which means rejection is probably in process.

When infection struck again, I obviously lost my wits. I used an alcohol and berry mixture my mom prepares to cure all ills, and ended up with dried pus as well as dried skin. The pus hardened and made it painful to move in certain ways since the crunchy bits stabbed at the piercing any time I stretched my body or even lay on my side (think about where it is). I decided that I would probably have to have it out again and cry about it later. The discomfort was starting to effect my behavior–anytime anyone reached for me I flinched away in case they bumped my weeping piercing.

And then I finally got the old brain meats to work. Duh! I checked out the internet and followed Brian’s advice by no longer using alcohol and buying an aftercare solution from Canadia! Wonderful country, full of great aftercare products and unnavigable websites. I probably didn’t have to do that, the isotonic solution would do just as well, but any American knows that spending more money fixes things quicker.

UPDATE: May 6, 2008 (3 months later)

On April 1st, I disinfected my bathroom sink, covered my skin in peroxide and alcohol and went after my piercings. Although it was really the top piercing that seemed to be most infected, it was actually the bottom microdermal that was giving me the most shit in terms of pain and general discomfort: there was swelling there and it oozed a bit. It took me almost making myself pass out while wiggling my piercings around trying to get them out to finally call Brian Decker. Before I can explain what transpired, here is a pic of a piece of jewelry similar to the one I had.

And here is a diagram of how a microdermal implant basically works:

According to Brian, if i could “massage” out the smaller of the two “feet” from under my skin, and then kinda wiggle the shorter foot out, grip it, and then pull really hard, I would be able to get the piercing out. I tried really hard to disconnect myself and think of my own flesh as any old flesh, sort of like beef, but it wasn’t working. And I just don’t have it in me to “pull really hard”, and then repeat the procedure for the second piercing. I badly wanted the piercing out right then and there and asked if it would be advisable to go to any old piecing place nearby. To which I got a vehement “no” unless I wanted them to just rip it out of me sans wiggling or cut it out.

The next day I stopped by after work. It was a sad day. As much trouble as the piercing was giving me, I still loved it. I cheered up a bit when I realized that, unlike before, this time I actually had TWO piercings and their fates could be decided separately. If Brian deems it well-settled, I was thinking of keeping the top half.

When I got to his shop Brian asked why in the world I wanted the thing out. As bad as it looked the night before, while I was wiggling it about I apparently ended up draining all the pus. I never realized that was an option since my rule of thumb about the piercing has been “leave it alone.” However, the discomfort remained and I could not be dissuaded. I get that pain is part of this, but there is fun pain and then there is a chronic infected pain that’s just annoying.

Taking it out hurt almost as much as when it was getting put in. I watched my stretched skin seeping blood around the metal he was pulling on. It took about a minute and then it was out.

Lets now look again at the pin that was just extracted from under my skin. The holes you see are there to allow scar tissue to grow into and therefore anchor the piercing. The piercing can then handle the occasional tugs and will not spin around under the old epidermis.  I have to give Brian major props for getting that IN me (back in May, 2007) without there even being swelling.

We talked a little about the piercing and turns out he’s never behind the times and is progressively improving on both his skills and his jewelry. He now uses jewelry for microdermals that has yet bigger feet and bigger holes. It’s harder to put in, but it’ll anchor better.

To sum up: the little wound left behind has been healing nicely. I use Mederma to avoid scarring/keloiding as well as the aftercare solution for the remaining microdermal. I think this sternum piercing will limp to its first anniversary and if it does I may consider more microdermals at the upcoming Tattoo and Piercing Convention (May 16,17,18).

UPDATE: 16 March, 2009

Long story short, I did get more microdermals in my chest, these were laterally placed and lasted 8 months before they became too much of a hassle. Since you read this far, I’ll give you a little eye candy. Very gross eye candy. The following two videos are of the microdermals being put in and then, after loads of scar tissue formed to create a great anchor, being taken out. If you’re wondering, both procedures are equally painful. Though far from unbearable. Enjoy (it does get a little gross though…. haha… now you REALLY want to see it)

Dermals go in

Dermals fight to stay in, but come out in the end.


Wantz MOOOORE?!

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    • Rob
    • March 1st, 2008

    Well, here’s to hoping for rapid healing. Perhaps if the alcohol was taken internally…
    At least then you wouldn’t care about scarring.

    • eatthelemons
    • March 7th, 2008

    Haha, thanks Rob. I’m using saline now, so at least the pain is gone. Still red and swollen and sometimes icki. Taking alcohol internally is uppermost in my mind right now

    • eatthelemons
    • March 23rd, 2008

    Ok, I seem to be healing up some with the ministerings of Canadian solution of sea salts etc. However, the piercing is still pretty far out of me and is still easily snag-on-anything-able

    • eatthelemons
    • March 30th, 2008

    Blargh, gonna take der piercing out. I am now learning that most surface piercings have to be approached as temporary. I am actually lucky that it lasted as long as it did. So now I just need to get to a piercer. After wiggling it around I realized I do not have the cohones to pull it out on my own.

    • Rob
    • March 31st, 2008

    Perhaps a string tied from the piercing to a doorknob and then slamming the door. No, wait…that’s for a loose tooth.

    • eatthelemons
    • March 31st, 2008

    LOL, oh Rob.

    • eatthelemons
    • October 12th, 2008

    So you all know, the sternum placement didn’t work out in the end. I had to have even the microdermals taken out, kept one for a while, but then had that removed too in August 2008. Check the “saga continues” link for a short video of Brian putting in a second set of microdermals into my chest, this time they are placed horizontally and over fleshy bits. So far so good.

    • k@Y
    • January 26th, 2009

    i think u just talked me out of it… :(

    i had my heart set.

      • eatthelemons
      • January 26th, 2009

      It depends on your body, I think. I don’t know anyone else who had this piercing, but I’ve pierced other parts of my chest, and although it looked good at first, seems I’m going to have to remove these too because they are keloiding and rejecting.

  1. thanks for the link to our site and review of our product :)

    hopefully you managed to get them back in. I have two microdermals in my arm by brian that are a year old. so far they are solid!

    • eatthelemons
    • March 3rd, 2009

    You’re welcome. I think your product allowed my sternum piercing to last the entire year. I took that out and got lateral chest microdermals, which lasted a good 9 months, but I took everything out a week ago. I think that’s it for me and surface piercings.

    • Raychel
    • March 23rd, 2009

    that’s sad they had to come out. i’ve always asked to use tygon in my surface piercings.

    i have a sternum and a nape for surface piercings. according to altered evolution it’s one of the best things to have for those kind. flexible and usually very body friendly.

    did you have metal in your body each time?

      • eatthelemons
      • March 23rd, 2009

      Yup, metal both times. I just looked up tygon, it looks awesome! Maybe I’ll try it again, after my scars fade, and if I find someone who uses it. How long have you had yours?

    • Raychel
    • April 2nd, 2009

    i’ve had mine in for only 2 months at this point. but for the sternum i didn’t have tygon when it was peirced. the metal was starting to reject in the first week, so i had some put in the bars place. and right now all is very well!

    but my nape only ever had tygon, and it fully healed and looks great.

    if you do decide to try again you might have more luck with tygon :)
    oh and it’s not a pain to sleep with either.

    • Ciara
    • April 30th, 2009

    I had my sternum pierced one year ago yesterday. still in. i’ve had my fair share of problems with it though. it goes day to day. my piercer gave me a soap called Satin to wash it with daily and then had me rinse it w/ warm sea salt water 2-3 a day. i stopped using the sea salt/water mixture about 9 months ago but still use the Satin stuff. there definately has been some migration but like you said, most surface piercings are temporary and eventually will be pushed out. but i am completely in love with it!! i’m sorry you have had to put up with so much crap!! :(

      • eatthelemons
      • April 30th, 2009

      I really enjoyed my piercing(s) too. I wouldn’t have kept getting them if I didn’t like them. I still miss it a bit, but I really enjoy sleeping on my side and wearing a messenger bag. Thanks for sharing your experience :)

    • Aimee
    • May 25th, 2009

    I am interested in getting a sternum piercing. I read your story and it scared me a bit but i still really want one. Some of my concerns are that if I decide to take it out, what kind of scaring will i have and how long does it usually last? Also does it still hurt to sleep on your side even after it heals? and someone said that surface piercings eventually get pushed out. is that true for everyone? i would imagine that after it heals your body accepts it right?
    Sorry I have so my questions but i like that you posted you story. I’ve been looking for feedback to make up my mind. if i dont get the sternum piercing i was gonna get a scaffold ear piercing. so we’ll see.

    • eatthelemons
    • May 27th, 2009

    Hi Aimee. I’m no expert and have only my experience to fall on for information, so keep that in mind as I answer your questions.

    Scarring: I have 4 keloids, 1 per piercing. I use scar cream most days and after a year the keloids fade a little but are still prominent. The size of the keloid appears to depend on how long you keep the piercing after it begins to give you trouble. The two I took out right away look much better than the others. My body gets keloids, but yours might not. I saw scarring on another person, and they just looked like small white scars.

    Healing: The second I took the piercings out I felt a lot of relief. There was some pain for a few weeks after, but nothing that prevented me from sleeping on my side or wearing a messenger bag. I just had to wait for cuts in my chest to heal.

    Temporary: Surface piercings should be seen as temporary piercings, not permanent ones like ear piercings. Some people are able to keep surface piercings for years and years, but even after a good long time in your body, if the piercing is bumped or hurt enough, the body will still try to reject it. So you would have to be careful with it.

    Good luck with whatever you choose. I did enjoy having my piercings and I don’t mind the keloids, so overall I can’t say that I regret doing it even though I didn’t get to keep mine. Just make sure to get a piercer who knows what he/she is doing. Their portfolio should have pictures of surface piercings they have done. Word of mouth is good too. Not every piercer can do this piercing, and many piercers will not be able to do it correctly.

    • Teresa
    • May 29th, 2009

    Wow!! Incredible story and must say your very brave!!
    I really wanted a sternum piercing myself and was thinking about getting it this weekend but after reading your story ..i kind changed my mind even though they look awesome!

    • Teresa
    • May 29th, 2009

    So is a single ball with no exit wound better then having a bar type where it enters and exits??

      • eatthelemons
      • May 30th, 2009

      In general, I am told that a microdermal is easier to deal with (for the body) than the bar type piercing. But it’s really tricky to say what will work better for you. You need a piercer who is most comfortable doing it one way or another and ask him his/her opinion.

    • Princess
    • August 7th, 2015

    can i take the piercing out myself. the bar is sticking out way too much and it does not look good. should i put saline on the wounds right after?

    • If you are able to kind of massage it out, sure, you can take it out yourself. If it hurts too much to take out, then go to your piercer. See if this site helps, I don’t remember how I cared for it after I got it out. http://www.piercology.com/aftercare

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