Thinking of getting a nipple piercing but not sure if you’re up for the healing process? We’ve got all the details on nipple piercing healing and aftercare here, so you can decide.
How long do nipple piercings take to heal?
Nipple piercings have a longer healing process than most other piercings. Expect it to take at least 6 months before your piercing is fully healed. In many cases, it can take up to 9 – 12 months. Since the recovery time and aftercare process are more intense than they are with other types of piercings, make sure you educate yourself and are fully committed to taking care of your new nipple piercings before you commit.
What to expect during the healing process
If a 6–12-month healing process sounds crazy, don’t worry – you’re not in for 6 months of pain and bleeding. In fact, after the first week or two, most of your discomfort should be gone. While everyone’s healing process will be a bit different, here’s a typical healing timeline for someone who follows best aftercare practices and doesn’t experience complications like an infection:
- 1-2 weeks: You can expect some soreness, swelling, and small amounts of bleeding. Your nipples will be very sensitive, so you’ll need to be very gentle as you get dressed, shower, and cleanse your piercings.
- 3-4 weeks: Most of your pain and swelling should have subsided. It’s still normal to feel occasional mild pain and have very slight swelling. Most bleeding has stopped altogether, but you’ll likely notice a clear fluid called lymph that dries to a crust around your piercing. It’s normal to feel some itching as the tissues heal.
- 1-3 months: Your piercings usually become all but painless during this time, but they are still very sensitive if you snag your jewelry. You will likely still secrete plenty of lymph fluid, though it may be decreasing. Your piercings may still feel quite itchy as the nipples heal. You may notice a bump on or around your nipple piercing. Usually, this is simply a “piercing bump,” or a small amount of inflammation that will eventually subside as you continue to heal. (Occasionally, bumps can have different causes. Check out our full Nipple Piercing Guide to learn more).
- 4-5 months: Your piercings may start to appear to be fully healed, but don’t be fooled. Remember that piercings heal from the outside in. Even if you have a layer of skin around your jewelry and never see blood or lymph fluid anymore, the inner tissues are still healing. Your piercings can still easily tear and will certainly close up if you take your jewelry out now. So, keep your jewelry in and continue your aftercare routine.
- 6-12 months: Your piercings will fully heal at some point in this window, and you can begin wearing different jewelry. You will notice little to no lymph fluid or itchiness. If you’re unsure if they have fully healed, you can double-check with your piercer before changing jewelry.
Best practices to ensure proper healing
A solid aftercare regimen will shorten healing time, minimize the risk of complications, and make your healing piercings more comfortable.
Keep up with cleaning: How to clean your nipple piercing
Proper cleansing is the most important step in your aftercare routine, so be a stickler about it. Don’t skip a single day.
Soak your piercing with a sea salt solution (SSS) for five minutes twice per day for the first few months and once per day after. You can do this with moistened cotton balls or by holding a shot glass full of SSS to your nipple. When you shower, only use mild soap around the piercing and avoid fragrances or harsh antibacterial soaps. We recommend a pure castile soap or Recovery Aftercare Soap.
You should also cleanse your piercing 4-6 times per day between SSS soaks with piercing aftercare spray. Be sure to wash your hands whenever you clean your piercing or handle your jewelry.
Hands (and mouths) off!
Touching and playing with your jewelry, especially with unwashed hands, only increases your healing time and risk of infection. Avoid moving your jewelry to break up the “crusties” –aka dried lymph fluid– that forms around the healing piercing. Remember that the crusties are actually a sign of proper healing (more on that below), not a sign of infection. To gently remove it, first, wash your hands thoroughly and then use SSS to soften the crusties and gently wipe them away with a cotton ball or facial tissue.
Oh, and avoid the temptation to engage in manual or oral nipple play before healing is complete – we promise the wait will be worth it!
Make smart clothing choices: What types of clothes are best after nipple piercing?
Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t irritate the new piercing and avoid shirts that could potentially catch or snag on your jewelry (i.e., thin straps, netting, mesh, loose-knit materials, etc.). We recommend thick cotton shirts as they protect your nipples while still being breathable. For females, a comfortable padded bra will help protect the piercing as it heals, freeing you up to wear nearly any shirt you prefer during the healing process. If you usually sleep topless, we recommend changing that up for the duration of the healing process. Jewelry can easily snag on sheets, so a layer of clothing will help provide some protection.
Avoid irritating and bacteria-trapping products
While it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll want to avoid typical “first-aid” products on your new piercings. Because antibiotic creams and ointments are usually thick and petroleum-based, they can actually trap bacteria within your piercing, increasing the risk of infection. Products like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol will only irritate the tissues, delaying healing and increasing the window for infection. The same goes for any other balms, creams, cosmetics, or harsh soaps.
(One caveat: if you do develop an infection, your doctor may prescribe antiseptic solutions or topical antibiotics to help fight it.)
Don’t submerge your piercings
Submerging your piercings (in anything other than SSS) can expose them to bacteria that could lead to infection, so avoid hot tubs and swimming. If you take baths, be sure to keep your nipples above the water.
Nipple piercing healing signs
Knowing the difference between the signs of a properly healing nipple piercing and signs of infection can give you peace of mind. Here’s what you can expect from a piercing that’s healing well:
- Lymph fluid secretion. If you’re secreting a clear to whitish fluid that dries to a crust around your piercing, don’t panic. It’s most likely just lymph fluid, and it’s your body’s way of delivering more white blood cells to the fistula to speed healing and avoid infection. It’s normal to secrete lymph until the piercing is fully healed.
- Decreasing pain, redness, and swelling. Some swelling and discomfort are normal in the first few weeks after your piercing. It’s even normal for the soreness and swelling to become slightly worse over the first few days after you get pierced. But after that point, you should start to notice a decrease in these symptoms. If things suddenly start to get worse, it could be a sign of infection or just that you’ve been too rough with your healing piercings.
- Mild itching. Yep, a little itch can actually be a sign that things are healing up nicely. But an unbearable itch that’s also accompanied by redness and inflammation? That could signify that you’re allergic to the metal in your jewelry. Ask your piercer if they can swap your barbells out for solid titanium jewelry (the metal least likely to cause a reaction) and see if your symptoms improve!
Signs of an infected nipple piercing
- Pus secretion. Pus will look different than lymph fluid. It’s usually thicker, yellow to greenish in color, and may have a foul smell
- Warmth, redness, and swelling. If redness and swelling worsen after the first week instead of improving, this may be a sign of infection. An infected piercing will also often feel warm to the touch.
- Read streaks. If you notice red streaks emanating outward from the piercing, this is a tell-tale sign of a spreading infection, and you should contact your doctor right away.
When can I change my nipple piercing?
It’s always best to wait until the piercing is 100% healed before attempting to change your jewelry. This varies from person to person but usually takes anywhere from 6 -12 months. If you aren’t sure if it’s time, stop by your piercer and have them assess your piercings.
In fact, it’s not a bad idea to have your piercer swap your jewelry for the first time anyway. In addition to helping you determine whether healing is complete, they can also sterilize your new jewelry in an autoclave and guide you through the process of changing your jewelry yourself in the future.
Expected and abnormal nipple pain
If you’re pain-adverse, you’re probably wondering how long your nipples will be sore after piercing. Some pain is normal with any new piercing, especially in an area as sensitive as the nipples. While everyone’s pain threshold is different, you can generally expect a moment of sharp pain as you get pierced. This is usually followed by a dull ache or soreness for the first couple of weeks afterward. While you might notice the pain every now and then, it should be mild enough that you can go about your day as usual.
How to ease the pain
When the pain gets slightly uncomfortable, acetaminophen can help take the edge off. Your sterile saline solution can also help. Opt for a true soak using the shot glass method above rather than wiping with a cotton ball when you need a little relief. Bras and shirts that are too tight can put extra pressure on your piercings, so stick to comfy clothing or at least change into them when you’re just around the house.
If you’ve tried all of the above measures and your pain still feels unbearable, this could be a sign that something is wrong. Watch for signs of infection such as pus, fever, warmth, and excess swelling or bleeding. If these symptoms accompany your pain, go ahead and contact your doctor or piercer.
If you aren’t showing any signs of infection, you can still reach out to your piercer to ask them if what you’re feeling is normal. They can usually offer additional pain relief tips and help you determine whether your pain is typical or abnormal. They may recommend that you stop by the shop so they can check on your healing and watch for less common complications like piercing migration or rejection.
Heal your nipple piercings the right way
The healing and aftercare process for nipple piercings is no joke. It isn’t exactly hard, and it shouldn’t be painful for long, but it does take commitment. Still, most people with nipple piercings say that the pain and effort were totally worth it! After a few months of care, you’ll be able to enjoy the end result for years to come.
Once you’re fully healed, be sure to reward yourself for your hard work with some fun new nipple rings. With one of the widest selections you can find online, Painful Pleasures has nearly every style and gauge of nipple jewelry you could want, all made from high-quality materials. Shop for nipple bars, captive bead rings, nipple shields, segment nipple rings, and more in our full selection of nipple piercing jewelry!