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What to Do If the Skin Around Your Piercing Turns Gray or Black

Black stuff in your piercing? It might be argyria. Learn what to do about it below.

Black stuff in your piercing? It might be argyria. Learn what to do about it below.

What's the Black Stuff in Your Piercing Hole?

Is there a weird dark spot around your piercing? The cause of a gray or black piercing hole is usually jewelry made with improper or inferior metals that turn your skin black, gray, bluish-gray, or grayish-black in color. "Argyria" is the proper term for this condition caused by exposure to silver or silver compounds.

Why Is the Skin Black (or Gray) Around Your Piercing?

Most pieces of body jewelry that you find online or at places like Claire's are made of low-grade alloys. When they come into contact with body fluids (sweat, natural oils on your face, etc.), these metals tarnish and often cause the skin around a piercing to oxidize. This oxidization is what causes the gray stain.

The skin around the site of my piercing turned gray. This is known as "argyria."

The skin around the site of my piercing turned gray. This is known as "argyria."

Can I Wear Sterling Silver in a New Piercing?

Actually, even sterling silver—which is in fact only .925% silver, so it still contains .075% random metals—can tarnish and turn your skin black. All silver tarnishes over time, and most piercers warn against wearing sterling silver in a new, unhealed piercing. Sterling silver will likely tarnish, and the blackish oxidization will become trapped inside the healing tissue, where it can leave a permanent black or gray "tattoo" mark at the piercing site.

Although the rate of the process depends on your environment and body chemistry, silver will tarnish more quickly if it is exposed to the lymph from a fresh piercing. If that is the case, not only is it likely to leave a stain—it can also interfere with the healing process.

Should I Take Out the Jewelry if It's Turning My Piercing Hole Black?

Do NOT take out the piercing to let the hole close up.

I learned this the hard way. When my cartilage piercing turned gray, I hastily took it out from fear, then I asked my piercer if there was anything that could be done about the discoloration it left behind. He replied, "Not now there isn't." If I had left it in, steps could have been taken to correct the problem.

In other words, if the piercing hole is still open, you still have the chance to remove the discoloration, but if you allow the hole to heal, the stain will be locked in.

Any piercing—lobe or cartilage or anywhere—can turn gray from tarnish.

Any piercing—lobe or cartilage or anywhere—can turn gray from tarnish.

Is the Black or Gray Stain Permanent?

Sometimes, poor-quality jewelry tarnishes the skin only temporarily, and if you simply clean thoroughly and replace the jewelry, the piercing will return to normal. But if the stain occurred because you interrupted the healing process with sub-par jewelry, it might not ever heal properly.

Will the Discoloration Go Away If I Replace the Jewelry?

Usually, replacing the jewelry will solve the problem. You might have to give your body time to adjust, but the discoloration will eventually disappear. However, if you used the wrong jewelry during the initial healing process, the discoloration might be permanent.

Oxidization from improper jewelry can make your piercing look gray or tarnished.

Oxidization from improper jewelry can make your piercing look gray or tarnished.

How to Remove Stains and Tarnish From Piercing Holes

1. Replace Your Jewelry

Take out the jewelry that is creating the problem and replace it with something made of implant-grade surgical stainless steel. I know that there may be some other metal options for jewelry—like maybe titanium or high-karat gold (see list below)—but if you're trying to repair the damage done by improper jewelry, it's no time for experimentation. You can try those options after you've cleared up the tarnish.

2. Clean Thoroughly

  • After taking out the bad jewelry—but before putting in the new jewelry—clean the area very thoroughly, back and front, with saline solution. I like to use basic saline solution, the kind you can get for $4 to $5 at any pharmacy.
  • If it's a nostril piercing, be sure to saturate a Q-tip with the saline solution and clean the site of the piercing on the inside of your nose as well.
  • Once or twice a week, remove the jewelry and soak it and the site with saline solution before reinserting. Do a sea salt soak (quarter teaspoon of salt, preferably non-iodized sea salt, dissolved in a cup of warm water) for ten minutes or so to draw out all the gunk.

After following this regimen for about a month, the gray area on my nose shrank dramatically and nearly disappeared.

What Kind of Metal Won't Turn the Hole Black?

316LVM and 316L are the only acceptable grades (this is the type of jewelry piercers use when you first get a body piercing). 316VLM has a slight advantage that decreases the chance of minor alloy inclusions that cause irritation. You can order surgical stainless steel jewelry online, or you can go to a nearby tattoo parlor/body piercer and buy it directly from them.

What If the Black Hole Won't Go Away, Even With Proper Jewelry and Cleaning?

The following are not treatments I tried myself, but ones I came across in my research as possible solutions.

  • Laser treatment. It can get expensive, but it might be affordable over a very small area.
  • Glycolic acid or chemical peel. Alpha hydroxy is a popular treatment for skin issues like acne and wrinkles, but it might work on tarnished skin, too.
Before & after: Here's how I reduced the discoloration of the black piercing hole on my nose.

Before & after: Here's how I reduced the discoloration of the black piercing hole on my nose.

My Story

I was a teenager when I got my cartilage pierced, and I was horrified when the skin around it started turning a grayish color. I thought it was an infection, but cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide or saline solution did absolutely nothing. Although I wasn't crazy about my skin turning weird colors, I had long hair that could easily hide it, so I wasn't too worried. Out of sight, out of mind.

But then a few years later the same thing started happening to my nostril piercing, and that was very definitely not okay. Your face is the first thing you present to the world, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I couldn't be walking around with a gray blob on my nose that just seemed to be getting worse and worse.

I did some research and was told that the discoloration of the skin is irreversible without intervention by a dermatologist and the use of lasers—neither of which I could afford. I refused to accept this fate, so I did more research. Through a combination of knowledge and improvisation, I was able to get rid of 90% of the gray (so far).

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.

© 2011 Jaclyn Popola


kylie on April 18, 2020:

im so confused its like black on the inside of my ear piercing not on the outside so i dont know if its just dead skin cells or argyria. also sometimes if i take out my earrings for a while it kind of seems like my ear is coming out pof the hole if that makes sense? if anyone knows anything

Sana Shaikh on December 30, 2019:

Hey I saw a black and yellow scaly price of skin inside my hole and scraped it. A black pepper sized ball plonked out...its been floating under my skin for years and i had no way of getting it out...what was that!!!!???

Dani Kate Robertson on November 08, 2019:

Is it harmful how do I get rid of it please tell me I’m scared

Linfs on August 11, 2019:

Why would you hope this information has helped? You have given no details about your "combination of knowledge and improvisation".

Lily on June 22, 2019:

I have this, at least I think...

It’s like a black goop, I cleaned my earring really good and put them back in. Does anyone know of I can leave the bad earrings in without the black spot getting bigger. Or will it say the same? I can’t find anything about this on the internet

anonymous on May 14, 2019:

What if you’ve had your ears pierced for years and it’s dark grey what do I do to get rid of it ?

Meryl on March 16, 2019:

Hey! Thanks for sharing this! I just wanna ask if i could use earring that my local chemist/pharmacy sell?

Kera on January 28, 2019:

I have a tragus piercing and it had a discoloration around the ears after been infected.I have been using extra virgin olive oil and it is now fading .The olive oil soften the scar and helps to diminish the discoloration.

GUEST112 on January 19, 2019:

Seriously about to get a nose job just to get rid of this gray dot! My dermatologist gave me two creams to lighten the area and neither worked. Another doctor told me laser treatment will make it look worse. Make doesn't cover it that well either.

Kim on January 05, 2018:

My grey spot is behind my nose peircing at the base of my nose and up just a bit. How do i get rid of it? I changed the jewlery to surgical steel last night. Its been there a while tho.

Guest2017 on November 30, 2017:

Q-tips should NEVER be used around a fresh or healed piercing. That's a good way to get an irritation bump.

Also fresh piercings should never be taken out before they're healed. Shower water and/or saline solution alone are the best ways to clean a piercing.

Mariela on November 25, 2017:

I just got my cartilage pierced and the skin around it is a little purple (only on the front not the back side). Do you think it’s just bruising a little. I need advice because I’ve been trying not to freak out too much about it since it’s my first piercing I’ve ever gotten.

Kim on September 15, 2017:

My grey spot is not around my piercing it's directly back in the crease where my nose meets my cheek. How do I get rid of it!!!!!????

conejo maya on June 10, 2017:

this was so helpful, THANK YOU!

Rebz on May 25, 2017:

Very helpful! Just noticed this issue a moment ago before going to bed and I made sure to clean my pierced area! Thanks :)

Guest on January 03, 2017:

Hi. My name Is Aahlyssia & I Wanted To Ask What Type Of Saline Solution Did U Use?

same problem on July 02, 2016:

I have tried everything, A week or 2 ago i got a sample of this charcoal detoxifying cleanser, and i used it on my face, and noticed that the grey ring lightened. I have used it once a day for about a week and ring is completely gone. Freaking amazed! The product is made by michael todd.

Dani on June 18, 2016:

I've stilled got my nose pierced and I have the grayish mark, will it still work and eventually fade?

Kate on May 10, 2016:

I just got mine removed using laser treatment (same as removing a tattoo) not painful and only cost 15$ per piercing and is now completely gone!!

Rach on March 06, 2016:

I have this exact problem! Had my nose ring out for 2 years and the grey mark is as visible as ever... Do you think I should get it re-pierced and wear proper jewelry to fix it?

simple mind on May 16, 2015:

This problem isn't with just piercings. I've had to wear reading glasses since my early 30s. Well, those dollar store cheap-o glasses with the metal to soft pad nose holders leach impurities onto the skin too. As of today, I have to dark black/gray markings on each side of my nose. :( I've searched the web to various degrees to rule out skin cancer and lichen planus. There are home remedies to brighten the skin in the areas or to slowly extract the metal resides out of the skin over long periods of time. Doing laser may work or may cause further ugliness later. It depends on your nose and the black/gray patch.

En on April 07, 2015:

I took out my piercing a month ago. Is it too late to get re-pierced to remove the stain?

B on April 04, 2014:

If you did let it close up, go to a skin care professional and ask for glycolic acid peels. I have had 3 done so far and the indentation is nearly gone, the black has faded to gray and the gray area around the former hole is shrinking steadily.

mismazda from a southern georgia peach on July 21, 2012:

Useful hub..I will be getting me some saline solution to use..thanks for the informative article...

DT1592796 on February 23, 2012:

Oxidized silver is black; oxidized copper is green. The metal in some body jewelries essentially reacts with sweat (the salts in your sweat promote oxidation) giving you a free tattoo with metal oxide pigments. Laser treatment, also used for tattoo removal would be your best bet.

316 stainless steel alloys are known for their hardness and wear resistance due to the presence of molybdenum. They are used in applications requiring high level of corrosion resistance. 316L and 316VLM are high-grade 316s which differ mainly in the amount of molybdenum used. As English has pointed out, cheaper jeweleries from the far East should be purchased with caution as too often corners are cut in order to maintain a low price (you only get what you pay for).

While I do not have any body pearcings myself, I would imagine that you can reduce metal oxidation, hence the chance of argyria, by insulating the metal contacts through application of petroleum gel (i.e. vaseline)on the jewelry and the pearcing prior to insertion and the pearcing should be washed with alcohol (with jewelry taken out) at least once per week.

English on December 05, 2011:

"316VLM has a slight advantage due to it's practically flawless finish"

The difference between 316L & 316 VLM isn't anything to do with the finish (you can get wonderful results with L just as you can with VLM if you have a good supplier).

In the UK we can no longer use surgical steel when we pierce clients, we mostly use titanium.

English on December 05, 2011:

The best jewellery to use is made from titanium (or niobium if you can find it). Buy the best you can afford, and try to avoid if made in the far east.

Jaclyn Popola (author) from Florida on November 29, 2011:

@TransferAmerica - Unfortunately, this probably will not work if the piercing is already closed up. My cartilage piercing closed up long before I knew about taking these steps to correct it, and now ten years later it still has a gray scar :(

Sondra from Neverland on November 28, 2011:

Oh, this is very important information with so many people getting facial piercings now. Thanks for sharing!

bodymodist from Kansas City on November 27, 2011:

Good hub.

zzron from Houston, TX. on November 27, 2011:

This was very helpful and very interesting.