Do Piercings Set Off Metal Detectors & Security Scanners?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 21, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Yes, piercings can set off airport scanners and metal detectors, but it’s not a given. The more metal you have on your body, the greater the chance you’ll set off the alarms. To prevent this from happening, remove the piercings before going through security, if possible.

There are many well-documented cases of people that got delayed at the airport because of their body piercings. One such example once triggered national outrage. However, there are also many people with piercings that have never had any issues with airport scanners and metal detectors in airports. It almost feels like it’s a lottery, but is it?

How Airport Scanners and Metal Detectors Work

Metal detectors emit electromagnetic fields that break up when they come in contact with metallic objects. When the disruption happens, the metal detector gives off a signal that will draw the attention of the personnel handling the equipment.

The scanners and metal detectors at most airports pick up dangerous objects such as guns, knives, IEDs, and anything else that can pose a threat to lives on an airplane.

These devices typically come with a sensitivity setting that ensures they can only find what’s necessary. 

This way, the chances of the detectors triggering false alarms are reduced. Without the appropriate settings, it would be difficult to complete pre-flight checks.

Will Metal Detectors Pick Body Piercings?

Scanners at airports around the world have varying degrees of sensitivity. However, you can get through most airport metal detectors if you have less than half a dozen piercings.

As the number of your piercings increase, the chances of drawing the attention of security personnel increase. There’s no telling how multiple piercings laced with different types of jewelry can affect the magnetic field of a metal detector.

Additionally, the size of the jewelry can also determine if you get flagged or not. For example, wearing multiple gauges or hoops can set off the alarms.

How to Avoid Setting off Metal Detectors with your Body Piercings

The best way to completely avoid triggering any alarms when you walk through metal detectors is to remove your jewelry beforehand. If you have a mix of larger and smaller jewelry, remove the former.

If your piercing is less than six months old, however, think carefully about removing the jewelry. If the piercing is yet to heal completely, you risk triggering an infection by removing the jewelry willy-nilly.

Even with a healed piercing, removing the jewelry for prolonged periods can cause the pierced area to close up. When you want to put the jewelry back in, it could be a harrowing experience.

If you have to avoid triggering alarms with your new body piercing at all costs, you can remove the jewelry, but make sure it’s put back in by a professional at the end of your trip.

What Should You Do When Your Body Piercing Sets off a Metal Detector Alarm?

When your piercing triggers the scanners, the first thing you need to do is to stay calm — many without body piercings also trigger alarms, so you aren’t being singled out. The security personnel will pull you to the side for a manual check with a hand-held scanner. To make the process end faster, declare all your piercings.

Security may ask you to show them the piercings, which won’t be an issue if you only have piercings on exposed parts of your body or areas you don’t mind showing off in public. If you have more private piercings, however, let the agents know. 

In this scenario, you’ll have to follow them to a secluded area to show them the piercings. There’s nothing to be worried about at this point. If you are in a situation where you have to show a super-private piercing, you have the right to choose the gender of the agents who’ll search you. It’s your right to do so, and once they can confirm your jewelry is the cause of the alarm, you’ll be on your way shortly.

Wrapping Up

If you only have a few metal body piercings, the chances of getting flagged at the airport are slim. More piercings and larger jewelry, however, can attract attention. 

With piercings that are older than a year, consider removing them if you don’t want to raise any eyebrows as you walk through the airport scanners. For newer piercings, risking triggering the alarm is more sensible than an infection or going through the pain of putting the jewelry back in.

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