Every good piercing is the combined result of a skilled piercer and a dedicated individual who knows the importance of piercing aftercare. If you want a new piercing to heal well and look good for years to come, you have to take care of it!
If you're new to body piercing and aren't sure what piercing aftercare entails, don't worry; it isn't a state secret. The steps to caring for your new piercing are really quite simple. Just abide by the Golden Rules of Piercing Aftercare, and you'll be, well, golden!
Golden Rules of Piercing Aftercare
- Keep your new piercing clean.
- Don't play with your piercing.
- Don't change your jewelry prematurely.
- Deal with problems immediately.
Pretty simple, right? Right! But… How should you clean your new piercing? Is it safe to ever touch your piercing? When can you change your jewelry? Okay, maybe there's a little more to piercing aftercare, but what we're about to tell you can be rolled up into those 4 simple rules, as you'll see.
Rule #1: Keep Your New Piercing Clean
If you want your new piercing to heal perfectly, you have to keep it clean. There are a couple ways to go about this. By best practices, neither method involves soap of any kind. If your piercer suggests you clean an external piercing with soap, make sure you use a gentle cleanser–something like baby shampoo. Before you go there, though, try one or both of these two more natural options:
Clean Your Piercing With a Sea Salt-Based Piercing Aftercare Spray
The best piercing aftercare sprays are saline sprays–sprays like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray and H2Ocean. Consider buying an aftercare spray in 2 sizes: a larger bottle to keep at home for thorough daily cleansing, and a smaller bottle to carry with you. If you have an internal piercing, you'll need a piercing aftercare mouthwash instead–not alcohol-based mouthwash that can dry out your piercing and delay the healing process, but a sea salt-based rinse like H2Ocean's Arctic and Lemon Ocean Oral Rinses.
Ideally, you should spray your new piercing with an aftercare spray 3-6 times per day. If your piercing has an entry and exit point (e.g. an ear piercing or belly button piercing), be sure to spray both holes thoroughly. For something like a lip or cheek piercing, where one side of the fistula (i.e. hole where you were pierced) is external and the other side is internal, make sure to swish a saline oral rinse around your mouth for at least 30 seconds 3-6 times per day in addition to spraying the external side of your piercing with an aftercare spray.
Anytime the skin around your piercing gets hot and irritated, it's time to spray it again. You can never apply too much saline aftercare spray, but you could over-wash your piercing if you were using soap. (Soap dries out the skin, so it can really irritate a healing wound of any kind when overused.) Ditto for oral piercing aftercare rinses; you can't overuse them, so be sure to swish morning, noon and night and immediately after you eat anything.
At least twice a day, you should do more thorough sea salt solution soaks for new external piercings. You can use a store-bought piercing aftercare spray for your soaks, if desired. Just fully saturate a cotton ball with saline solution, hold it against your piercing for 15-20 seconds, dispose of the cotton ball, and repeat with a fresh one. This process should go on for 3-5 minutes.
If you have a piercing that can literally soak in solution, then fill a small cup (shot glasses work well) and submerge your piercing in it. You can do a full dunk easily with earlobe piercings, nipple piercings and some genital piercings. If you have a new belly button piercing, lean forward, press the cup up over your belly button, and then stand upright again while holding the cup against your stomach.
Clean Your Piercing With a Homemade Sea Salt Solution
Homemade sea salt solution may work better than an aftercare spray for your twice-a-day full soaks. To make your own solution, you'll need the following items:
- Sterile Water (you can buy sterile water or boil water for 5 minutes to sterilize it)
- Sea Salt (aquarium salt from a pet store works well)
- Measuring Tools (you'll need to measure out 1/4 tsp. of sea salt and 1 cup of sterile water)
- A Spoon or Other Stirrer
- A Cup
- Tea Tree Oil (optional)
Stir 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt into 1 cup of warm, sterile water until it's fully dissolved. If your skin is dry or generally irritated, adding 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to your sea salt solution will help your piercing. Tea tree oil is a natural moisturizer and antiseptic, so it's a great ingredient for preventing infection and softening dry, cracked or otherwise irritated skin. Stir some into your solution, if desired, and then you're ready to clean your piercing.
You can apply your homemade sea salt solution the same way you would when using store-bought piercing aftercare spray to do full soaks. Just soak a cotton ball in solution, apply it to your piercing for 15-20 seconds, dispose of it, and repeat with a fresh cotton ball. Or, if possible, submerge your whole piercing in the solution for 3-5 minutes.
New piercings are highly susceptible to developing infection if bacteria is introduced. The easiest way to introduce bacteria is to handle your piercing. It's hard not to touch a new piercing; it'll feel foreign initially, plus you'll be excited about it, and you'll want to touch it. DON'T. If you absolutely have to touch your piercing, make sure you wash your hands with antibacterial soap first. Better yet, wear gloves.
If "crusties" form around your piercing, don't worry and don't touch them with bare hands. Crusties are just dried lymph, which is a clear fluid the body naturally excretes during the healing process that dries to a whitish crust. Piercers used to suggest turning/twisting/sliding jewelry to break up crusties, but that's not a good idea. You could transfer bacteria from your hands onto your jewelry and/or turn bacteria clinging to your jewelry into your delicate healing fistula. A much better solution for dealing with crusties is to soften them with sea salt solution or a piercing aftercare spray, and then gently wipe them away with a soft tissue. Always wash your hands first!
The only other good reason for touching your piercing is if you're changing your jewelry, which leads us into Golden Rule #3…
Rule #3: Don't Change Your Jewelry Prematurely
Jewelry is one of the best parts of getting a new piercing. There are so many gorgeous body jewelry options available to tempt you, and you should definitely indulge… but not until your piercing is fully healed. Different piercings take different amounts of time to heal, and different people heal at different rates. That said, you can generally expect the piercings below to heal in the average time periods specified.
- Belly Button Piercing Healing Time: 2-3 Months
- Bridge Piercing Healing Time: 2-3 Months
- Dermal Piercing Healing Times: 3-6 Months (Varies by Location)
- Earlobe Piercing Healing Time: 4-6 Weeks
- Eyebrow Piercing Healing Time: 2-3 Months
- Female Genital Piercing Healing Times: 4 Weeks to 4 Months (See Genital Piercing Healing Times for Specific Piercings)
- Helix/Cartilage Piercing Healing Time: 3-6 Months Minimum, More Typically 6-9 Months
- Lip Piercing Healing Times (Labret, Snakebites, Monroe, etc.): 2-3 Months
- Male Genital Piercing Healing Times: 4 Weeks to 6+ Months (See Genital Piercing Healing Times for Specific Piercings)
- Nipple Piercing Healing Time: 9-12 Months
- Nostril Piercing Healing Time: 2-3 Months
- Oral Piercing Healing Times (Smiley, Frowney, Frenum & Tongue Piercings): 4-6 Weeks
- Septum Piercing Healing Time: 6-8 Weeks
If you take out your jewelry too early, you may have trouble getting your new jewelry in on your own. If the fistula isn't fully reinforced yet and you're moving too slowly, your piercing may close before you can get the new jewelry into it. For that reason, it's usually better to have a piercer change your jewelry for you the first time.
Whether or not a piercer helps you, the only time you should change your jewelry early is if you're having problems with the piercing and think the jewelry's material or length may be part of the problem. That leads us to Golden Rule #4…
Rule #4: Deal With Problems Immediately
There are a number of issues that can arise in the early days after getting a new piercing. The most common problems include:
Swelling – If the area of your body you've just had pierced swells excessively, your jewelry may begin to press into your skin in an uncomfortable way. This is a problem you need to deal with immediately, because prolonged pressure can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection and/or cause you to lose your piercing. If you experience this issue, see your piercer right away and ask him or her to give you a longer barbell.
Tip: A captive bead ring makes great starter jewelry for many piercings, and it's ideal because it leaves plenty of room for swelling. A captive ring is much less likely to put pressure on a swollen new piercing than many barbell styles. If you're having your ear cartilage pierced, a labret stud is also a good choice, since that part of the body tends not to swell as much as fleshier areas do when pierced.
Allergic Reaction – If the skin around your piercing becomes excessively red, itchy or excessively swollen, you may be allergic to your starter jewelry material. Surgical stainless steel and titanium are the two best metals for starter jewelry, because they're the most inert metals and least likely to trigger a reaction. (Typically people who have reactions are reacting to the high nickel content of cheaply-made jewelry.) BioPlast is another good hypo-allergenic alternative for people who have sensitive skin.
- Thick, Yellow, Pus-Like Discharge
- Red Streaks Emanating From Your Piercing
- Skin That's Hot to the Touch
You may be able to avoid a full-on infection if you ramp up your sea salt solution application regime right when you begin to notice problems, but if your symptoms are severe or they persist, you should see a doctor right away. Don't take infection lightly, particularly with oral and facial piercings.
If your doctor tells you to take out your piercing, don't worry. As long as you keep your piercing clean while you take antibiotics, you should be able to keep it. It isn't a good idea to take out jewelry while you have an infection anyway, since bacteria could get trapped inside when the hole begins to close, which could potentially create an abscess.
Other Tips for a Happy, Healthy Piercing
If you're well, your piercing will be well, too. That's why you should do the following while your piercing's healing, in addition to abiding by the Golden Rules above:
- Eat well.
- Be hygienic overall.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid aspirin, at least early on (it's a blood thinner).
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine (these substances can slow the healing process).
- Wear loose clothing if your piercing's in an area where clothing may irritate it.
- Protect your piercing (e.g. try not to sleep on it, catch your hair brush in it, spray hairspray on it, etc.).
- Generally take care of yourself.
Your new piercing is a lot like a little fledgeling tree. If you protect it, nurture it and give it time, it will grow strong. The walls of the fistula will reinforce much like a sapling developing bark as it grows into a mighty oak; the outer walls will thicken and grow stronger and tougher over time. That's why it's important that you don't rush into changing your jewelry or stretching your piercing. Eventually, your piercing will feel like just another part of your body, something you won't even be conscious of… until you find some awesome new jewelry, anyway. At that point–once the fistula's set and strong–you can change your jewelry as often as you want, so spoil yourself!