Piercing Aftercare

Your piercer will go over the specific healing regimen for your piercing with you, but you can use this as a refresher or reminder course.

Now that you’ve gotten your piercing, how do you take care of it properly and keep it healthy? Certain piercings can vary slightly by their location, so I’ll break it down a little bit. But first, the pretty much only method you need to clean your piercings is:

The Sea Salt Soak, or SSS for short.

This is a very simple recipe of 1/4 teaspoon of pure organic sea salt (not iodized table salt) dissolved in 8oz (1 cup) of previously boiled, or filtered, hot water. Make the water as hot as you’d make your bath water. Soak the piercing for 5-10 minutes at a time, 2-3 times a day. This is all you’ll ever need in most cases. This same solution is used in hospitals for wound irrigation and flushing.

DO NOT ever use alcohol, Bactine, contact solution, table salt or salt with iodine in it, hydrogen peroxide, pierced ear care solutions or other products containing Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK). Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide and bactine even say on their bottles “Do not use on puncture wounds”, and what do you think a piercing is? These chemicals are way too harsh on healing piercings, and kill off bad bacteria as well as the good that are trying to heal your piercing, making healing longer and more difficult. And because they make healing take longer, you maintain a risk of infection because the wound isn’t closing. Hydrogen peroxide is a kind of bleach. It damages cells as well as delaying healing time. BZK is harmful and irritating to new piercings and is not intended for long-term wound care. Do not use Neosproin or polysporin or any other ointment, these trap bacteria against the skin and don’t allow air to circulate properly.

There is a product out there called H2Ocean, which is just basically a pressurized SSS solution that you can spray onto your piercing. It’s great stuff, and also includes other beneficial healing ingredients. The only drawback to this stuff is it’s incredibly expensive for the small volume you get. I’ve seen it for as much as $16 for a 4oz bottle. 4oz is half a cup. If you want to use this, you are more than welcome to, but homemade sea salt solutions are usually just fractions of cents to make. H2Ocean is GREAT for times when you can’t soak properly, like if you’re camping, out at the beach, after the gym, that sort of thing. Otherwise, save your money and just make soaks at home.

It’s also the hot water soaking that makes the SSS so effective. It loosens up any built up lymph and pulls it from the piercing. It loosens itchy and unsightly crusty buildup and washes it away. The hot water encourages blood flow and faster healing. Just spraying with H2Ocean doesn’t do this, making healing longer and more difficult.

Some piercers say you can use anti-bacterial soap, but I usually stay away from it, personally. Soap can leave a film on your skin and your piercing and jewelry, which can cause irritation. It can also dry out your skin, and lead to unnecessary scar tissue. If you do want to use soap, however, use foaming anti-bacterial soap no more than about once daily. Usually in the shower is best. Just lather with a single pump or dime-size dollop of soap, then rinse off very well. Do not let the soap sit for more than about 30 seconds.

You can also wash your piercing with anti-bacterial soap if you think you may have gotten something dirty in there, like after swimming, after sweating, the dog licks your facial piercing, etc.

As your piercing heals, crusty stuff may accumulate around it. DO NOT pick the crusties off. That’s just introducing your dirty hands to a healing piercing and can increase your risk of infection. If you notice crusties have formed, you can flush it with water or wipe them away with a cotton swab soaked in clean water. I’ve also been known to carry around a small bottle of prepared SSS solution and some cotton swabs in a clean plastic bag so I can swab away crusties as they appear throughout the day.

Also, do not move the jewelry around. Do not slide it, do not spin it, do not mess with it at all. All this does is irritate the piercing, drag germs and crusties into it, and introduces your dirty hands to it. There is no need to move the jewelry during the healing process. If it moves on it’s own, then that’s fine, but you shouldn’t be intentionally moving, spinning, rotating, or pushing the jewelry in and out.

Do not change your jewelry during the healing process, unless there is a problem with it, then have your piercer do it for you. Initially, depending on the piercing you received, you will get longer jewelry than you actually need to accommodate any swelling. After the swelling has gone down, after about 2-3 weeks, it is very important that you go back to your piercer and be switched to proper fitting jewelry to avoid problems. Jewelry that’s too long can cause damage to teeth and gums, is easier caught on clothing and other things which is VERY painful when you yank on it, etc. Beyond this circumstance or if you are having serious problems with jewelry length, style, or material, do not change the jewelry. This will just anger the inside of the fistula and make healing longer and more difficult, as well as potentially introduce bacteria to the piercing, increasing your risk of infection.

So, because care varies a bit depending on area, here’s the breakdown. And remember, always ALWAYS wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water before you touch and clean your piercings. Also, very thoroughly clean and disinfect as best you can any area that you may be setting your jewelry on, if you’re changing it. Laying down paper towels to set the jewelry on works well, too.

Oral Piercings – lips, tongue, cheeks, etc.: Rinse with non-alcoholic mouthwash, or a saline solution after EVERYTHING you eat and drink (other than water) for the first 3 months. Carry a small bottle of it with you if you go out and have something to eat. If you smoke, either stop or cut WAY back while your piercing is healing, and rinse after each smoke. SSS the outside and rinse off with plain water to remove any residue.

Earlobes and Ear Cartilage: SSS as described above. If direct soaking is difficult, which is common with some cartilage piercings, you can use the compress method. Take a clean cotton pad or about a quarter of a paper towel, soak it in the hot water, then compress. Redip as necessary to keep the heat on it.

Nipples and Navels: Fill a shot glass with the hot SSS solution. Hold the glass over your piercing, and then recline on a bed or on the couch. The glass will form a suction ring around the piercing so the water won’t spill everywhere if you keep a tight seal. No need to press the glass into your body, just hold steady. SSS as described above then rinse off with plain water to remove any residue.

Genital: SSS either with the compress or the shot glass method as described above. Urinate after you use any soap to clean away any leftover soap near the urethra. Avoid sexual contact for as long as possible, and engage in gentle contact when you do for the first few months. After any sexual encounter, you should soak or at least rinse with clean water.

Every body heals at a different rate, and how you take care of your piercing can either speed up or delay your healing time. How you take care of your body in general can affect your healing time as well. For optimum healing, clean your piercing as directed above, avoid smoking and alcohol and caffeine consumption as much as possible, keep stress and rigorous activity to a minimum, you can also take an over the counter multi-vitamin if you want to, especially one containing Zinc and Vitamin C to help your body rebuild. But average MINIMUM healing times are as follows:

Ear lobes, eyebrow, septum, oral, nostril – 6-8 Weeks
Ear Cartilage – 6-12 Months
Bridge – 8-10 Weeks
Tongue – 4 Weeks
Cheek – 4-6 Months

Male Nipples – 4-6 Months
Female Nipples – 6-12 months
Navel – 6-12 Months

Inner Labia, Princess Albertina and Clitoris – 2-4 Weeks
Outer Labia, Clitoral Hood – 2-6 Months
Fourchette – 4-6 Weeks
Triangle – 8-10 Weeks

Prince Albert, Frenum – 6-8 Weeks
Reverse PA – 4-6 Months
Scrotum – 6-10 Weeks
Guiche – 8-10 Weeks
Dydoe – 8-12 Weeks
Ampallang, Apadravya – 4-8 Months

Any Surface Piercing – 1+ Years

It depends a lot on the location, but the general time frame is 1-3 months.

It is very much recommended that you do not change the jewelry of your piercing until the minimum healing time is over. Only change it if there is a problem with it, like length, style, or material. In this case, go back to your piercer and have them do it for you.

With so many piercings and types of jewelry out there, how do you know which one is right for you? Usually a good piercer knows best, but you can sometimes request special or certain styles and materials if you ask. So, what’s appropriate for each piercing? We’ll start with jewelry type, then move on to materials next. We’ll break it down again:

LIPS (labrets, monroe, cheeks, etc.): For most oral piercings like any lip piercings and cheek piercings, the best jewelry choice is a flatback labret stud. One of these:

These are the easiest pieces to heal with because they minimize movement, are most accommodating to swelling, and make sure your fistula heals straight. Rings can slide in and out and move around, causing irritation to the piercing and dragging crusties and germs into it. Longer straight barbells are more accommodating to swelling than rings are as well. You can heal with a ring if you like, but it’s not recommended. When you heal with a ring, the fistula (the tunnel of flesh that a piercing is) heals on a curve, making insertion of straight pieces later on more difficult.

NOSTRIL: The best choice here is an L-shape or nose screw.


Nose screw:

Both of these will be custom bent to your nose when you get it pierced. Nose bones or straight pieces tend to fall out or are easily torn out, so they’re usually not the best choice.

Nose bone:

EARS: There are so many types of piercings for the ear that it’s sort of hard to say if there really is any “right” type of jewelry for each one. But as a general rule, chose barbells or labret posts instead of rings. Mostly because rings move and slide around, drag crusties in and are easier to knock around and more likely to catch on things.

For some people, they’d rather heal their industrial piercing with two rings or two short labret barbells rather than one long barbell. Honestly, this is more of a personal choice for you and your piercer to discuss. I personally healed an industrial just fine with one long barbell the whole time, but others have not. So that’s more of a choice and a preference rather than a hard and fast rule. Everything else, try to choose barbells as initial healing starter jewelry. You can always change to a ring or something else later on. Healing properly is more important than cute jewelry.

NIPPLES: Again, barbells instead of rings, because rings move around and drag crusties in. You can switch to rings later once you’ve healed up properly.

Just because you CAN pierce something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Many piercings are purely for play and for show. The idea is you get something incredible done, get some wicked cool photos taken or go to some super fancy show or event, then you have them removed. You don’t really keep them anymore than 24 hours. These are typically called play piercings.

Corset piercings are not intended to be kept any longer than what’s needed for a photoshoot. Most piercers use rings or slave rings attached to barbells for the piercings, then the lace or ribbon is threaded through. These pieces of jewelry aren’t meant for long-term wear in surface piercings.

It has been reported that very few, VERY lucky people have been able to heal corset piercings and keep them for some extended amount of time, but these people are SO rare, and incredibly lucky, so it’s better to say that these cannot be healed, because your chances of being that lucky are extremely rare. They also don’t lace the piercings AT ALL, because that will very easily make them reject and make it much easier for the jewelry to be torn out.

Another bad piercing idea is hip piercings. These are incredibly popular right now, and they’re a terrible idea. There are two ways to have this done: with microdermals or with surface barbells. Neither is a good choice. Microdermals are EXTREMELY delicate little piercings, and they are easily torn out and easily reject. Surface bars carry the same risks, and when they are torn out or reject, the scars they leave are much worse. The hip area isn’t really designed to support body piercing anyway. The skin is thin and stretches and contracts a lot, it’s usually close to bone, and it’s too easy for jeans waistbands and seatbelts to catch on the jewelry and yank it out.

This also applies to the butt-dimple piercings that seem to be becoming just as popular as the hip piercings.

One VERY important thing to know when getting pierced is how to recognize true infection from normal healing and irritation. The common misconception is that ANY redness, soreness and oozing of fluid is automatically infection. This is VERY much not true. And it’s incredibly important that you know the difference so you can properly treat each one.

Infection, TRUE infection, is actually pretty rare, or not nearly as common as people think. Infection is almost always 99% wearer error, not piercer error. Any infection you get is most likely your own fault, meaning you didn’t clean it properly, you didn’t treat it properly, you touched it with dirty hands, you let someone ELSE touch it with dirty hands, you let it come into contact with dirty environments (like pools, hot tubs, oceans, etc), that kinda thing. It’s actually nearly impossible to get an infection if you go to a fully licensed, professional shop.

Signs of piercing infection are:
~Fever in the individual
~Excessive redness or purple bruising-like coloring in the area
~Excessive oozing
~The ooze is bloody, green, or “spicy mustard” colored pus
~The ooze will smell incredibly foul
~Excessive soreness or tenderness
~Excessive heat from the area

If you do suspect that you have an infection, for the love of all that is holy do NOT take the jewelry out! This will trap the infection in the body, not allowing it to drain, making treatment longer and more difficult and possibly allowing it to spread to other areas of the body. Go to a doctor and get prescription antibiotics. If the doctor does positively identify it as an infection, and tells you to take the piercing out, still do not do it, again, for the reasons above. Most doctors actually have no idea how to properly care of body piercings, or even how to recognize the difference between infection and irritation. Many will just assume that any reaction is an infection, so it’s important that YOU know the difference so you can get antibiotics only when you actually need them. If you catch and treat an infected piercing early, it’s very likely that you can still keep it.

IRRITATION, on the other hand, is fairly normal, especially on new, healing piercings. You can minimize your irritation by taking care of your piercing and your body properly.

Signs of irritation are:
~Slight redness around the piercing entry and exit holes (this will lessen as the piercing heals)
~Discharge in clear or white coloration, which can dry to a white or light yellow color
~This discharge should have no smell, or a very slight “fleshy” smell, it should just smell of skin
~Some slight soreness and swelling, again, this will lessen as the initial shock of the piercing subsides and as it heals

The stuff that oozes from irritated or new piercings is called lymph, it is very much NOT pus. It’s hard to describe exactly what this fluid is, but I’ve heard it described as the same stuff you ooze when you get a rug burn, that clear fluid that happens. I’ve also heard it described as an overproduction of white blood cells accumulating in the area as they try to heal the wound. Either way, know that lymph and dried lymph crusties are normal and not harmful, so long as you clean them up properly.

Metal allergies are more common than many people think they are, but they seem to be more prevalent in women for some reason. Normally when someone is allergic to metal, they’re actually allergic to the NICKLE content in the metal. The best way to avoid metal allergies is to wear organic materials and glass, but this usually isn’t possible with new piercings, so what happens after that? It’s important to get high grade metals, ones made with little to no nickel. 316 and 316L surgical implant grade steel has very close to no nickel, and titanium has almost none at all. So if you are allergic to metal, try to opt for titanium or glass as initial jewelry.

How do you know if you have a metal allergy? Most commonly, you already know you have one, since many people cannot wear rings, necklaces or bracelets made of metal, and some are so sensitive that even the metal backings on jeans buttons will give them a reaction. But allergies can turn up at any time, so you need to know how to recognize it. Most of the time, if you are allergic to the metal, the area around the piercing will become red, itchy, sore, irritated, or the skin will sometimes peel. Some develop a rash in the immediate area along with other symptoms. The easiest way to fix it is to change the jewelry to some other material, or a better quality material.

If you are ever in doubt or are unsure of something regarding your piercings, do not ever be afraid to call or visit your piercer for their inspection. They know how to recognize all of these conditions and will be able to direct you on the best course of action to rectify it.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hannah
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 17:46:26

    Just wanted to make one correction on the general healing time lengths. Nostrils are soft cartilage, not a simple flesh piercing like a lobe or labret, so they take 4-6 months for healing. Pretty much just the middle ground between the healing times of flesh vs hard cartilage piercings.


  2. C.D.S
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 00:21:01

    I just have a question, anyone can answer if they can help me. You have done a fantastic job here so i figured it would be the right place to ask. I got my anti tragus pierced about 6 months ago, and its not healing properly, i’m pretty sure its the jewelry, but what would be the best thing to put in there? i have a barbell in there now, would a ring be better? and would there be anything i can find with a flat back, similar to labret jewelry, but with a curved barbell?


    • Steel and Bone, Horn and Stone
      Aug 26, 2011 @ 15:50:56

      I always recommend against rings because of the amount of movement they give, they slide around, you lay on them more, they’re more area to push back against, they’re awful if you’re have piercing problems. You can wear flatback labret jewelry, yes, and I have seen curved flatbacks on BAF, I think they’re made of glass or plastic as retainers. I recommend checking them out and seeing what you can find. http://www.bodyartforms.com If you think it’s rejecting, honestly, take it out now before it bifurcates the area completely. You can always wait for it to heal up completely and pierce it again later on. Healing a full bifurcation is much worse than a re-piercing.


  3. Meghan
    Apr 18, 2013 @ 00:39:59

    I recently got the bottom right-hand side of my lower lip pierced and the piercer placed a flat disk (inside), barbell, which is metal and longer than usual; of course, and I seem to be having an issue with the jewellery. It is hitting the inside of my tooth (canine, lower row), getting caught on my bottom row of teeth whenever I open my mouth (painful!!) & scrapes the gum above the sanine tooth when I talk, eat, etc. What can I do to remedy this problem? I understand since I just received the piercing a wk ago that it is still swollen a bit and is irritated, a little red and sore, but I really want to keep this piercing and am ambiguous over the jewellery used because I do want this but do not know what to do to be able to do so. I had the same, exact problem with my Marilyn and took it out completely, even after switching (after it healed all the way) to a plastic backed flat-disk piece of jewellery, it rubbed my top left gum above my canine tooth so badly, after wearing it for a year, that my gum receeded quite noticeably. I still have the hole yet do not wear it in bc I have yet to find a solution. Also, why even after years of my Marilyn being pierced, nipple as well, am I still getting lymph crust? I am avidly cleaning them with soap and water and a Q-tip, I use the SSS as mentioned above and always use Purell hand sanitizer before touching them? Also, why not just rinse out my mouth with Listerine? I always did that for my tongue and it was just fine. I heard I am not supposed to drink any beer while healing as well if I don’t want to get a yeast infection in my mouth -not that I drink beer, but if that’s true, you might want to mention it in here….just a suggestion 😉
    And, one more thing (sorry, I’m just a VERY inquisitive and thorough person) do you know of any website that sells body jewellery (rings or U shap. Thabnk you for any/ALL answers.ed for my lip after it’s healed) smaller than 18 gauge? My bottom lip area from where it is pierced to the corner of my mouth is very thin and anything bigger will just be too big. Oh and what IS it with the barbell jewellery for Marilyn piercings?! Why are they so long, even the shortest ones, about this size (actual size of one I own) ____________ is way too long and looks weird, like you can see the metal rod and not just the jewel sitting on the surface of on the top lip….Anyhoo, thanks in advance for answering any and all of my questions and concerns. -Meg


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