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

Updated on October 17, 2018
becauseilive profile image

I have several piercings and was horrified when the skin around them started turning a grayish color. Here's what I did to fix it.

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."

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

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.

Most 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.

Can I wear sterling silver in a new piercing?

Actually, even sterling silver—which is in fact only .925% silver, so it 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 and not only is it likely to leave a stain, and it can interfere with the healing process.

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

Should I take out the jewelry if it's turning my piercing hole black?

Do NOT take out the piercing and 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, on the other hand, 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.

Is the black or gray stain permanent? Will the discoloration go away if I replace the jewelry?

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 you used the wrong jewelry during the initial healing process, the discoloration might be permanent.

What to Do 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.

What kind of metal won't turn the hole black?

316LVM or 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 which 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.

I know that there may be some other metal options for jewelry—like maybe titanium or high-karat gold—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-$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-iodinized 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.

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

What if the black hole won't lighten, 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 on a very small area.
  • Glycolic acid or chemical peel. Alpha hydroxy is a popular treatment for skin issues like acne and winkles, but 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 some more research. Through a combination of knowledge and improvisation, I was able to get rid of the gray nearly 90% of the way (so far). I hope this article has helped you!

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Kim 

        10 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Guest2017 

        11 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Mariela 

        11 months ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Kim 

        14 months ago

        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!!!!!????

      • profile image

        conejo maya 

        17 months ago

        this was so helpful, THANK YOU!

      • profile image

        Rebz 

        18 months ago

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

      • profile image

        Guest 

        22 months ago

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

      • profile image

        same problem 

        2 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        Dani 

        2 years ago

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

      • profile image

        Kate 

        2 years ago

        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!!

      • profile image

        Rach 

        2 years ago

        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?

      • profile image

        simple mind 

        3 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        En 

        3 years ago

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

      • profile image

        4 years ago

        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 profile image

        mismazda 

        6 years ago from a southern georgia peach

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

      • profile image

        DT1592796 

        6 years ago

        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.

      • profile image

        English 

        6 years ago

        "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.

      • profile image

        English 

        6 years ago

        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.

      • becauseilive profile imageAUTHOR

        becauseilive 

        6 years ago from N.J.

        @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 :(

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        6 years ago from Neverland

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

      • bodymodist profile image

        bodymodist 

        6 years ago from Kansas City

        Good hub.

      • zzron profile image

        zzron 

        6 years ago from Houston, TX.

        This was very helpful and very interesting.

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