Sweet Cheeks: Cheek Ladder and Journey Piercings

by Cat
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multiple cheek piercings

A cheek ladder or journey is a grouping of piercings that are generally placed diagonally across the cheek (vertical and horizontal variations have also been documented). This can be done on one or both sides. With this grouping of piercings the adornments in the jewelry are generally graduated, the smallest gems being closer to the ear and the largest being closer to the mouth. Either a series of barbells are pierced through the cheek or a series of microdermal implants are placed on the surface of the cheek. The adornments on the microdermal anchors or barbells used in them generally have graduated stones to create a unique look. They start small closer to the ear and get bigger as they go down the face. That is where the term journey comes from, starting small and ending big. Depending on the amount of steps in your ladder you may have to get this project done in multiple sittings to reduce trauma to the body.

Microdermal implants are the more popular way to achieve a ladder/journey on your face. Microdermals are a single point surface piercing with one adornment per incision.  The rate of infection and complications are very low. Facial movement must be limited during healing time. There is very little to no chance of tooth or gum damage due to the piercing not penetrating the cheek completely, and microdermal implants are much kinder to your face. The implants are put in with a permanent method that involves making a perforation in the sub-dermal skin layer of your body. Such perforations can be made on almost all surfaces of the skin, including the face. These implants can only be removed by a medical professional. Everyone does heal differently, but scarring is generally minimal when removed. Once healed, dermal implants can only be removed with surgery.

dermal jewelry parts

Dermal implants take a lot of precision and care to execute correctly; make sure to view your piercer’s healed dermal photos before being pierced. For the procedure the piercer removes hair in the area, cleans it with alcohol based cleanser, marks it with a surgical pen, and then inserts a piercing needle or small dermal punch to bore an L shaped opening under the skin creating a pocket in which to insert the anchor. Jewelry is then placed into the small pocket. The hole that is made into the skin reaches all the way down to the muscle layer. A flat plate that is ¼ inch long is inserted under the skin. Some of the microdermal plates have holes drilled in them so the tissue grows into the bases to secure the jewelry.  A short upright threaded post passes through the skin and pops out to the surface where a gem or ornamental dermal top is screwed on; the visible threaded end protrudes from the flesh so the adornment can be changed. When done correctly it looks like the jewelry is glued on, flush to the flesh, kind of like you just had your skin bedazzled.

dermal top jewelry

Embedded jewelry remains under the skin through the life of the piercing so it is important that you use a high quality anchor; surgical grade steel or titanium is recommend. When the tissue heals, the foot of the dermal anchor is firmly held in place. Multiple surface anchors are often done in patterns, like the cheek ladder, or journey piercing. Healing time is around 1-3 months.  Proper aftercare is extremely important. Following your piercers instructions is mandatory to maintain a healthy dermal implant. As with any piercing, migration, rejection, scarring, and catching are all risks.

If you do not want microdermal piercings for your ladder you can also opt for a traditional puncture of the cheek. Piercing of the cheek is tricky, but very popular due to its aesthetic value and internet fandom. Cheek piercings penetrate the facial tissue into the oral cavity. Normally they are placed symmetrically to imitate dimples. Multiple piercings create the cheek ladder down the center of the cheek. However, some professional piercers will not perform this procedure. Cheek piercings can cause nerve damage, damage to the parotid duct, and have a tendency to leak or secrete an unpleasant smelling lymph fluid. Therefore there are risks when getting multiple cheek piercings. Only you and your piercer can decide if this piercing is right for you.

The initial piercing jewelry can be a flat back labret or a barbell; there are pros and cons to each. The barbell is used in many cases so the skin does not grow over the flat back, but the flat back provides comfort and lessens the chance of the jewelry damaging the teeth or gums of the person pierced. The cons for each can be minimized with proper jewelry length; ultimately it is up to your piercer to decide the proper jewelry based on their preference and your anatomy.  The cheek is pierced with a 14 gauge hollow needle and the initial jewelry is a 22 – 24 mm long labret/barbell. This longer shaft is in place to accommodate swelling. After the piercing is healed it is important to change to shorter jewelry, which further reduces the chance of damage to the teeth from unintentional biting. It can take from 2-6 months or more for this piercing to fully heal.

Cheek piercing is a common ritual throughout both primitive and modern cultures. Fakirs are those persons who use skewers to puncture the cheeks and face in some cultures. Sideshow performers also practice piercing rituals for shock value. One of the most well known cheek piercing rituals is found in the vegetatian festivals in Phuket Thailand. Mediums pierce their cheeks with different objects while in a trance. To go along with tradition, religious followers perform ritualized body modification. Piercings through the cheeks, arms, face, back, and more occur during this festival. The actual impaling is done by doctors and physicians (so don’t try this at home kids).

cheek piercings at Thaipusam Festival

It’s easy to get creative and get cheeky with facial piercings. Multiple cheek piercings/microdermals are a modern take on a primitive tradition.  Don’t forget to wear graduated gem jewelry to complete the look. Small facial tattoos can also add an additional layer to your cheek ladder or journey. With the help of a professional piercer and proper aftercare, cheek piercings may be just what you need to complete your look, Sweet Cheeks!

by Cat

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