Aftercare – General

So you now have a piece of metal penetrating through your flesh (or soon will) and you need to know a little more about it. You have come to the right place. After you have read this information, go to the aftercare section that has been written for your specific piercing. Different piercing heal differently and require additional care procedures.

What They Don’t Tell You…

Piercing in progress

The first thing you have to know is that the skin, by nature, does not like anything embedded in it. The body will try everything it can to get rid of any foreign object in the skin. It doesn’t matter if it’s wood, plastic, bone or surgical steel. Therefore it is up to the skill of the piercer and the determination of the piercee to force and trick the body into accepting these foreign objects.

It is important that you, the owner of the piercing, be willing to care for and have the patience required in dealing with the many potential problems a piercing comes with. This includes infections, jewelry migration, rejection, irritation, etc. Unfortunately it is easy to blame a piercer or a shop since it is they that did the procedure. But you have to keep in mind that they only do the procedure, the aftercare is up to the customer. I don’t know of any qualified piercer that does not warn a customer of the long term healing process. Many of which go into months of healing.

No mater what kind of piercing you get, all piercing go through a similar process. While the order remains the same for all types of piercing, the length of time and the amount of modification the body goes through will vary according to the type of piercing and the location.

  1. Initial piercing – The initial piercing session creates a wound through the flesh that allows the jewelry to be inserted. This causes some bleeding, tenderness around the pierced area, and swelling of the surrounding tissue and occasionally some bruising.
  2. Occlusion – Your body’s immune system begins working on repairing the damage caused by the piercing process. A reddish-clear fluid called plasma begins the clotting process and defends the area against bacteria and any foreign object in the skin.
  3. Rejection – The natural tendency of the body is to get rid of any foreign object. If a piercing is not done deep enough, the body will have an easy time pushing the jewelry out. This process is called rejection and can take up to several months to push jewelry out.
  4. Migration – If the piercing was done properly and there is enough flesh supporting the jewelry, rejection is eliminated. However, most piercing do tend to move from their original piercing location to some degree. This movement in the skin is called migration.
  5. Nesting – The final step as the body comes to accept the jewelry is nesting. This is where the body makes room for the body jewelry. Different parts of the body will nest the jewelry in different ways. Some areas such as labrets and nipples you may not notice the nesting process. Other areas such as the tongue or the navel will be more noticeable.

What to Expect

Pain is pleasure?

A piercing done by a qualified piercer should go fairly smoothly with little discomfort to the customer aside from that caused by the piercing itself. I’m not saying it won’t be painful here, just that there should be no additional trauma to the skin or the customer.

A new piercing will be very tender around the piercing area, with some redness. If you are the type that bruises easily you could develop some bruising around the area also. When cleaning, a new piercing will also sting like hell, and if you think a tattoo itches while healing… A healing piercing itches on the inside of the hole, making getting at the itch impossible. Be careful because this is a common time for the piercing to get infected, usually from scratching at it with dirty hands.

A hole is being punched through the skin, therefore it will be expected to bleed. Depending on how much flesh a piercing goes through, the bleeding may last a day or two. Dried blood will crust around the jewelry. Carefully and thoroughly clean the crust off the jewelry before cleaning the wound. As the piercing heals, a whitish/yellowish mucus fluid will be secreted. This is your body’s natural lubricant going to work on relieving the irritation caused by the jewelry. This fluid will also crust on the outside and should be carefully cleaned prior to cleaning the wound. Do not mistake this for an infection. When in doubt, call your piercer.

In a nutshell, here are the steps a piercing will go through during the initial healing. Keep in mind that not all piercing will experience all of these steps. Different body areas heal piercing in their own unique manner. Also, different physiologies will heal piercing differently.

  • Bleeding – sometimes lasting 24 to 48 hours. Piercing through thinner tissue, tissue over cartilage or tissue with lots of capillaries will bleed more.
  • Swelling – sometimes lasting up to a week. Swelling is also dependant on the area being pierced. Swelling can also be controlled by applying ice over the area and taking anti-inflammatories such as Tylenol ®.
  • Localized redness or bruising – sometimes lasting up to a week. While bruising is not a common occurrence, redness around the piercing is.
  • Soreness or tenderness – sometimes lasting up to a week or longer. Pain it is inevitable with any body piercing. Pain relievers such as Tylenol ® or Aleve ® can be used. In addition, any trauma caused by snagging the piercing on clothing, door frames, tables, etc., will cause the skin to become tender again.
  • Discharge of a whitish, pus-like serous fluid – sometimes lasting up to a month or more. Your body secretes a mucus-like discharge that helps lubricate the area around the piercing. As it collects around the outside of the opening, this discharge will dry and become scabby-looking. This is a natural occurrence and not one to be concerned with. It the coloration of the discharge becomes greenish or yellowish in color, then there is the potential that the piercing is infected and should be treated for such.

Basic Cleaning Instructions

Suggested Cleaning Products

The following list is for quick reference only and is by no means a complete list of available products. Please read and follow all recommended directions accompanying each product you use. Some of these products are not recommended for all piercing. Please consult the proper aftercare for your particular piercing type or consult with your piercer.

  • Antiseptic Cleanser – First aid antiseptic and pain reliever such as Bactine ® or EarCare ®. Their principal ingredient is Benzalkonium Chloride, which is excellent for healing a piercing. These cleaning solutions are to be used on the external part of piercing such as, navel, eyebrow and nipple piercing. Do Not Use Internally on tongues.
  • Anti-Bacterial Soap – An antimicrobial soap such as Dial ®, Soft Soap ® or Provon ®. These are used for general cleaning of external areas of all piercing. You need to ensure that all the soap gets rinsed out completely from the inside of the piercing.
  • Oral Rinse – Antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine ®, Scope ® or Signal ®. Listerine ® is one of the strongest mouthwashes available without a prescription and is very harsh for a fresh piercing. It is recommended that you dilute it with about 50% water. Although Scope ® and Signal ® are not as strong as Listerine ®, it is still recommended that you dilute them with about 50% water.

First I must stress that cleaning a piercing more than twice daily is NOT recommended. You should also wash your hands before cleaning your piercing. Above all else, never touch your piercing with dirty hands or allow your friends to touch your piercing. This just invites infection.

Choose a mild antibiotic soap such as Dial ®, Provon ®, or Softsoap ® to clean your piercing. One of the best times to clean a piercing is when you are in the shower. Let the water soften and flush away all the crusted matter off the jewelry. Lather the soap up and rub it over the jewelry, then rotate or move the jewelry back and forth through the piercing several times. This will sting at first, but it’s an important step. Now rinse the piercing really well by moving the piercing back and forth under clean running water. Another great product I recommend is Bactine ® by the Bayer Corporation or Ear Care ® by Inverness. Both these products use Benzalkonium Chloride as the primary antiseptic, which is great for most piercing.

After a week or two you can do a sea salt soak. Dissolve about a 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized sea salt in a cup of water. Invert the cup over the piercing and let it soak 10 to 15 minutes. If that’s not possible, take some clean paper towels and soak them in the water and use them as a compress over the piercing area. You can do this up to two times a day.

You can also help your body heal faster by taking a vitamin C supplement, Zinc supplement and multivitamins.


About Your Jewelry

Jewelry material for initial piercing

The industry standard material accepted for all initial piercing is surgical grade stainless steel. This metal has one of the highest rates of acceptance by the body. Body implant grade metal has fewer impurities which reduces the negative reaction between the skin and the metal. The surface is polished to a smooth finish lowering the chance of bacteria finding a hiding place on the metal’s surface to incubate.

Gold is a popular metal but is not suggested for initial piercing. Gold tends to have metal impurities such as tin and nickel which can lead to allergic reactions. The surface of gold jewelry is not polished like implant grade steel is and bacteria easily hides in the crevices and multiply. Once the piercing has healed completely any variety of jewelry material can be inserted without too many problems. Popular materials include wood, bone, plastic, glass, silicone, clay and other metal types like titanium, gold and silver.


Changing your jewelry

For obvious reasons, jewelry should not be changed during the initial healing period. While on the outside it may appear healed and you may even be able to pull or move the jewelry with ease, the inner tissue may still be soft and tender. Changing the jewelry on your own during this time may risk infection or tissue damage.

If for some reason the jewelry has to be replaced before the initial healing time has elapsed, and not just because you want a prettier piece of jewelry, ask your piercer to do it for you. Professional piercers have the appropriate tools to change jewelry without damaging the inner tissue. Remember–materials other than surgical steel are not recommended for initial piercing. Once the piercing has healed, the choice is limitless.

If you change your mind about the piercing and don’t want it any more, the jewelry can be easily removed. Wash the piercing as normal and, with clean hands, remove the jewelry from the piercing. Continue cleaning the area for an additional month. In most cases only a small indentation will remain.

Keep in mind that no matter how long you’ve had a piercing, One of two problems may arise when changing jewelry; Either the hole will tighten (such as nipples) or the hole will fall out of alignment (such as the tongue). The easiest solution when changing jewelry is to follow the old jewelry with the new jewelry. This is done by placing the new jewelry end to end with the old jewelry and as you pull the old one out, insert the new one. It will also help if the new jewelry is lubricated with K-Y ® or liquid antibacterial soap. Make sure you flush out the lubricant or soap thoroughly after the change.

If you are sizing up to a larger gauge you may need the aid of a taper. A taper is a piece of metal that expands from one size to the next, making inserting larger jewelry an easier task. Ask you piercer for assistance with sizing up to new jewelry.

Read more about changing your jewelry

Click here for specific aftercare instructions…