If you’re heading off on a trip where you’ll be flying, and you have piercings, you may be wondering if you’ll have to worry about getting through security checkpoints with them at the airport. This can definitely increase your travel anxiety.
Especially if you have new piercings that you want to avoid having to take out, you want to be sure that TSA isn’t going to give you any grief when you go through the metal detector. Luckily, it likely won’t be a big deal and with a few tips you’ll be on your way to anywhere you want to be!
How do airport metal detectors work?
Metal detectors are pretty magical in the way they work. Metal detectors are used in all sorts of security settings, like stadiums and event venues, malls, schools, and of course, airports. They can be the standing units that you walk through, or in a wand form so security can easily wave them over someone’s body or bags.
The equipment sends out an electromagnetic field that goes and goes until it finds something metallic. At that point, the detector sets of an alarm or a beep to indicate to the TSA workers at the airport that the electromagnetic field has been disrupted by a metallic object. Pretty neat, right? Unless you have metallic jewelry, that is.
What types of metal are detected?
In airports, the metal detectors are not looking for jewelry though. TSA is looking for threatening objects that contain metals, including weapons like knives and guns, or even explosives that people may be trying to sneak through security and on to a plane.
In order to detect these items, the settings on the metal detector don’t have to be very high. If they are looking for smaller metallic items, the sensitivity on the machine would need to be adjusted for that.
At an airport, you’re not likely to come across a super sensitive metal detector, because then people would be getting stopped all the time for small things, potentially limiting the chance that the big, dangerous items would actually be detected.
This could also cause major backups in security, with numerous people needing to be searched. So, while metal detectors can be set off by body jewelry, they probably won’t be.
What materials won’t set off the metal detectors?
There are a few things that won’t set off a metal detector. Not all jewelry is going to trigger even the most sensitive metal detector.
Jewelry that is made of pure gold or platinum is actually not magnetic, so it won’t be picked up at all by the machine. Some metals that will be picked up are nickel, iron, copper, brass, aluminum, tin, and lead. Sometimes stainless steel can be picked up as well.
Again, at the airport you are unlikely to set off the metal detector with the small amount of any of these metals in your body jewelry, but it is possible if the settings are the machine are sensitive enough.
So what happens if I do set off the metal detector?
In the event that you walk through the metal detector and the alarm starts going off, don’t panic. TSA will just ask you to step aside so they can search you. This can seem intimidating, but TSA pulls people to the side all the time for numerous reasons and it doesn’t mean that you’re in trouble.
At this point, it’s a good idea to just go ahead and let them know you have body jewelry and that could have been what set off the alarm. If you have a piercing on your face (like your tongue, lip, cheek, nose, eyebrow, belly button) or in your ears, you can just show the piercing to the agent if you feel comfortable doing so.
Typically, TSA just needs to see the jewelry to know that the item that set off the detector isn’t a threat to security or safety.
If your piercing is in an area you don’t feel comfortable showing, like your nipples or genital area, you may need to step to a more private space to show your jewelry (See statement from TSA). It can seem a little intrusive, but it’s just for the safety of everyone involved.
If you do run into a situation where you have to show a piercing in a sensitive area to TSA, you do have the right to ask for an agent with your preferred gender to eliminate any uncomfortable feelings about showing the jewelry.
This will be a quick process, as TSA just needs to visually see the jewelry to identify what set off the alarm and eliminate the security threat. Again, this is unlikely to happen, but it is best to be prepared just in case.
Should I just remove my body jewelry?
While removing your body jewelry will eliminate the possibility of setting off the metal detector, this is completely up to the individual. If you have fresh piercings, or piercings that are still healing, we definitely don’t recommend removing your jewelry. This could cause the piercing to grow over, which would be a major bummer especially when it is not likely to be an issue in the first place.
If you have older piercings though with jewelry that is easily removeable, it wouldn’t hurt to take out the jewelry to give you peace of mind, especially if you are really anxious about going through security.
You could take out the jewelry, send it through in your toiletries bag or purse, and then put the jewelry right back in. Some easy jewelry to remove might be large-gauge jewelry, septum piercings, nipple piercings, and any earrings. Again, if it’s a fresh piercing or jewelry that is difficult to remove, just leave it in!
Are there any other alternatives?
If you don’t want to remove jewelry but you don’t want to take a chance with the metal detectors, you could always put in a plastic spacer just while you’re traveling (Here’s an example on Amazon). People use spacers for various reasons, such as not being allowed to wear facial piercing jewelry in the workplace or at school.
It’s just a plastic piece that you put in place of the jewelry. This will help protect your piercings from growing over, and you definitely won’t have to worry about problems with TSA needing to search you due to setting off the alarm.
Don’t let your piercings hold you back!
Your piercings are part of who you are and how you express yourself, and they shouldn’t get in the way of your travel plans. Use the tips above to make your travel experience less stressful. Pack your bags and head to the airport with confidence. Bon voyage!