Aftercare for Body Piercing
My Experience with Piercings
I’m sure there are probably a lot of articles out there about piercing, but who’s to say I can’t write another one!
I am a professional piercer by trade and I’ve seen and experienced a lot in the many years since I first started. I have noticed one thing about most piercing shops: they care more about making money than they do about what they are doing, who they are doing it to, what they are using to do the job, and what information they are giving people.
I could go on and on about different aspects of the piercing business, but for this article I’m going to talk (ahem… type) about aftercare. First, I'll discuss aftercare for piercings in general, but at the end of this article I'll discuss oral piercings in particular.
Why Is Aftercare Important?
Aftercare is the most important aspect of any body modification, yet the instructions for how to take care of a piercing vary so much from shop to shop that most people become confused and end up experiencing complications. So if you’re having trouble healing a piercing, have had trouble in the past, or are considering getting a piercing, this article will be an interesting and informative read for you.
Once a fresh piercing is inserted with a piece of quality jewelry, it generally requires air, space, cleanliness, and patience to heal. Piercings never have been and never will be an instant gratification: they take time to look and feel their greatest, and patience is a virtue. In this article I will discuss general guidelines of care to be applied to most piercings.
When I sell a client a piercing, I am selling them a fully-healed piercing. I guide them through the aftercare process and, if they have any complications, I help them through the healing time. I also offer them jewelry changes with sterile equipment free of charge and guarantee the quality of the jewelry that I am selling them. Whoever you go to for a piercing should do the same.
But, in case they don't, and because I want this good information to reach more than just my clientele and customers, here goes!
Initial Healing Time for Piercings
The initial healing time is the time it takes for your piercing to look and feel healed. This process depends on the condition of your body and how fast you generally take to heal, so it varies from person to person and piercing to piercing.
Generally, healing takes between two to three months—earlobes and noses a little less, but nipples, navels and deep piercings a little longer. Dues to hormone fluctuations, female nipples and navels can take up to a year or longer to look and feel healed!
Seasoning time is the time it takes for your piercing to be fully healed all the way through the fistula of scar tissue that forms around the jewelry. When a piercing is seasoned, it can be removed without the piercing fully closing up. Over time, without jewelry in the piercing, it will generally shrink down but won’t actually close up so it can be stretched back open to fit jewelry once again. After your piercing is seasoned, you can basically take it out as you please without worry about losing the hole. Generally, this takes about a year to a year and a half, depending on your body as well as the type of piercing.
This length of seasoning time applies to most piercings, but not all; piercings such as the nostril, sometimes the tongue, and long surface piercings can be lost even after having them for a year or more. It really all depends on your body! Female nipples and navels sometimes take more than two years to be fully seasoned (again, it has to do with monthly hormone fluctuations which can make the piercing act up from time to time and feel like they’re fresh again).
Basic Cleaning Routine
To avoid contaminating your piercing with foreign bacteria, always start by washing your hands.
The first night: That evening after you've been pierced, it is not necessary to use any cleansing product, but it is advisable that you use gauze, Q-tips, or some clean paper towel to soak the piercing with hot water just to soothe it and reduce any soreness and swelling.
The day after: The next morning, start a basic cleaning routine, one that you follow religiously. Clean your piercing two to four times per day depending on what you are doing (if you're working in an office, maybe two times, but if you're digging ditches, maybe four). Always clean it after working out (sweat=toxins) or after working at a laborious or grubby job.
The daily routine:
- Wash your hands in hot soapy water to remove any bacteria that could be transferred to your piercing or jewelry and dry with clean paper towel.
- Soak with Q-tips and hot water to soften the “crusties” that form on either side of the piercing against the jewelry. Roll the Q-tip gently against the jewelry in the direction away from the piercing to remove the crusties, you may feel the urge to just pick the crusties off, but trust me if you soak and roll enough they will come off in a much gentler fashion.
- Slather the Q-tip in aftercare product* and apply it to both sides of the piercing as well as the jewelry, and then move the jewelry back and forth slightly to clean inside.**
- Rinse off all the aftercare product either in the shower or by using lots of Q-tips and hot water, moving the jewelry back and forth to make sure that there is no aftercare product left behind.
- Dry with Q-tips and do not touch it at all until your next cleaning!
* I recommend to use only one of the following aftercare products: pure gycerin soap (no creams, dyes, or fragrance), distilled witch hazel (make sure there is no alcohol listed in the ingredients), colloidal silver (if you're not allergic to silver!), or a sterile saline solution (contact solution works great or you can make your own). Again, if your piercing is oral, scroll down to see my pointers on oral piercings in particular.
**If a cartilage piercing does not want to move the first couple days, don’t force it: just clean around the entrance, the exit, and the jewelry. It is a myth that your skin will stick permanently to the jewelry unless you are wearing titanium for years without moving it at all, which doesn’t happen very often. Most people with piercings clean their piercing and jewelry regularly, even after it’s seasoned.
Basic Dos and Don'ts
- Do clean your piercing daily.
- Do dry your piercing well with Q-tips after cleaning.
- Do wash your hands before touching your piercing.
- Do change your bedding more often.
- Do eat healthily and take vitamins or supplements.
- Do NOT touch or play with your piercing.
- Do NOT overkill on cleaning your piercing: two times a day, up to four, is generally enough.
- Do NOT sleep on it or put pressure on it as this will cause unnecessary scar tissue to form.
- Do NOT swim in a lake, river, ocean, or public pool until the piercing looks and feels good.
- Do NOT use alcohol, peroxide, or anything that stings or burns as these ingredients dry skin out too much and don't promote proper healing.
- Do NOT use polysporin or any other ointments or creams as they plug up the piercing so it cannot breathe and also attract airborne bacteria.
- Do NOT get creams, oils, cleansers, powders, or make-up products in or on the piercing; always be sure to keep a dime-sized, product-free zone around the piercing.
- Do NOT take bubble baths.
- Do NOT do drugs or drink alcohol since they can significantly slow the healing time or cause your body to reject the piercing.
What if Your Piercing Has a Reaction?
If your piercing seems dry, red, and itchy at all, make sure you are rinsing out your aftercare product very well. If it still seems irritated, try switching to a different aftercare product (see list below).
If your piercing seems watery or septic and looks almost as if the skin is pulling away from the jewelry, make sure you are rinsing out your aftercare product well. If you determine the aftercare is not the problem, you may be having a jewelry reaction.
If you started with surgical steel, make sure that it is a high grade surgical steel. 316LVM is the best, don’t settle for 316L as it is tool grade, not implant grade, meaning that doctors don’t leave it inside your body. 316LVM is the good stuff that is used by doctors and dentists.
If like the look of steel but it causes a reaction, you could try 18k white gold or high-polished Titanium.
Whatever you decide to switch to, make sure you’re getting it from a reputable source! Make sure that the polish is not dull, but super shiny, and that there are no nicks, scratches, or sharp edges on the jewelry and if it’s a barbell or labret stud, be sure that it is internally threaded (meaning there's a hole in the bar and a screw sticking out the end of the bead). (Externally threaded jewelry can rip open your fistula and is usually made of cheaper, lower-grade metal.)
What to Use to Clean Your Piercing
- Pure gycerin soap (no creams, dyes, or fragrance),
- distilled witch hazel (make sure there is no alcohol listed in the ingredients),
- colloidal silver (if you're not allergic to silver!), or
- a sterile saline solution (contact solution works great or you can make your own: see my recipe by scrolling down towards the end of this article).
Natural Comfort Measures to Aid Healing
There are some natural comfort measures to make your piercing feel and look better, faster.
Chamomile: If you don’t have hay fever (and if you don’t know what hay fever is, you most likely do not have it!) drink chamomile tea. When you're done, take the warm tea bag and soak it on your piercing. This feels amazing and reduces redness, soreness, and swelling! Don’t try this with any old tea though, pure chamomile is the only one!
Epsom and lavender bath: After the initial healing process, a warm bath with epsom salts and a few drops of lavender essential oil can relax you and soothe your piercing. Just try not to overdo it (no more than once a week) as the epsom salts will dry out your skin and your piercing. If you really enjoy more baths, skip the epsom salts the rest of the week but stick with the lavender oil.
If Your Piercing Gets Infected
Many people believe they have an infection when, in fact, they do not. Reactions to aftercare products and jewelry or even hormonal flare-ups are commonly mistaken for infection.
An infection is hot, sore, swollen, and red. You often get an infection is by touching and playing with your piercing or exposing it to foreign bacteria.
If you do in fact have an infection, there is a sure fire way to get rid of it, and taking out the piercing is not the best option. Taking out the piercing will make things worse. It can seal the infection inside the body where it can spread and cause major problems. So, instead of giving up on the piercing, nurture and care for it.
Healing an infection takes some time and commitment on your behalf. Here's what to do:
- Fill a glass or small container full of hot water that’s been boiled for at least two minutes and cooled slightly until touchable.
- Mix in approximately ¼ to ½ teaspoon of epsom salts.
- You’ll need to use gauze or clean paper towel to dip and soak, dip and soak, for a full hour to interrupt the bacteria cycle and let the piercing excrete what it needs to get rid of.
- For a navel or nipple piercing, the glass of water can be held over the piercing while sitting or lying down to make things a little easier.
For a piercing that’s flared up but not infected (perhaps due to hormone fluctuations), epsom salts can also be effective but you don't need to apply it for the whole hour. For flare-ups, 15 to 30 minutes will suffice.
Be leery of using epsom salts too much, as they can cause your piercing to get dry, itchy, and flaky. Only use them when needed.
How a Woman's Hormone Fluctuations Effect Piercings
Females experience hormone fluctuations on a monthly basis which can effect how a piercing looks and feels. It can become red, sore, and irritated from time to time which is normal, especially during or just prior to that time of the month. Your piercing can also flare up due to your immune system being low or even due to stress in your life.
Scar Tissue in Piercings: Good or Bad?
It's natural for scar tissue to build up in a piercing; this tissue builds the fistula that keeps the hole from disappearing even when you're not wearing jewelry in the piercing. So if you want your piercing to last, some internal scarring is necessary and beneficial.
However, the visible, noticeable hypertrophic and keloid scars can also occur during the healing time or even after a piercing is fully healed if it gets injured in any way. These types of scars have a similar appearance—small, smooth bumps that elevate the entrance or exit of the piercing. Depending on your skin, they can be pink, purple, or brown. Hypertrophic scars are more common and tend to be smaller than keloid scars. The following is a list of questions I ask my clients when they are experiencing either of these types of scarring that is not due to family history.
- Are you touching and playing with your piercing?
- Do you sleep on it or put pressure on it?
- Has it been bumped or hit recently?
- Are you rinsing your aftercare product well enough?
- Does your jewelry have scratches or nicks?
- Is your jewelry a lower grade than 316LVM grade surgical steel?
- Have you been changing your jewelry during the initial healing process?
- Have you been wearing externally threaded or costume jewelry?
- Are you on or near that time of the month? (Females only, of course.)
- Have you had abnormal amounts of stress in your life recently?
Any or all of these things can affect your piercing enough to make it produce excess, visible scar tissue. Fix what you are doing wrong and the scar tissue should settle down. If you get an abnormal keloid scar and it does not go away, you may have to consult your physician about removal.
Rejection: When Your Body Rejects a Piercing
Rejection is pretty much the worst case scenario when it comes to healing out a piercing. If your body isn’t ready to accept a piercing or you’re just not treating it well enough, your body will push the piercing out, just like a sliver. Rejection can cause nasty scars so you definitely want to figure out if your piercing is actually starting to reject or if it's just flaring up.
How can you tell the difference? If your body is trying to reject your piercing, you’ll notice that it is sore and flared up, and then you’ll notice it slowly becoming shallower than it was originally (but don’t get paranoid because natural shallowing will occur with surface piercings such as eyebrows when they aren’t rejecting). Usually, rejection is a very slow-going process, so if you regularly take note of how your piercing looks and feels, you’ll have a better chance of telling whether or not it's rejecting.
After being sore and becoming more shallow, you’ll begin to notice a red line going from the entrance to the exit hole: this is a sure sign of rejection, and the piercing should be removed before further scarring takes place.
Before coming to the assumption that your body is rejecting your piercing, though, figure out if you are doing anything that’s causing it to look and feel abnormal: touching and playing with it, not rinsing out aftercare product, and hormone fluctuations all affect how your piercing looks and feels. Make sure you’re doing everything right and think positively, because chances are if it’s not a surface piercing it's probably not rejecting, you’re just being paranoid! Heh… but when in doubt, have a professional take a gander at it. I’d say only about two people out of ten that come in asking if their piercing is rejecting are actually experiencing rejection. The remainder are either having other problems or being paranoid! Remember to think positively, negative thoughts never end in a positive outcome!
Rejected piercings can be re-pierced, despite rumors that say otherwise. Some piercers will tell you they cannot be, but I have had success doing re-piercings a good six months to a year after the initial removal of the jewelry. The old scar tissue may make the piercing slightly more painful, but it can help keep the body from rejecting it the second time around.
However, there have been a few cases I’ve come across during my time piercing when people just didn't tolerate piercings. In rare cases, certain bodies just naturally reject anything foreign. Sometimes it has to do with underlying and unknown health problems; other times it’s just a body that does not accept piercings. Remember though, this is very rare.
Downsizing: New Jewelry for Your Piercing
After the initial healing time, it may be advisable (depending on your jewelry and piercing) that you get it downsized, meaning you get a shorter bar or smaller diameter ring to make the piercing more comfortable and/or attractive. Most piercers do this for a minimal charge, if you got the piercing at their shop. But I should warn you that if you do this too soon, your piercing may flare up and you may have to upsize to your original jewelry until the flare up subsides, so try to be patient.
Oral Piercing Care
Now that I’ve covered all the general piercing care and concerns, we move into oral piercing care, which includes piercings fully in the mouth (tongue, smiley, etc.) as well as piercings that are half-out and half-in (lip, monroe, labret, cheeks, etc.). For piercings that are in the mouth as well as out of the mouth, general aftercare also applies.
Read on for information specific to oral piercing care.
Basic Cleaning Routine for Oral Piercings
First things first: if you have a piercing in your mouth, you need to make sure you have a saline solution with you 24/7 for rinsing your mouth. Do not use mouthwash, not even mouthwash cut with water, because overuse can cause thrush, which is a yeast infection in your mouth! It’s not pleasant or attractive, I learned hard way…. There is a better way!
Homemade Saline Solution to Use to Treat an Oral Piercing
Take ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized sea salt, no other salts will do! It's cheap and it tastes good on food, too. So you take that ¼ teaspoon and put it in a 500mL bottle of water (that’s all it requires, it won’t taste overly salty, and if you want it to taste better, add a couple drops of peppermint essential oil). (But you won't be swallowing this stuff, you're just using it to rinse.)
- Rinse your mouth with saline solution (the sea salt and water concoction described above) after everything you eat, drink, or smoke… except for water, of course!
- If it’s a half-out, half-in piercing, wash the outside of the piercing with the saline as indicated in the basic cleaning for general piercing care, and make sure you rinse it clean with water.
- Tighten your beads if you have a barbell or labret stud at least once a day. First, wash your hands very well in hot soapy water and turn both beads clockwise to the right. (Righty tighty, lefty loosey!)
It’s that simple. You may want to label your saliine solution with a marker so that you or your friends don’t go swigging it down!
Basic Dos and Don'ts of Oral Piercings
Do NOT have oral contact of any kind for the first 3-6 weeks, or you will risk infection.
Do NOT touch or play with it or tighten the beads with unwashed hands
Do NOT eat spicy foods or citrus drinks that will sting or burn your piercing
Do soothe it with cold drinks. Fruit smoothies are great, and healthy too!
Do make ice cubes or popsicles out of chamomile tea to reduce soreness and swelling (as long as you don’t have hay fever, of course!)
Do munch on fresh, clean crushed ice to help reduce soreness and swelling (especially in tongues).
Do be very careful when eating with a new tongue piercing; your brain needs to be retrained because it thinks that when something is on your tongue it needs to be chewed and swallowed, so be very cautious when eating with a new tongue piercing. You don’t want a dentist bill to go along with it. Try chewing food slowly on one side and swallowing it rather than tossing it back and forth, since this can significantly reduce the chances of munching on a bead while chowing down.
Do get your tongue barbell downsized, when its time. Tongues are first pierced with a lengthy barbell to accommodate all the swelling that takes place, and getting it downsized within three to six weeks will minimize your chances of causing dental problems.
Infections of Oral Piercings
Infections are rare in oral piercings, unless you are completely careless or have oral contact. Rule of thumb is if you’ve had oral contact and you think you have an infection, proceed with the treatment for infection, don't wait for it to actually happen. Infections in the mouth should be treated with Amosan (or an oral antiseptic rinse) from the pharmacy. Look for it in the oral care aisle and follow the instructions, rinsing two to three times per day for two or three days should clear up an oral infection.
So there it is, pretty much everything you need to know to heal out a piercing, and probably more! If this information helps at least one person out there, I feel as though I've done my job!
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Video: Cleaning Rook Piercing, Nostril and Stretched Ears (Watch Only if You Don't Mind Swearing)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.