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Like urban folklore, body modification is subject to many rumors, myths and misconceptions surrounding risks, meanings attributed to certain modifications and more. Here you will find an ongoing record of these body modification myths.


Tattoo Myths

  • Vaseline fades a tattoo.

The ink is underneath the epidermis and the outer layer of dermis. There's no way that Vaseline can get down through the epidermis to draw out any of the ink.

  • Swimming fades a tattoo.

For the same reason above, chlorine does not get to the ink . Common sense precautions include not swimming in a public pool with a wound. Sunlight, however, does have a fading affect on tattoos and may be a reason people assume swimming causes the fading. It is advisable to always wear sunblock to protect your tattoos (and your skin).

  • An IV cannot be given in an area with a tattoo. Giving an IV through a tattoo will make the ink from the tattoo go into the bloodstream and cause blood poisoning.

There is absolutely no reason why an IV or any other medical injection cannot be given in an area that contains a tattoo. It is not necessary to "see" the vein in order to insert an IV needle or give an injection and any skilled medical professional should be able to do so by feeling the area. Likewise, the ink from the tattoo will not enter the blood stream and cause blood poisoning.

  • If you have a tattoo across your lower back, you cannot get an epidural.

As in the case of the above myth, there is absolutely no reason why an epidural cannot be given in an area that is tattooed.

  • Tattooing blocks the pores and makes it impossible for a person's body to sweat.

Again, this is false. Tattooing does not block the pores and your body will still be able to sweat/breathe with a tattoo.

  • Tattoo ink will seep into your bones.

Tattoo ink will not seep into your bones.

  • Having a tattoo means you're a member of a gang.

While many gang members have tattoos, so do many doctors, lawyers and individuals from all walks of life. Simply being tattooed is not an affiliation with a gang or club of any kind. This rumour will likely fade into complete obscurity as the popularity of tattooing continues to rise.

  • You can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos.

This is absolutely false yet remains a heavily perpetuated myth. Having a tattoo will not keep you from being buried in a Jewish cemetery (if you are a Jew). Please see the entry on Judaism for more.

Piercing Myths

  • Getting a certain body part pierced is an indicator of one's sexuality.

This rumor is an old one but one that is still being perpetuated today. Today, getting one ear pierced doesn't mean you're gay any more than it means you're straight.

  • Piercings will affect an X-ray

It is a common misconception by people in the medical community that body piercings will adversely affect the developing of an X-ray film. Jewelry will be visible on an X-ray film in the same way that a medical pin or metal plate is visible (generally showing up as bright white amongst the grayscale of the rest of the film). It will have no adverse effects on the patient, technician, or film. That said, jewelry can obscure bone and tissues beneath it, thereby increasing the risk that an injury will go unnoticed if it is directly beneath the shadow of the jewelry.

  • If you get an MRI and don't take out your piercings, the magnet from the machine will rip them out.

Quality body jewelry is made from non-magnetic materials, the most common being surgical grade stainless steel, titanium and niobium. While the risk of having the piercings rip out of the body during an MRI made not be sound, it is possible that, like with an x-ray, a piercing could potentially block the view of an injury or issue directly beneath it.

There is no truth to the rumor that piercing one's tragus, that small bump in front of the ear canal, will lead to facial paralysis. This myth varies and versions about piercing one's lip, tongue and other body parts and "hitting a nerve that causes paralysis" exist. Fortunately, our bodies are constructed better than that.

There is no correlation between developing cancer and having one's nipple pierced.

  • Having your nipples pierced means you will be unable to breastfeed.

There is no evidence to suggest that a woman's pierced nipples will have any effect on her ability to breastfeed. [1]


One distressing misconception surrounding body modifications is the notion that body modification and sexual promiscuity are somehow linked. While it can be argued that someone who is willing to experiment with body modification may also be willing to experiment sexually, the idea that a person, male or female, can be assumed to be sexually promiscuous because they have body modification is completely false. Unfortunately, this idea can be dangerous as the assumption that, for example, a girl with tattoos will "put out" can lead to sexual harassment or even sexual assault. That is not to say that body modifications put you at risk for being assaulted but rather than there are people who believe they can judge a person's character based solely on the fact that they have body modifications.

Likewise, body modification is not an indication of a person's preference for pain. While many people involved in the S&M scene may also practice body modification, the act of practicing body modification does not indicate that a person is involved in S&M or enjoys pain.

Sexual preference also has strong links to body modification. While body modification is an ancient act, the gay club scene of the 1960s era and forward certainly brought body modification out into the open. It is likely due to this "start" that assumptions surrounding body modifications and sexual preference arose. Today, however, it is simply not possible to judge a person's sexuality based solely on their body modifications and ideas such as "piercing your right ear means you're gay" is a thing of the past, if it ever meant anything at all.

An individual's body modifications are not an open invitation for personal questions about one's sexual preferences or sexuality.

Needle Phobia and Body Modification

Having a phobia or fear of needles, such as having your blood drawn, an IV inserted or an injection is very common. All too often, when a person with piercings and tattoos expresses such fears they receive negative treatment from medical professionals. Having piercings or tattoos does not mean that a person cannot possibly have a fear of needles. The process of receiving a tattoo or piercing is nothing like that of having an IV inserted or blood drawn. Unfortunately, many modified individuals find themselves ridiculed and belittled for expressing the same fears as someone without body modification. Medical professionals should take care to treat all patients the same and react with the same compassion that they would toward an individual without piercings or tattoos who expresses a fear of needles.

Body Modification and Employment

You'll never get a job if you get tattooed/pierced/etc.

While an individual should consider the consequences of body modification, particularly visible body modification, the assertion that no jobs are available to those who are modified is not exactly true. There are many companies out there who may enforce a dress code that includes not having any visible tattoos or body modifications, however; there are many other places that do not have such dress codes. That said, pierced and tattooed individuals can be found in all walks of life, holding various positions, including lawyers, doctors, teachers, law enforcement, and more.

Body Modification and Mental Health

Assumptions are sometimes made about the status of an individuals mental health based solely on their body modifications. Having body modifications does not mean a person self injures or that they have mental health issues nor does it mean they want attention, were abused or anything else. While these things are certainly true in some individuals who practice body modification, they are just as true in many individuals who do not. Assumptions cannot be made based solely on the action of body modification and many individuals who choose to modify their bodies do not and have never practiced self injury, do not have mental health issues, do not want attention, have never been abused and are otherwise happy and healthy individuals. Applying any assumptions to an entire group of individuals is dangerous and nothing should ever be assumed about an individuals state of mind based on their body modification practices.

Body Modification and Metal Detectors

There is a common assumption that body modifications will set off metal detectors like those used in airports. The most common jewelry used in body piercings is made from surgical grade stainless steel which is not magnetic and therefor does not set off metal detectors. Additionally, titanium and niobium, also used in body piercing jewelry, is not magnetic and will therefor not set off metal detectors. While Nicole Richie famously claims to have set off a metal detector with her nipple piercing [2] many heavily pierced individuals have reported never experiencing any problems passing through a metal detector.

See Also


Tattoo FAQ, MRI

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