Stuff I Sort of Know About: Microdermal Anchors

by Cooper Young

“Excuse me.”


“Is…Do you have your chest pierced?”

I look up from the text I was about to send my husband and at the woman standing in front of me in line. Double 14 gauge captive bead rings in each ear, a helix piercing, and a seven year old kid. Alright, I think, this’ll be a about a level five: curious, possibly squeamish, probably non-judgmental. “Uh…yeah. Yeah I do.”

“How does it…I mean, how do you get it to stick?”

“It’s implanted in the skin.”

“Oh. That’s kinda cool.”

“Thanks.” I return my attention to my phone, knowing full well the conversation isn’t over. It never stops there.

It’s a conversation I’ve had about once every week or so for the past year and a half, and it doesn’t bother me. Most people have a certain set of reactions to body modifications; they have preformed impressions, good or bad, associated with the placement or appearance of various tattoos and piercings. Think about it: if I said “butterfly lower back tattoo” or “eyebrow ring”, you could probably tell me off the top of you head what your initial judgement of someone with that would be. Microdermals tend to transcend such pigeonholing, simply because they’re new and unusual. The average American hasn’t seen many, if any. Reactions to mine tend to range from “oh, I’ve been thinking about getting one too; (insert 400 questions)” to a too baffled to be offended “Wh…what? Why…why would you ever…?”

So, to share the knowledge I’ve collected with the masses, I present the Microdermal FAQ. Enjoy.

How does that even work?

The short answer is “it’s implanted in the skin”, but that doesn’t really tell you anything. The long answer involves this diagram:

F-k MS Paint. I got this.

The top (disk, end, or gem) is the only part visible above the skin. The post rises up through the skin, and the foot is settled between two layers of skin. Thus, the end is “anchored”.

How do they do it?

A microdermal anchor is what’s called a single-point piercing; that is, it only requires one hole. Normally, you punch a needle through a body part and thread the jewelry through the ensuing tunnel, but a microdermal is specifically designed to have no exit wound. Now, here’s where people start squirming, especially people with no unusual piercings: your local piercer inserts a 14 gauge hollow needle (that’s 1.6 mm in diameter, or the equivalent of a size 6 crochet hook) into the desired spot at an angle, then uses (wiggles) it to create a pocket in the skin. The needle is removed, the longer end of the foot is inserted, and the whole anchor is manipulated until the short end pops into place. It is then left to heal, during which time the two layers of skin will bond through the holes in the foot, effectively sewing the metal into the skin.

How likely is it to reject?

Not very. Actual statistics vary, but it’s generally acknowledged that they stay pretty well, better than traditional surface piercings which involve running an unanchored bar through a tunnel in the skin. The anchors are made from the same titanium as surgical pins, and the small size and low profile keep them from getting knocked around too much. That being said, I had one reject after nine months of being just angelic. You can see it in the picture above; the red dot near my neck is where it used to be, as also evidenced by this. According to the piercer, it was in a bad spot to begin with and finally couldn’t deal anymore; I had it removed and replaced about an inch lower on my chest, where it has since lived quite happily.

Did it hurt?

Short answer: yes. Everyone has a different tolerance to pain, so it’s pretty safe to assume that every piercing hurts in the objective sense. My friend and piercing buddy Jess had a roommate who damn near punched the piercer when he did her nostril—a piercing which Jess has herself and called painless. For me, the initial insertion hurt decently bad, the removal barely hurt at all, the reinsertion hurt much less than the initial, and having the top unstuck so it could be unscrewed (basically, having the bottom and top both grabbed with pliers and horked in different directions) hurt bad enough the piercer had to say “Baby girl, you’ve got to remember to keep breathing.”

It’s also dependent on position. Where I had mine at first, way up near my neck, bled a slow trickle for about 6 hours and left me with a bruise like someone had put a half-dollar on my chest and punched it. The second time it hurt half as much and looked healed from the minute it was done. Results may vary even on the same body.

Can you take it out? 

Or, more often, “How do you take it out?”. Depending on the age of my audience, I tend to either answer with “Well, the top unscrews”, glossing over what happens to the bottom unless pressed, or “With a knife”. The foot stays. It has to; it’s attached to the skin by scar tissue. The top is internally threaded, meaning the little jewel has a screw on the back that spins into the post.

Think of the post as a wall anchor. You can take the screw out if you need to, but that little bitch is staying in the drywall where you put it.

What if you need an MRI or something?

Again, there’s a reason they make them from the same material as surgical pins: they respond the same way.

Why? Just…why?

The best reason of all: because it’s cool. Bitchin’, wicked cool. And you know it.