Nipple piercings are a popular, stimulating, and eye-catching modification. They take longer to heal than most body piercings, and therefore require diligent aftercare for a healthy recovery. In this article, we provide a comprehensive overview of what to expect before getting your nipples pierced, recommended aftercare practices, and how to handle any problems with your nipple piercing(s).
Before Your Nipple Piercing
There are a few things you should know before you take the plunge and get your nipples pierced.
- Be prepared for a time commitment: the average recovery time for nipple piercings is between 9 and 12 months
- Use straight or bent barbells as starter jewelry: this kind of jewelry puts the least amount of downward pressure on sensitive, healing nipples. Your starter barbells will be long to make room for swelling during the healing process.
Recommendations for Women:
- Get pierced between menstrual cycles: many women experience swollen breasts and additional soreness during menstruation.
- Wait to get your nipples pierced if you’re pregnant (or trying): your nipple piercings won’t likely have enough time to heal during your pregnancy. Consequently, you’ll have to breastfeed with nipples that are still undergoing the healing process. Additionally, your body will change throughout your pregnancy, meaning you could have to change your starter body jewelry several times as your breasts swell. This could disrupt the healing process and irritate healing fistulas.
After Your Nipple Piercing
Always follow a professional piercing artist’s aftercare instructions after you get your nipples pierced. Refer to our Aftercare DOs and DON’Ts below as general guidelines for enjoying a healthy recovery.
- Bolster your immune system by getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, practicing good hygiene, and following a nutritious meal plan.
- Avoid trauma to fresh nipple piercings
- Be careful getting dressed: long starter barbells can snag on the fabric of your clothes and cause bleeding or tearing in new nipple piercings.
- Women: Wear sports bras at night and padded bras during the day to protect your nipple piercings.
- Men: Wear thick cotton undershirts day and night as an added layer of protection.
- DO NOT take aspirin, drink alcohol, or consume excessive caffeine during the first few weeks of the nipple piercing recovery process. All of the above will thin your blood, making it more difficult for your body to form clots to prevent bleeding.
- DO NOT smoke cigarettes. Nicotine has a systemic effect that slows your body’s ability to heal. If you’re unable to quit smoking, we recommend cutting back, using nicotine patches, or using an E-cigarette during the recovery process.
- DO NOT submerge your nipple piercings in bath water, hot tubs, or swimming pools. Bacteria in communal or dirty water can increase your risk of infection.
- DO NOT apply soap or harsh cleansers to healing nipple piercings. Soap and alcohol-based cleansers can dry and crack your skin, which increases your risk of infection.
- ABSOLUTELY DO NOT play with your jewelry during the healing process. Playing with your jewelry could create micro-tears, introduce harmful bacteria, and increase your risk of infection. Touch your jewelry as little as possible (only after washing your hands or while wearing gloves).
- DO NOT allow anyone to touch your fresh nipple piercings with their hands or mouths. This transfers bacteria, which increases your risk of infection.
- DO NOT twist, turn or slide your nipple jewelry to break up “crusties”. Crusties are dried lymph, a substance the body naturally excretes when healing any wound. Soak the crusties with Recovery Saline Solution to soften them, then gently wipe the softened crusties away with a clean tissue or cotton swab.
- DO NOT apply any creams, oils, balms, or ointments to your nipple piercings. These can clog your fistulas, trapping bacteria and potentially triggering an infection.
- DO NOT change your jewelry prematurely. After the first 3 to 6 months, consult your piercing artist and ask if it’s safe to have him or her replace your long starter barbells with more close-fitting jewelry.
How to Clean Your Nipple Piercings
- Mist them with a sea salt-based aftercare spray like Recovery Saline Solution 3 to 6 times per day.
- Perform a full sea salt solution soak twice a day during the first few months of the healing process (and at least once a day thereafter).
Salt is essential to life and good health. It’s in our blood and our cells; it maintains our electrolyte balance, sustains us during exercise, and even prevents hypothermia. Since salt is part of our chemical make-up, sea salt solution is the least foreign cleanser you can apply to a healing wound.
Spraying your nipple piercings with saline wash regularly will keep your fistulas flushed of debris, encourage them to heal well, and soften any crusties that form around your nipple rings so you can gently wipe them away.
To perform a full sea salt solution soak, fill a small container (like a shot glass) with either a store-bought saline solution wash or a homemade sea salt solution. Lean forward, place the container against your breast so it encompasses one of your nipples, sit up straight again while holding the container firmly against your breast, then let your nipple soak in the solution for up to 5 minutes. Then, empty the container, rinse it out, refill it with saline solution, and repeat the process with your other nipple.
Alternatively, you can saturate a series of clean cotton balls with saline solution and apply them one-at-a-time to your nipple piercings until you’ve kept them saturated for a total of 5 minutes.
To make your own sea salt solution, you’ll need:
- (1) cup of sterile water
- 1/4 teaspoon of high-quality sea salt, like our Recovery Sea Salt From the Dead Sea
- 2–3 drops of tea tree oil (optional), which is a natural moisturizer and antiseptic.
Measure out one cup of sterile water, stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, add 2–3 drops of tea tree oil (if desired), and let the solution cool to a comfortable temperature before applying it to your nipple piercings.
Note: If you don’t want to buy sterile water, you can boil tap water on the stove top for 5 minutes. Do not substitute table salt for sea salt. Table salt contains iodine, which can irritate healing piercings. To save money on proper ingredients, check out our Recovery Sea Salt & Tea Tree Oil Combo Pack.
Tea Tree Oil is optional, but it is highly recommended if the skin around your piercings gets dry and/or begins to crack. Tea Tree Oil is an all-natural additive that will safely re-moisturize your skin. Add 2–3 drops of Tea Tree Oil to homemade sea salt solutions and just 1 drop to store-bought solutions.
If your nipple piercings begin to ooze a thick, yellowish, pus-like discharge or the tissue around them is red and inflamed, consider adding an antiseptic piercing rinse to your daily cleaning routine. Tattoo Goo’s X-Pressions Swabs or Antiseptic Piercing Spray are excellent options. Antiseptic piercing treatments should be applied just once or twice a day either right after a full sea salt solution soak or in between soaks
Note: Do not apply antiseptic piercing treatments before a sea salt solution soak. If you do, the solution will wash away the antiseptic.
Everyone’s nipples heal at a different rate. Consequently, you could be ready to change your starter jewelry anywhere between 3 and 9 months into the healing process. The exact timing depends on when swelling subsides. If you experience any swelling, you’ll need to keep the longer starter barbells in so they don’t put undue pressure on your healing fistulas. Prolonged pressure can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection.
Once you’re past the 3-month mark (and a few more weeks have passed without any swelling), ask your piercer if it’s safe to switch to more close-fitting barbells that are less likely to snag on your clothing.
Note: See your piercing artist right away if your jewelry begins to press into your nipples at any point. He or she will replace your jewelry with longer barbells until the swelling subsides.
You can safely change your own nipple jewelry after you’ve had your piercings for a year. Buy a pair of circular barbells, captive bead rings, shorter straight barbells, or other nipple piercing jewelry that will fit your nipples closely but comfortably. Make sure you pick nipple rings that are the same gauge as your current jewelry. If you’re not sure what diameter or length to choose, consult with your piercer. Alternatively, you can measure your current jewelry using our Measuring Body Jewelry guidelines and use those measurements as a gauge for selecting appropriately-sized new jewelry.
When purchasing new nipple jewelry, you should also invest in a piercing taper in the same gauge as your new jewelry. If you feel you need it, put a drop of a water-based lubricant like Astroglide on the end of the taper or on the side of our nipple where you’ll be inserting the taper. Screw your new nipple ring onto the threaded end of the taper, then use the taper to slowly push out your current nipple ring and thread the new one through. Repeat with your other nipple. This is the easiest way to replace your nipple rings on your own.
Stretching Your Nipple Piercings
If you want your nipple piercings to be larger than the standard 14g up to 12g, your piercing artist may be able to outfit you with 10g up to 6g nipple rings from the start. Once you’re pierced, you’ll need to wear the same size nipple jewelry throughout the healing process. After you’ve had your nipple piercings for a year, you can contemplate stretching them.
General Stretching Recommendations
Before switching to barbells that are a size larger than your current jewelry, massage emu oil into the skin around your piercings. The emu oil will increase your skin’s elasticity and make it easier to insert new jewelry. You may still want to use a piercing taper that’s the same gauge as your new, larger nipple jewelry; in such case, use a drop of water-based lubricant to ease the larger jewelry into your fistulas as gently as possible. Once you’ve gone up a whole size (e.g. from 12g up to 10g), you should wait 1.5 times as long as it took your nipple piercings to heal initially before graduating to the next largest gauge.
Stretching tape allows a safe and gradual stretching process. It’s an alternative to stretching up one whole size at a time. Simply remove one of your barbells, wrap it with a single layer of stretching tape, reinsert it, and then repeat with your other barbell. You’ll have to wait a few weeks to a month for your fistulas to calm down before adding another layer of tape to your barbells. Once you’ve added a full gauge of stretching tape layers to your current barbells, you can replace your jewelry with barbells in the next size up, wait a few weeks, then start adding a layer of stretching tape every few weeks again. Repeat this process until you’ve reached your desired size.
This kind of stretching is a bold and stimulating approach. Pick up a pair of captive bead rings, two S-hooks, and some small weights. Walk around shirtless in the comfort of your home with the weights hanging from your captive rings via the S-hooks. Weights can also add a new dimension to nipple stimulation and sexual play.
Common Nipple Piercing Problems
There are a variety of problems you can experience while your nipple piercings are healing. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these common issues, so you can quickly identify and address them should they arise.
Swelling is especially common during the nipple healing process. This is why it’s standard practice to use longer barbells as starter jewelry; longer barbells allow room for your nipples to swell. See your piercing artist immediately if you swell so much that the ends of your nipple barbells begin to press uncomfortably into your nipples. As mentioned above, prolonged pressure can cause the tissue beneath your jewelry to die, a process called necrosis. This places you at a higher risk of infection.
Discomfort During Menstruation
Women with nipple piercings often complain that their breasts are extra sore and tender to the touch during their menstrual cycles. The larger a woman’s breasts, the greater the discomfort tends to be, although this can be an issue for smaller-breasted women, too. The longer you have your nipple piercings, the less likely they’ll be to contribute to additional soreness and tenderness during menstruation. In the meantime, you can take the edge off your discomfort by using cool compresses and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, following the guidelines in the “Swelling” section above.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may develop a nipple piercing infection in one or both fistulas. Symptoms of infection include thick, yellowish pus; red streaks radiating out from your piercing(s); skin that’s hot to the touch; and sometimes fever.
If you notice any of these symptoms early, you may be able to combat an infection by ramping up your nipple piercing aftercare routine. Do 2 to 3 full sea salt solution soaks per day and use Recovery Aftercare Soap to rinse away debris. You should also add an antiseptic piercing rinse or antiseptic swabs to your regime once or twice a day after your full soaks; antiseptics can also be used in between soaks for full benefits. If you haven’t been incorporating tea tree oil into your sea salt solution soaks, you should start as soon as you see the first sign of infection. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that will enhance your sea salt solutions and help combat infection.
You should see signs of improvement within a few days after ramping up your aftercare regime. If you don’t, or if your infection gets worse, see your family doctor right away. He or she may prescribe an antibiotic to combat the infection.
Don’t fret if your doctor tells you it would be best to remove your nipple rings. It’s actually better to keep your fistulas open to encourage drainage and prevent an abscess from forming. If you decide to remove your nipple rings, make sure you continue doing full sea salt solution soaks and misting your nipples with piercing aftercare spray 3 to 6 times per day in between soaks to keep your fistulas flushed as they close up.
Hypergranulation may occur around nipple piercings due to prolonged pressure and/or moisture caused by factors like excessive sweating and tight jewelry. It may present itself as a ring of angry red, swollen tissue around a piercing site or as a single red bump that appears fluid-filled at the edge of a fistula.
The coloring and lumpiness of hypergranulations cause many people to mistakenly think they’ve developed a keloid scar, but very few people are actually prone to keloids. One way to tell the difference between the two is that a keloid will keep growing well beyond a piercing site, whereas hypergranulations tend to form immediately around a fistula. Also, a keloid scar wouldn’t respond positively to enhanced piercing aftercare the way a hypergranulation issue will.
If you develop one of these notorious red piercing bumps, you can take comfort knowing that it’s just a temporary issue that can be easily remedied with a few small changes to your jewelry and aftercare regime. The first step to addressing a hypergranulation is to see your piercer and have your jewelry replaced with a more loose-fitting barbell. Once the pressure is off your irritated fistula, you should ramp up your aftercare regime and do 2 to 3 full sea salt solution soaks per day (preferably using a solution that is enhanced with tea tree oil).
After cleaning your nipple piercings, blot the tissue dry with a clean tissue to minimize leftover moisture. Don’t wipe the skin roughly; just blot gently. Keep up this routine for the next couple weeks, and your hypergranulation issue should subside.
There are two common types of piercings scars that can develop around nipple piercings: hypertrophic and atrophic scars.
Hypertrophic scars are raised, often flesh-toned, and have roughly textured tops. They form immediately around piercing sites when they occur.
Atrophic scars have a similar composition to hypertrophic scars, but they’re recessed scars that usually only develop at retired piercing sites. They happen when the scar tissue falls short of filling a closed fistula, leaving you with an indent where your piercing hole was.
If you develop a hypertrophic scar around the side of one of your nipple piercings, or if you retire your nipple rings and develop atrophic scars, you can treat them with silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil. Neither product should be used during the first 12 months after getting your nipples pierced, because they could clog your fistulas, trapping in debris or bacteria and potentially leading to an infection. Once your nipple piercings are well healed, it’s perfectly safe to massage a small amount of either silicone gel or jojoba oil into your scar tissue twice a day until the scar is sufficiently minimized or eliminated.
A small percentage of the population may experience a third type of scarring issue known as keloid scars. Keloids are typically a genetic issue, so if any of your immediate family members are prone to them, you might be, too. You’ll likely know if you’re prone to keloids well before getting your nipples pierced. If you know you’re prone to them, you should not get any body piercings. If you’ve never had a keloid scar form around a cut, piercing, or other wound, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have an issue with them when you get your nipples pierced.
Keloid scars require medical intervention. If you were to develop one around a nipple piercing, you’d need to see a dermatologist to address it. The doctor may offer you one or a combination of several treatment options, such as cryotherapy to freeze off the scar tissue, laser therapy to burn your scar off, surgical removal, and/or steroid injections to shrink the scar tissue. Some doctors also recommend using silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil as a supplement to other keloid scar treatments.
To learn more about nipple piercing scars, check out our Identifying & Minimizing Body Piercing Scars blog post and our Body Piercing Scars article.
- Do Nipple Piercings Hurt? Blog Post
- Nipple Piercing FAQs Article
- Basic Nipple Piercing Info Article
- Can You Breastfeed With Nipple Piercings? Blog Post
- Time for New Nipple Jewelry? Blog Post
- Choosing the Best Nipple Jewelry Article
- Nipple Shield Options Article
- How to Put on a Nipple Shield Article
- Nipple Piercing Resources Article
If you’re interested in seeing pictures of nipple piercings, check out our online photo gallery. Once you’re signed into your account, you’ll be able to see photos of both male and female nipple piercings.
Note: Our gallery contains mature content that is only suitable for viewers who are logged in and 18 years or older. If you need help navigating and utilizing the forum or gallery, read our How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles.