Lip Piercing Aftercare & Healing
If you’re here, we can only assume 1) you’re getting a lip piercing and 2) you’re serious about aftercare. If so, you’re our kind of people. We love piercings, and we especially love when they heal properly. So join us below for everything you need to know about taking care of your new lip piercing. We’ll talk about lip piercing aftercare, how to clean your lip piercing, what to avoid, and what complications to watch out for.
How long does it take a lip piercing to heal?
Everyone is a bit different, but it takes 6–8 weeks for most lip piercings to fully heal. A few, such as Dahlia piercings, can take as long as three months.
Signs of a healing lip piercing
Alright, so you know how long it should take to heal, but you’re probably wondering what you should expect as it heals. If everything is going as it should, your healing process will probably look something like this:
Week 1: You may have mild swelling, soreness, redness, and possibly minimal amounts of bleeding.
Week 2: Your swelling and redness should be subsiding but are likely still somewhat present. Most pain and bleeding have likely stopped.
Week 3: Swelling has subsided almost entirely, and you may start seeing clear to whitish fluid around the piercing site. This is lymph fluid, and it might dry to form “crusties” around your piercing.
Week 4–6: Your piercing continues to heal and may appear to be completely healed from the outside. (But it isn’t fully healed yet, so don’t quit your aftercare). You continue to notice lymph fluid and crusties around the healing piercing site.
Remember that lymph fluid and “crusties” are not pus and not a cause for concern. Lymph fluid is your body’s way of delivering more white blood cells to the wound to speed healing. It’s actually a sign that your piercing is healing properly.
For signs that your piercing isn’t healing so well, read up on complications like infection below.
How to clean your lip piercing: Lip piercing aftercare
We want you to treat aftercare like it’s your part-time job. Okay… so maybe that’s a little extreme, but still. Take it seriously, stay consistent, and you’ll set yourself up for smooth healing. Here’s every step of your new daily routine:
Rinse the outside of your piercing with a sterile saline spray like Recovery Saline Wash Spray 3–6 times per day.
Rinse the inside of your mouth with an alcohol-free mouth rinse such as Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt Mouth Rinse 3–6 times per day, especially after eating. Make sure you’ve cleared any food away from the piercing with each rinse.
Soak your new piercing in sterile saline solution for five minutes twice per day. You can do this on the external side by dipping your lip in a cup of sterile saline solution, if possible, or by holding a soaked cotton ball to the piercing. (Do not rub the cotton ball into the piercing as you could get cotton fibers stuck on the jewelry.) For the internal side, swish with your alcohol-free mouthwash or sterile saline solution for about thirty seconds. Spit, get a fresh mouthful of saline solution, rinse for another thirty seconds, and repeat until you’ve reached five minutes. While this step may be time-consuming, it’s great for gently clearing bacteria away from the internal side of your piercing and soothing the healing tissues.
As needed, you can gently remove any “crusties,” or dried lymph fluid, by soaking them in saline solution on a tissue and gently wiping them away. Don’t scrape crusties away or twist your jewelry to remove them.
Keep up good oral hygiene. If you don’t already floss daily and brush at least twice per day, now is the time to start. Just be careful to avoid your piercing as you clean and follow each brush/ flossing session with an oral rinse.
In general, remember to be gentle with your new piercing. Keep it safe by not playing with your lip ring, being mindful not to snag your lip ring on clothing as you get dressed, and brushing carefully, so you don’t bump your piercing with the toothbrush. Be careful what you eat while your lip piercing is healing, particularly during the first week or two. Take small bites of food and chew gently, and avoid foods that may irritate your lip piercing, like chips and crusty bread.
What to avoid after getting your lip pierced
- Don’t smoke. We know that’s a big ask if you’re a smoker, but smoking can irritate your new piercing, introduce bacteria and inflammatory substances to the wound, and hinder your body’s ability to heal. If you’re a regular smoker, consider buying an e-cigarette that generates water vapor instead of smoke.
- Say no to aspirin and try not to be a caffeine junkie during the first week of healing. Both have a blood-thinning effect and can make clotting more difficult, increasing bleeding. A cup of coffee every now and then is probably fine but try to keep it under two per day and space out your cups.
- As tempting as it is, don’t play with your jewelry —– that goes for your fingers on the external side and your tongue on the internal side. Don’t twist, turn or slide your jewelry to loosen crusties. You could push bacteria into your healing fistula or cause minor bleeding.
- Try not to touch your piercing unless you have to, and only then with freshly washed or gloved hands. And don’t half-ass the hand washing – you could still introduce bacteria to the fistula. If you’ve forgotten the crash course in proper handwashing, we all got in 2020, give yourself a refresher with our Guidelines for Hand Hygiene.
- Saltwater-based mouthwash? Good. Alcohol-based mouthwash? Bad. Avoid mouthwashes with alcohol as they can dry out and irritate the oral side of your piercing, ultimately slowing healing.
- Even if you’re not, act like you’re a germaphobe for the first few weeks. Don’t French kiss, share food or drinks, chew on foreign objects, or engage in oral sex. All these things are likely to introduce pathogens that could directly infect your lip piercing or pass along a cold or flu that would distract your immune system from focusing its full attention on healing your lip piercing.
- Absolutely do not apply creams, oils, ointments, or balms to your lip piercing. Dry lips are annoying, but lip-piercing infections are way worse. Things like thick lip balms or triple antibiotic ointment could clog your fistula, trapping in bacteria or debris and leading to an infection. Using some lip balm should be fine as long as you keep it far away from your actual piercing. For the skin immediately around the piercing, try adding a drop or two of tea tree oil to your external saline soaks. It has moisturizing and antiseptic properties, so it can help alleviate dryness without increasing the risk of infection. Never drop straight tea tree oil into your piercing – when it’s undiluted, it’s too strong for sensitive, healing tissues and can cause irritation.
- You can rinse your piercing or allow soapy water to flow over it briefly, but you shouldn’t directly soap up your piercing or submerge your face in water. Avoid swimming, deep soaks in a bathtub, etc., until your lip piercing is fully healed. When you wash your face, try to keep soap away from your lip piercing to avoid drying it out.
- Don’t change your labret jewelry prematurely. Trying to change jewelry in an unhealed piercing is straight-up not a good time. Wait the full 6–8 weeks and have your piercer check if you’re not sure if the piercing is fully healed. The only exception is if you’re having a jewelry-related lip piercing problem, like an allergic reaction, piercing rejection, or extreme swelling. In these cases, go see your piercer to have them swap or remove the jewelry.
Identifying and addressing lip piercing problems
Sometimes, you can follow all the protocols and still end up with an annoyingly complicated healing process. These are some of the most common lip piercing problems and what you should do about them:
DISCHARGE OF LYMPH
Lymph fluid concerns many piercing newbies because they mistake it for pus. But remember, lymph itself is not a problem. This clear to whitish fluid is simply your body’s way of directing more white blood cells to heal the fistula. It often dries to form white or yellow “crusties,” which can be gently cleaned away with sterile saline solution.
Actual pus will usually be thicker and opaquer than lymph. Pus is also sometimes accompanied by an unpleasant smell and additional signs of infection (see below).
INFECTED LIP PIERCINGS
You know the basics: infections can happen with any piercing, and good aftercare is key. But infections are even more common with lip piercings because of the bacteria in the mouth. If you develop the following symptoms, your lip piercing might be infected:
- Excessive redness and swelling near the piercing. Redness may begin radiating outward from the piercing, and the area may be warm to the touch.
- Pain or tenderness that is getting worse instead of better
- Pus (not lymph fluid) in the piercing
- Fever, chills, and/ or nausea
Infected piercings are not something to mess around with, so call your piercer asap. Your piercer can help rule out other causes like an allergic reaction and can offer tips for beefing up your aftercare. You may want to add a drop or two of tea tree oil, which has antiseptic properties, to your external saline soaks and rinses. In addition to your saline rinse, you might consider adding an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice per day (more could irritate the piercing and make things worse).
If those steps don’t turn things around, you’ll want to call your doctor relatively quickly. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to help you fight the infection. Remember to leave your jewelry in as taking it out can trap the infection in the closed piercing, making it far worse.
EXCESSIVELY SWOLLEN LIP PIERCINGS
Hopefully, your piercer prepped you well, and you know that some swelling after a lip piercing is always expected. It only becomes a problem when it’s so extreme that it’s painful or that your swelling is “swallowing” your jewelry, causing it to press uncomfortably into your lip. When this happens, it’s important to act quickly as the pressure of too-small jewelry can cause necrosis (tissue death) and infection. Take some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and reach out to your piercer for a longer labret stud.
Excessive swelling usually comes with an underlying cause such as an infection or an allergic reaction to the jewelry. If you have additional signs of infection, you should reach out to your piercer and/ or your doctor for advice. If you don’t have signs of infection but do have warmth, redness, and itchiness near the piercing, it’s possible that you’re reacting to the metal of your jewelry. Visit your piercer to have them swap it out for a titanium, niobium, or bioplast labret stud and see if this helps alleviate the swelling.
THE NOTORIOUS RED PIERCING BUMP
Not to be confused with infected piercings or keloid scars, piercing bumps are small, harmless bumps that appear at a piercing site. They are usually the result of hypergranulation or simply inflammation.
While keloids are a genetic issue that affect very few people, anyone can develop a hypergranulation issue. Hypergranulation is usually the result of combined moisture and pressure around a healing wound. If you get a red lip piercing bump, your jewelry is likely a little too tight. It could also mean your piercing is discharging an unusual amount of lymph, keeping your piercing constantly moist. Get the pressure off, and you’ll likely excrete less lymph, too. Don’t try to change your jewelry yourself, though; have your piercer swap out your labret stud for a longer one instead. It takes a minimum of a few months for a fistula to thicken and reinforce enough so you can change your jewelry yourself. The longer you wait, the easier it’ll be for you to change your labret jewelry on your own.
Once you get the pressure off your healing piercing, increase your aftercare regimen the same way you would if you were dealing with a lip piercing infection. It may take a week or two, but sooner or later the red bump should diminish and eventually disappear entirely.
Other piercings bumps, especially those that are flesh-colored, are caused by inflammation as the body attempts to heal the new wound. Whatever type of bump you have, we know how annoying they can be. With proper aftercare, they often go away on their own over time. In addition to steps above, some people also find that gentle compression from a piercing disc can help the bumps disappear more quickly.
LIP PIERCING SCARS
The three types of lip piercing scars you may encounter are atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars and keloids. Atrophic scars are recessed, skin-tone scars; hypertrophic scars are raised skin-tone scars that form immediately around a fistula; and keloids are reddish-colored, taut, lumpy scars that grow well beyond a piercing site or other wound.
- Keloids – As mentioned above, keloids affect a very small percentage of the population. If you’re prone to developing keloids, you’ll likely know well before you ever get a piercing. They’re a hereditary issue, so if someone else in your immediate family gets keloids, you may also be prone to them. If you know that keloids are an issue for you, you should avoid piercings altogether —particularly facial piercings. Keloids require medical intervention like surgery, laser therapy or cryotherapy to remove. So, if you develop a keloid, you should see a dermatologist.
- Hypertrophic Scars – Hypertrophic scars are much more common than keloids. Anyone can develop a hypertrophic scar around a lip piercing or other wound. Typically they won’t present themselves until weeks or months after getting a lip piercing. If you develop a small, reddish-pink or skin-tone scar that forms immediately around your fistula, you’re probably dealing with a hypertrophic scar. You can treat hypertrophic scars with silicone scar therapy gel or by rubbing a small amount of jojoba oil into the scar tissue a couple times a day for as many weeks or months as it takes to reduce the appearance of your scar. You should wait until your lip piercing is fully healed before beginning a scar therapy treatment. That’s because the gel or oil could clog your fistula and trap bacteria and/or debris inside, leading to infection.
- Atrophic Scars – You’re only likely to develop an atrophic scar if you remove a lip piercing. When the tissue starts to fill in where your lip piercing fistula was, your regenerating cells may become “confused.” Thus, they may stop short of completely filling in the hole. This can result in a little divot where your piercing used to be. The treatment for atrophic scars is the same as for hypertrophic scars. Get silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil and massage a small amount into the scar tissue twice a day until the scar is sufficiently diminished or eliminated, which may take weeks or months.
For most people, a lip piercing will simply leave a small, hardly noticeable hole on their upper or lower lip. For others, lip piercings come with a little more scarring. Whether you experience scarring and to what degree is usually a matter of genetics and your healing process. If you experience complications like infection and piercing rejection, you’re more likely to experience scarring. You can minimize your chances of significant scarring by going to a trusted professional piercer, choosing high-quality jewelry made from biocompatible materials, and following your aftercare routine to a T.
Stock up on aftercare essentials
Our piercing aftercare section can help make your healing process a little easier, a little safer, and a little less expensive. Stock up on sterile saline spray, saline mouthwash, tea tree oil and more. We have everything you need to get your new lip piercing healed as soon as possible.