For many people, the prospect of having to change jewelry on a new piercing can seem daunting. The fear that there will be additional pain when the jewelry is exchanged often prevents people from enjoying their piercing. At times even facilitating the migration process which eventually leads to rejection of the jewelry. This article will hopefully dismiss some of those fears and give you a practical way of exchanging body jewelry with minimal amount of discomfort and damage. Above all else, common sense will be your best guide.

Your skin is a living, breathing, changing entity. It is affected by weather, your diet and the clothes you wrap it in. Its main purpose in life is to protect you from harm. Now that you have a piece of metal running through it, your skin naturally wants to get rid of it. It is a foreign object that doesn’t belong there. What we have to do is trick the body into accepting the piercing. One way is to use the appropriate jewelry. This requires you to be able to change that jewelry (or remove it when needed) with the least amount of irritation to the skin.

When a piercing is done professionally, a surgical needle is used which removes a small amount of tissue from the skin. This allows the piercing to pass through with a minimal amount of resistance. As the needle passes through, the resulting ‘tunnel’ is straight and unhindered. (FIG.1)

Before the needle is removed from the skin, the piercer will then follow the needle through with the new jewelry during the piercing procedure. This method does not allow the skin to close in on itself. Keep this in mind as this follow-through technique is the basic principal that I will be illustrating here for changing your jewelry. Even though the illustrations show standard barbell jewelry, this principle is the same for captive bead rings. For some areas, you may need someone’s help with changing a ring.


Jewelry with screw-on type balls come in one of two forms. A post with a fixed ball (gem, dangle, etc.) on one end and a single removable ball on the other or a post where either ball can be removed. Most starter jewelry can be unscrewed from either end. Keep this handy as it can come into use if you have two pieces of jewelry where the same end comes off only.

Find out which end comes off on the jewelry you wish to insert into your piercing and take that end off. On the jewelry that’s in now, remove the opposite ball from the new jewelry as shown in fig.2(a). Use a liquid soap or KY Jelly to lubricate the threaded end of the new jewelry. Carefully align the two threaded ends as seen in fig.2(b) and gently push the new jewelry into the piercing as you pull the old one out (fig.2(c)). The new jewelry will pass through the hole with little to no discomfort and irritation to the inner walls of the piercing. Replace the ball on the new piercing and wash the lubricant off.

If you have jewelry where the opposite ball does not come off (novelty navel jewelry is typical of this) you may need to change the jewelry in two steps. Use a third barbell and insert that into your piercing using the forementioned ‘follow-through’ technique. This will act as a place-holder where the old jewelry was. Then insert the new jewelry into the piercing the same way and clean the piercing.


In the figure on the left, the first two illustrations show fig.3(a) the ideal position and fig.3(b) the reality of how the hole aligns through the skin when jewelry is removed. Without any internal support, the wall of the hole collapses and shifts. Different parts of the body will vary in the degree of contraction of the wall and the shifting of the hole. The tighter the skin, the harder it will be to reintroduce jewelry into the piercing. Known areas where this becomes a problem are the tongue, nipples and certain genital piercings.

Most standard jewelry such as barbells and belly rings have balls that screw onto a post. The post is what passes through the hole of the piercing. If you notice, the threading on the end of the post is rough. The threading acts like a serrated edge. Passing this through tender flesh can damage the inner walls of your piercing as seen in fig.3(c). If jewelry can’t be inserted with ease because the hole has tightened or is not aligned, a taper may need to be used to re-align and/or re-open the hole (fig.3(d)). A taper is nothing more than a blunted piece of steel that gradually expands from one gauge size to the next from tip to heel.


Piercings that have healed completely but have had their jewelry removed for some time will most likely still be open. Because the skin has tightened without the jewelry being there many people simply assume that the hole is closed. If you are having trouble getting jewelry through a stubborn hole, the safest route is to see your local piercer and ask for their assistance. Otherwise, try these little tricks. Obviously the best tool is a commercially available piercing taper gauged to your jewelry. They can be purchased through the Internet or through your local piercer. If one is not available, any suitable item can be used so long as it meets the following criteria; a blunted tip, smooth sides, ample stiffness, sufficient length and jewelry appropriate size (gauge). Some suggestions include plastic stiring sticks or toothpicks, thick paper clips, carpet needles (blunted first with a file), small section of copper electrical wire (which can be purchased in several gauges and smoothed easily). Please use your common sense here. While these are suggestions, they don’t replace a good professional taper.

To re-open a hole requires patience and courage. The trick is to re-stretch the opening large enough to accomodate your jewelry again. Start of slow and with a slightly smaller taper than the gauge of your jewelry. Lubricate the tip with liquid soap or KY Jelly (except for tongues) and carefully insert the tip into the opening of the hole. You will need to ‘feel’ your way through the hole (fig.4(a)). You may experience a slight burning sensation as the taper expands the hole. This is normal and as long as the sensation is not intollerable, keep going. You will encounter some resistance as you make your way through the hole. The further through the hole, the more resistance. If need be, remove the taper, reapply lubricant and try again. Here is where perseverance (and stubborness) pays off.

Once through you will need to assess the situation. If the taper is not large enough to accomodate the jewelry you may need to use a slightly larger taper. Lubricate the next taper and use the ‘follow-through’ technique above and shown in fig.4. This technique is also used to size your jewelry up to the next gauge, facilitating larger jewelry. Here is where I have to put in a word of caution. Skin will only stretch so far before it tears. We want to avoid tearing the skin since it only creates unwanted pain and scar tissue. If the taper feels like it doesn’t want to go any further (and the burning sensation tells you to stop) don’t push it. Put in smaller jewelry and wait a couple of weeks before attempting to stretch it again.

Once the taper is through, simply follow it through with your jewelry as explained above and you’re done. Clean the piercing and enjoy. For those of you brave enough to size your jewelry up, remember to allow the newly stretched skin to heal completely before attempting another size up. This can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.