Pus oozing from an eyebrow would be enough to convince most people to avoid additional body piercings.

For Shannon Murphy, of Wildwood Crest, the incident was just a learning experience.

Murphy, 36, had her eyebrow pierced when she was 14. The wound became infected after she used a wash rag to clean it instead of following the piercer's instructions to rely on a Q-Tip with a cleaning solution.

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When it comes to body modifications, most think that tattoos - with the pain of inking and their permanence - are the most hardcore. But medical experts say piercings can be more dangerous than tattoos.

Clients or patients usually do OK as long they have the procedure done by a reputable or licensed piercer using using clean and sterile instruments, said Dr. Donna Loughlin Pherribo, of AtlantiCare Physician Group Primary Care Plus in Hammonton. Still, there is a chance for infection because a piece of metal is being introduced into a body part, she said

"The parts I have seen an issue with, No. 1, belly buttons take much longer to heal. Sometimes, it can take up to a year for the belly-button piercing to heal. I think there is more body fat and less blood supply there," Pherribo said.

Even though a great deal of bacteria is found in the human mouth, tongue piercings usually don't get infected, Pherribo said. Tongue piercings, however, present their own unique health challenges.

"A lot of tongue piercings, they chip their teeth, and then they need dental work," Pherribo said. "If you are going to entertain piercings ... you need a reputable person, know what you are getting into, and then know how to take care of it after the fact. If something happens, go seek care."

While body piercing is fairly safe overall, bacterial infection is the No. 1 complication, affecting about 20 percent of body piercings, according to a recent paper published by Northwestern University's School of Medicine. Other complications include allergic reactions, loss of blood and scarring. Piercings also can interfere with medical procedures, such as MRIs, ultrasounds and X-rays.

Twenty-three percent of teens and 20somethings have a piercing somewhere other than an ear lobe, according to The Pew Research Center. In the general population, only 8 percent of people have body parts other than their ears pierced.

The Web site safepiercing.org, run by the Association of Professional Piercers, offers advice for a safe piercing experience.

Murphy, a tattoo artist and body piercer at Eternal Etchings Body Art Studio in Villas, recovered from her eyebrow infection. She now boasts 23 piercings, including her face, throat and nipples. For each piercing, she made sure to carefully follow the instructions for cleaning them.

Ashley Ammann, of Goshen, Middle Township, has had a couple of her piercings become infected, one of them being a piercing called a Monroe or a Crawford, which is like the mole on the faces of Marilyn Monroe or Cindy Crawford.

The piercing was done properly, and Ammann took care of it well, but it became infected when she fell ill.

"My body was fighting off anything foreign, so it started to attack my piercings, which caused an infection," said Ammann, 24, who also is a tattoo artist and a body piercer at Eternal Etchings.

Some people like to receive piercings through their face cheeks, which is one of the most dangerous piercings a person can receive, Ammann said.

"You have what is called the Parotid duct that runs through your cheek. If you hit that, you can damage your saliva gland where you will stop producing saliva or overproduce saliva. That will cause so many problems to your face, not to mention the bleeding. I've known people who have gotten it done, who will wake up in the middle of the night to a pool. They are not going to heal," Ammann said.

Even though there can be problems with piercings, Ammann is happy with hers.

"The best thing about having piercings for me is the ability to change my appearance and enjoying what I see in the mirror. Where most people just change their hair or what necklace they are going to get on a given day, I have jewelry that I get to wear on my face or other body parts for as long as I like, and it is on my terms. I take it out when I want," said Ammann, who has nine piercings.

Harry Prokosa, 24, had his nipples pierced two years ago. There was a lot of pain involved, but he went through with it, he said.

"I'm really not worried about infections," said Prokosa, who does piercings at Exotic Body Works in Hammonton. "If you listen to what the piercer says, and you take the protocol, when they give you the sheet at the end of your piercing ... and you just use the stuff they tell you, you really shouldn't have to worry about infections too much. It's just listening and being responsible about it."

Prokosa doesn't worry about infections, and he also makes sure his piercings are made out of surgical steel. People are allergic to nickel, and some people are allergic to other metals, he said.

A Hammonton resident, Prokosa also has a tongue piercing, but no lip piercings.

"My tongue hits the roof of the mouth," said Prokosa, who added he hasn't chipped a tooth yet. "They (those with lip piercings) can bite down on it and chip it, but I know people with tongue piercings that chipped their teeth too. I'm just fortunate."

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