A Long List of Belly Button Piercing Problems
Navel piercings are very popular, especially among young girls, teenagers, and young adults. They are generally pretty easy to heal, but that doesn't mean that they will always heal without complications.
Some people experience infections, and others may experience migration (when the piercing slowly moves from its first location) or even rejection (when the body forces the jewelry out). Although navel piercings typically heal quickly, it is common for them to migrate or reject. Infection, metal allergies, scarring, tearing, and stretching are also common. Some people's bodies simply cannot heal successfully, no matter what. You just don't know how your body will react until you give it a try.
The important thing is to make sure that you keep up with proper aftercare and wear proper jewelry, as this will help improve the odds of avoiding complications.
A Short List of Things That Could Go Wrong With a Navel Piercing
- metal allergy
- excessive bleeding
Each of these issues is described fully below.
Migration: What If My Piercing Moves?
When a piercing migrates, it doesn't fully reject out of the body, but it changes from its original position. It may move just a little, or it may move completely away from the navel.
Common causes of migration include:
- If the body doesn't like the metal that was used for the jewelry. (Surgical grade steel and titanium are the best to prevent migration.)
- If the the jewelry is not the right type. (CBRs and other rings are more prone to complications than a curved, banana barbell.)
- If there is tissue damage around the piercing area.
- If there isn't enough tissue strength to hold and support the jewelry.
- If there was incorrect placement, such as if it was pierced too shallow or not absolutely perpendicular.
- If there is any friction, such as that caused by pants, belts, or shirts.
- If there is aggravated damage or trauma caused by hitting or pulling at the jewelry.
- If there is pressure, such as caused by another piece of jewelry from another piercing moving or putting pressure on the one in question.
- If your body grows: If you got the piercing when you were young and your body was not fully developed, or if you gain weight or become pregnant, as your body changes and alters, the piercing will, too, potentially causing migration.
There's nothing that you can really do to stop migration, but you can impede it by avoiding the potential causes listed above. If you see signs of migration, you'll want to remove the jewelry, let it heal, and then try to get re-pierced.
Heavy, thin-gauge jewelry made of the wrong material can cause rejection or migration.
Rejection: What If My Body Rejects the Jewelry?
If it continues to migrate, it may actually be rejecting, which is when your body pushes the jewelry out in an attempt to heal itself. Just like the body would force out a splinter, it will force out jewelry, which is a foreign material, and the body doesn't like foreign objects to be inserted into it.
Some people just can't heal navel piercings. Some repeatedly try, but each time, it rejects or starts to migrate.
When rejection occurs, you may notice the following signs:
- The barbell will appear longer.
- The fistula will become shallower.
- The holes of the piercing will move.
- There will typically be a trail from where the holes were originally placed to where they are now.
- There may be redness or scarring around the holes.
- The jewelry may start to hang differently.
- There may be some sensitivity in the area, but it typically will not hurt.
- The hole may appear larger than before.
- The skin between the two holes may start to appear thin and see-through.
Unfortunately, there's nothing that can be done to stop rejection. The best thing to do is to just remove the jewelry, let it heal, and try to have it re-pierced again. If you do not remove the jewelry, you will be left with a nice scar. In some cases, the body will completely reject the jewelry and force the barbell out completely.
The good thing is that rejection doesn't hurt. And no, your piercing doesn't have to be infected to be migrating or rejecting.
Infection: What Are the Signs?
Bacterial infections most often occur soon after the piercing, but can happen any time. It could be the result of poor aftercare, unsanitary conditions, a reaction to the jewelry, or an untended rip or tear.
- Usually you'll see swelling and redness in the area and it will feel painful and perhaps hot to the touch. The swelling may become a boil or an abscess.
- You may see a discharge of pus (clear, white, yellow, brown, or green) that might dry to a crust.
- If left untreated, you might even have a fever, chills, and other flu-like symptoms.
- Red lines radiating from your belly button.
A thorough cleaning regime and antibiotic treatment will be necessary. If it's exacerbated by a reaction to the jewelry, you may need to change it out to something made of titanium or implant-grade surgical steel, but it's best to not remove the jewelry (or to touch or fiddle with the piercing with your fingers, which may be dirty).
Scarring: Can I Avoid It?
Some scarring is unavoidable, since the skin around any piercing rarely heals to look exactly as it did before. The piercing itself is a scar, after all. But sometimes—depending on the location, the person, and other factors—scarring is more dramatic than others.
Hypertrophic scarring is a common risk, and keloid scars can happen to anyone, but those with darker skin pigmentation are more susceptible. Keloid scars look like overgrown red-and-purple mounds of fibrous scar tissue that feel hard and smooth to the touch and can appear at either end of the fistula. They are often itchy and can sometimes be tender and slow to heal.
Metal Reaction: What If My Body Is Allergic to the Jewelry?
Many people experience sensitivities or allergies to various metals. Of course, there is some cool, cheap, good-looking jewelry out there, but it's not worth the risk. A reaction to jewelry can be the thing that triggers an infection which, in turn, triggers rejection or migration and eventually losing the piercing. If you're just a little allergic, you might experience some itching, redness, and irritation, but a major sensitivity will lead to a painfully itchy, bright red, swollen, throbbing, pus-filled mess. Your skin may pull back from the irritation, causing the piercing hole to gape.
Hypoallergenic metals (which are more biocompatible):
- titanium G23 (of any color) (the best choice!)
- niobium (pure)
- nickel-free, surgical, implant-grade stainless steel (316L or 316LVM)
- solid yellow gold of 14 karats or more (but only after the piercing has fully healed)
- platinum (but it's heavy, so may cause more tears or strain)
- plastics (some acrylics are biocompatible BUT they can break down over time and are more likely to adhere to germs and bacteria)
- lower grades of gold; anything plated, rolled, or filled with gold
- rose gold (contains copper) or white gold (if it contains nickel)
- silver; even sterling silver (it may have copper or nickel and it will tarnish)
- poor quality stainless steel (even if it claims to be "surgical")
- anything plated in any kind of metal (the plating will flake off)
- rough or unpolished metals
- costume jewelry or any kind of unidentified metal
If you think you might be sensitive to the jewelry, immediately take it out and replace it with something more biocompatible.
Wearing a curved barbell (instead of a ring) until you've completely healed might reduce the risks.
What Else Could Go Wrong? Tearing, Stretching, Etc.
- Excessive bleeding and nerve damage. This can be caused by an inexperienced body piercer that pierces too close to a nerve.
- Overcleaning. It is possible to hurt the tissue with too much cleaning. Don't overdo it! Follow your piercer's instructions.
- Changing the jewelry too soon. Another common no-no. It can take eight weeks to six months before you are healed enough to fiddle with jewelry. Again, follow your piercer's instructions.
- Frictional irritation. Sometimes the friction from your clothing or waistband may irritate and delay healing.
- Tearing. Navel piercings are less likely to tear than those in other spots (like the ears), but it is possible for jewelry to get caught and tear.
- Stretching. If a piercing is too shallow or close to the edge, a stretch may enlarge it too much. Heavy jewelry, tears, rejection, and migration can alter the shape of the fistula. Some people have to have the doctor fix the hole by sewing it smaller.
- Bacterial endocarditis or infective endocarditis (IE). If you suffer from congenital heart disease and you're exposed to bacteria via piercing, you're at risk, and it could even be fatal. This is why reputable, professional piercers ask you about your heart before they do anything.
The Basics of Healing a Belly Button Piercing
There are many methods that you may hear about, and methods that work for you may not for someone else. Below is the most common method of aftercare:
- Use saline solution or non-iodized sea salt (not table salt). If you opt for sea salt, mix about 6 ounces of water with about 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
- Pour enough saline or sea salt mix into a cup (the disposable bathroom dixie cups work great).
- Gently place the cup over the navel, lay back, and let it soak for about 10-15 minutes.
You want to do this about twice a day for the first several weeks. After that, once a day until the piercing is healed. You want to avoid using strong products such as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. Also, try to avoid using any creams or ointments.
How Long Does Healing Take?
It may seem to be healed in 4 to 6 weeks, but it can take 3 to 6 months and sometimes even up to a year for a navel piercing to heal completely.
HealTreatCure's article: Navel Piercing Rejection, Migration, Signs, Scar, Keloid, and Pictures.
Healthline's article: What to Do With an Infected Belly Button Piercing.
Mayo Clinic's page on Piercings: How to Prevent Complications.