Piercing Aftercare

If you’ve gotten to know me in person, you’ll probably know that I love body mods! I also like helping people out so they can learn from my mistakes.

I’m a member of a body mod community, and there are always new people who come in with questions. A lot of them tend to be the same questions, so I thought to make a post to answer them!

I am not a doctor or a medical professional or a piercer. I’m just someone who’s gotten a number of piercings and has a decent understanding of anatomy. I’ve also had a number of surgeries, so I’m familiar with wound care. If you have questions, ask your piercer OR your doctor! Not people on the Internet!

How Piercing Works

The quick explanation is “you make a hole and put a thing in it.” But if you understand the exact process, you’ll understand why you should do the things you need to do to heal. Plus, learning is fun!

But you’ll need a deeper understanding to know how to take care of them as best as possible.

I will be referring to this lovely diagram I made. Behold!

Your skin is made of a bunch of layers. But we can simplify this with just “outside” and “inside.” The “outside” is your outermost layer of skin, which you can think of as the “bread” part of an ice cream sandwich. The “inside” is all the yucky parts with blood and stuff, the ice cream of the sandwich. Your outsides keep your insides in, which is what they’re supposed to do. Your outsides also keep germs and bad stuff out so that your insides remain healthy.

When you get a cut or scrape, the outside is damaged, maybe a bit of the inside, and things heal “across”, from the outside edge to the other outside edge, so your ice cream sandwich is good as new (this is a gross oversimplification!) Your body always wants to go back to the way it “should” be.

But when you get a piercing, you are getting a hole that goes all the way through the ice cream sandwich, so both sides of the bread are damaged. Your body, of course, doesn’t like that, so it gets to work healing. It wants to heal across, but there’s this darn pesky metal thing in the way! So your outside goes to cover the closest raw inside. This happens at both ends, and they meet in the middle, inside your piercing. Once everything is healed, you have a tunnel, with all surfaces being your “outsides,” even if it’s typically where your “insides” should be, which is just what we wanted!

How to Promote Healing/Aftercare

To heal, you need to keep your new wounds (because that’s what they are) clean and in a state to heal well, as well as give your body what it needs to generate new, healthy tissue. This means leaving the area alone (so new cells can be built) and clean. So you should…

Clean piercing 2-3 times a day with sterile saline spray

You can find this in the “wound care” (bandaids and stuff) section of your CVS or Target or what have you. It looks something like this…

This is “neutral saline,” which is the same salinity as the fluids in your body (so salt isn’t being pulled out of your body or added to it). It’s also sterile and remains sterile as you spray it, which won’t happen if you make your own.

Your piercing is going to develop “crusties,” which will be dried blood and lymph (the clear fluid that can also come out of wounds). And you’re going to make dead skin cells, oil, sweat, and all that other normal stuff skin does. You want to keep wounds clean, not introduce germs or irritate the area.

Spray the area with the saline spray to rinse away anything that’s gross/shouldn’t be there.

Wash the area once a day in the shower with gentle soap

You want to use soap that has no additives in it. Dr. Bronner’s baby (aka unscented) soap is great for this (as well as for washing your piercings once they’re healed, or healing tattoos, so buy the huge bottle if you want). Wash the area AROUND the piercing without moving or twisting the jewelry.

When I say “soap,” I mean in the simplest chemical definition. Soap works because it gets stuff off of you. Anti-bacterial soap has extra stuff added to it to kill germs. But if all the germs are being washed away by the soap, you do not need to also kill them. It just introduces more stuff that your body can be sensitive to. Normal Dr. Bronner’s has scents, also you don’t want peppermint oil in a fresh wound. But the baby formulation has none of that.

This is also one of the points where there is some level of disagreement if it’s necessary for healing piercings. Once it is healed, it is good to do (especially to get rid of build-up dead skin and oil, which can smell funky). But while it’s still healing, the jury’s still out.

Drink plenty of water and eat healthily

This is an obvious one. Your body needs materials to make new cells, as well as to replace what you lose (like blood and lymph, which is a lot of water). Take it easy with drugs and alcohol, too, since those are harsh on your system. The more your body has to heal at once, the longer it takes everything to finish. This is also why you can’t get a ton of piercings done all at once.

Change bed sheets and clothing often

If you have an ear or facial piercing, you can put a t-shirt on your pillow, then flip the pillow over the next night, and now turn the shirt inside-out and do it again. 4 nights of clean pillow for just one piece of laundry! Whatever has to touch your piercing should be clean as much as possible

Keep contact with materials/objects to a minimum

Stuff like makeup, lotion, the bands of your face mask, etc can either upset the area or introduce germs. You also run the risk of yanking on your jewelry, which is going to hurt. If this happens, you might see some blood because you are damaging/destroying the healing tissue, which sets you back.

If you need to soak your piercing, use warm, distilled water

This is bottled water, usually in 1-gallon jugs, that has been steamed so that there is nothing in it BESIDES H20. This means no germs, no salts, no irritants. It is not very pleasant to drink, but it’s very good for cleaning things.

Downsize your jewelry, per your piercer’s instructions

The normal healing process makes the wound inflamed (swelled) and a little red/warm. This is your immune system swarming the area to kill any germs that show up. But this also means that the amount of tissue your piercing will be going through is more than what it will be once it’s healed.

The jewelry that is first put into your piercing is going to be longer to accommodate for this. If it’s not, there is the chance the swelling will swell over your jewelry and cover it up, so now it is INSIDE you…which is not good. You do not want to be cut open to get that taken out.

But as your body heals and the swelling goes down, the longer jewelry will be able to move around more and is at risk of getting caught on things, which can cause damage. This is why you want your piercer to replace the jewelry with something shorter. This is the only situation where you should change your jewelry when it’s healing. And because of that, you want your piercer to do it because they can do it without fumbling around to change it and they will have lots of different sizes available to fit your unique anatomy (so now buying stuff online and guessing the size).

When you get pierced, your piercer will give you a date to come in for a check-up to do this. Sometimes you might need more time, and that’s okay! Or you might heal faster. Shoot them a message if you have any questions

How NOT to Promote Healing

Now hear are all the things you SHOULDN’T do!

Do not remove/change your jewelry

Your jewelry is being used as scaffolding to build that tunnel to turn the 2 holes into 1. When you remove/reinsert jewelry, you’re destroying those connections and irritating the area. You’re introducing germs with non-sterile jewelry, and the materials may not be body safe, which will further upset everything. Have patience!

Sometimes things happen and you have no choice, like if you have to have surgery or an MRI. If that happens, replace the jewelry as soon as you can/have it out for as short of a period as possible. Don’t be afraid to go back to your piercer to have them do it for you.

I was not very smart and got cartilage and lobe piercings 2 months before a scheduled surgery. I had to take them out and put them back in 6 hours later, but I couldn’t do it for the cartilage. I ended up going to my piercer the next day to have them put back in, and they were already starting to close, so it was a bit of a struggle to get them back in. You do not want to have to take a bus and walk around town 24 hours after surgery! Learn from my mistakes.

Do not touch your piercing (or let anyone else)

Your hands are dirty, other people’s hands (and body parts) are dirty, and moving your piercing will damage the healing tissue. Don’t play or fiddle with it, don’t let anyone else.

Do not swim for 8-10 weeks

Doesn’t matter if it’s a chlorinated pool or the ocean, the water is gross and there are irritating chemicals in it, which open wounds do not like. If your piercing is in an area that would get soaked, don’t sit in a hot tub or take a bath.

And no mud wrestling, jello wresting, or Nickelodeon slime-ing. This all falls into the “don’t let foreign materials in/around your piercing.” Same deal with other people’s body fluids. A piercing is an open wound, and that is a great way for all sorts of bacteria and viruses to get into you.

Do not use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, anti-bacterial products, Neosporin, “ear care solutions”…

I will further dunk on Claire’s in a future post, but one of the things they sell you is an aftercare solution that says you can use it to change your lobe piercings after 3 weeks and 8 weeks for cartilage piercings. Cartilage, due to having less blood flow, takes 6 months of healing, minimum. And that is IF the stars align and you do everything perfectly, which is not going to happen. It is not going to shave 4+ months of healing time. It says it’s “dermatologist tested,” but all that means is it PROBABLY won’t give you an allergic reaction. That doesn’t mean it’s tested to actually promote healing. If there was actually some miracle solution, we all would know about it and be using it.

A lot of companies are going to sell this crap on/in Amazon or Claire’s or Hot Topic to kids (and parents) who don’t know better. If they were ACTUALLY good, then your piercer would be recommending it. It’s also more expensive and harder to get than wound wash, which any pharmacy or big box store will have.

Have you ever cleaned a cut with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide? Hurts, doesn’t it? The reason why alcohol kills 99.9% of germs is that it just shreds their cells apart (those that escape are just in deep enough crevasses to dodge it, it’s not that they’re immune to it, they’re just lucky). Anything that kills bad cells just by being inhospitable is going to hurt healthy cells, too. If you’re cleaning your piercing multiple times a day, you’re killing anything that is being built, and it’s gonna hurt a lot. Don’t do it.

Anti-biotic ointments/creams/lotions like Neosporin are greasy and block airflow. You put these on a cut because you were hurt with something dirty, which introduced bacteria into the wound. A piercing is a small wound done with sterile tools in a sterile setting. You have a functioning immune system and you are cleaning the area multiple times a day. Anything else is overkill and only increases the chance you’ll irritate or hurt the area. If the area is already infected, it won’t fix it.

Epsom salts aren’t table salt (NaCl), they aren’t going to do anything you think it’s going to do. Same deal with tea tree oil, emu oil, toothpaste, salicylic acid, whatever the hell some random person on the Internet tells you. The only things going on a healing piercing should be sterile water, very simple soap, and a bit of shower water. Nothing else.

Do not use cotton products (q-tips, makeup removing pads) to clean your piercing

You don’t want the cotton fibers getting stuck on your jewelry or introduced to the wound. You can use your fingers when cleaning (after you wash your hands, of course!!!!). This is also why washing in the shower is nice because the running water will do this for you.

Do not rotate or move jewelry

If I could nuke Claire’s from orbit (and Piercing Pagoda, and any other shitty piercing chain), I would. One of the lies they perpetrate is that you need to rotate your piercing so it doesn’t get stuck.

But if you use long enough jewelry, that wouldn’t be an issue! All rotating does is destroy the healing tissue! Don’t do it!!!!

Do not put makeup, lotion, or other stuff in/around your piercing

Your makeup applicators are dirty, the makeup itself is not sterile, and you’re going to irritate the area. There are too many products and piercings out there for me to list them all here, so use some common sense to figure this one out. Remember, you only want clean water, simple soap, and wound wash in/on your piercing, nothing else.

Do not take advice from friends or the internet

Yes, I know this is a giant post of “advice,” but! I based it on the after-care my piercing parlor gives out. So I am not talking out of my ass.

But there are a ton of people out there who only have their own experiences to give advice. Just because YOU got pierced with a gun at Walmart and didn’t do any aftercare and turned out fine, that doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone else. Every body is different, every wound heals differently, and pictures can only show so much. If you are EVER in doubt, CONTACT YOUR PIERCER! It might be a pain in the ass to get yourself back to the studio, but better safe than sorry!

And if you think you are sick or have an infection, GO TO THE DOCTOR! Us lovely internet folx can’t give you antibiotics or help you if things take a turn for the worse.

Your piercer wants you to have the best results possible! And they have way more experience than us! They won’t be upset if something goes wrong or if you have a question, so give them a call or shoot them an email.

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