Healing a piercing is a delicate balance, and due to the general stresses of life sometimes this balance is disrupted and an issue arises. We receive dozens of messages a week from distance clients who cannot troubleshoot their piercings in person, so here you can find a general troubleshooting piercing FAQ!
When an issue arises with a piercing, there are generally 4 reasons. We will cover each here, and link to other blogs we have written which can go into more detail. To troubleshoot, start with the first point and move through. If anything jumps out at you that it could be the issue causing your irritation, start there with your solution.
What is Normal
Piercings can take upwards of 6 months to fully heal, depending on placement. You may have times in this healing period where they feel totally fine. Sometimes they will be more irritated through your lifestyle and have minor flare-ups. Troubleshoot them using this piercing FAQ.
Within the first 4-8 weeks it is totally normal to have swelling, redness, and clear or slightly yellowed discharge. This is lymph fluid, which is an essential part of the healing process. You will experience some discomfort if the jewellery is touched or moved, and during the cleaning process.
Within the first 3 months, it is totally normal to have redness around the piercing and discomfort when pressure is applied. You will still have minor crusting around the piercing which will need to be cleaned away as and when it appears. At this point, your cleaning routine can be reduced to once daily, or once every other day depending on your lifestyle and judgement. Small bumps can appear at this time if you experience a snag or knock, or through prolonged pressure overnight. These small bumps can go away in time!
After 6-8 months, you should have a nicely healed piercing. At this point, discomfort should only arise during a snag or knock.
What May Need Attention
It is important to keep in mind that if you have gone to an accredited and high-quality studio, your piercer has done everything in their power to produce a high-quality, safe piercing using a completely aseptic technique.
Unusual signs would be spreading heat and redness around the piercing, thick and creamy discharge, and prolonged burning discomfort. Infections in piercings are incredibly rare, but this is something to keep an eye out for. If you think you may have an infection, then head to your GP or pharmacy. Your piercer is not a doctor, but can often tell the difference between a simple irritation and a genuine infection.
Common causes of irritation include snags and knocks. If you have had an incident where you have caught your jewellery and caused a touch of damage, you may experience redness and swelling, and have the potential for your body to produce small bumps in response. This is totally normal, and is just your body’s way of protecting you! With gentle care and cleaning, this issue will resolve by itself. It is always important to check in with your piercer though, as we can guide you through the healing process.
We have discussed keloids and irritation bumps in their own dedicated post which can be read here! Keloids are a very rare medical condition, and will not go down on their own. Irritation bumps can change in size and shape, and can shrink or grow. Keloids will only ever increase in size.
In order to heal correctly, a piercing must enter and exit the tissue at a perpendicular angle. It must be straight. This is the foundation of a good heal, and without the piercing starting as straight then it will have issues no matter the quality of the jewellery or your aftercare.
There are two ways that angle issues can arise.
The first would be a poor angle from the start. Your piercer should be competent and skilled in producing a straight piercing before they pierce you. If your piercing is poorly angled from the get-go, then this is not a good sign that you will have an uneventful and easy heal.
The second way of a poor angle arising is through prolonged pressure. If you are sleeping on your piercing overnight, then this can distort the angle of your piercing. This is an unfortunate side-effect, and not something that can be easily corrected. To avoid this, we recommend a travel pillow at night and seeing your piercer after 2-4 weeks for a downsize once your swelling has diminished. Long bars are the most common cause of your piercing angle becoming distorted.
Below you can see examples of straight piercings.
If yours looks more like the poorly angled piercing then unfortunately there is little that can be done for that piercing. The best option would be to remove the piercing and let it heal for 6 months before getting re-pierced by a more experienced and skilled piercer and carefully following the recommended aftercare routine and downsizing protocol.
If your piercing is straight, then you can move to the next point!
How you take care of your piercing is very important. This is the part that trips up most clients as there is such a huge amount of misinformation and well-meaning but incorrect advice floating around.
Keep it clean – Clean twice daily with a sterile saline solution. Spray the solution onto the piercing and let it soak in for 30 seconds. Gently clean away any crusties or skin buildup with a clean piece of nonwoven gauze or kitchen roll. Pat dry to ensure the piercing does not have any excess moisture surrounding it.
Ensure you are not overcleaning, as this can be a source of irritation. Cleaning more than twice a day is not recommended, unless you have introduced significant and visible dirt.
Keep it dry – This means you must not submerge or soak your piercing in any bodies of water including bathtubs, swimming pools, oceans, or homemade saltwater. This soaking action can introduce bacteria from dirty water, and prevent your piercing from draining correctly. This soaking can produce circular ‘donut’ bumps around your piercing fistula.
Do not move your jewellery – High quality jewellery does not need to be twisted, turned or played with. This constant movement can very easily irritate your piercing and slow down your healing process.
The most important thing to avoid with any piercing is prolonged pressure. This could be you sleeping directly on your piercing, or wearing tight clothing over the piercing. To avoid this, wear loose comfortable clothing for the first 12 weeks or use a donut-shaped travel pillow at night. Prolonged pressure can change the angle of your piercing, and a poorly angled piercing will produce bumps on both the front and back to return the entrance and exit points to a perpendicular angle.
You should avoid harsh or outdated aftercare advice such as DIY hot salt water soaks, antiseptics, oils and pastes which can cause contact dermatitis and damage your piercing. Sterile saline solution is the only aftercare product that we recommend. Avoid saline with added ingredients – 0.9% NaCl and distilled water should be the only ingredients. These products often cause more problems than they solve, and don’t have a place in the modern piercing industry!
If you’re using gentle aftercare as described, you can move to the next section of the piercing FAQ.
- Jewellery Quality
Jewellery quality is incredibly important, as poor jewellery will cause irritation and bumps and prevent you from healing properly. You can read more on how to spot quality jewellery here.
The main points of your jewellery will be:
Safe metals – Your jewellery should be verified implant-grade ASTM F-136 Titanium, or solid 14k or 18k God, lead-free borosilicate Glass or 99.99% solid Niobium. Your jewellery should not be plated, coated or coloured with unsafe paints or platings.
Sizing – Your jewellery should be of the correct length and gauge for your piercing. We will discuss length and downsizing below! The gauge or thickness of your jewellery is very important. If it is too thin, then it will be causing irritation through adding pressure over a small surface area.
For lobe piercings, nose piercings and forward helix piercings, the thinnest acceptable gauge is 18g or 1mm. For cartilage piercings including conches, helixes, daiths and other piercings, the thinnest acceptable gauge is 16g or 1.2mm. 14g or 1.6mm is also totally acceptable and often preferred in certain placements.
For most piercings, we recommend ASTM F-136 Titanium labrets. These flat-back pieces are smooth, comfortable and easy to clean. For daiths, we recommend 16g or 14g BCRs. Curved barbells are not appropriate for this placement! Butterfly back costume jewellery should not be worn in any piercing.
If you are unsure if your jewellery is appropriate, then send us an email or DM us on instagram with some clear photographs. The best way to guarantee quality jewellery is to buy from trusted studios who stock recognised brands such as BVLA, Neometal, Industrial Strength and Anatometal.
High-quality studios will give you excess room on the labret or barbell to allow for your initial swelling. This length should not be extreme – 2mm of extra space is often more than enough. Your piercer should advise you to return in 2-4 weeks for a checkup, where they can downsize the length of your jewellery to be snug front and back. Excessive length on your jewellery can cause added irritation by acting as a lever. This length also increases your risk of snagging or pulling on your jewellery!
If you see excess length may be your issue, then head back to your nearest quality studio to have snug jewellery installed.
Irritation is a part of life – We are all only human after all! Your piercer has the knowledge to spot the problem and work through solutions with you. This post covers the basics of what we would ask you, so is a great place to start when looking for what might be the source of your issue. If you have worked through all of the above points and cannot see any obvious points which may be the cause of your irritation, then you are always more than welcome to book an in-person checkup with us and discuss your piercings. For distance clients, we require multiple clear photos of your piercing and a description of it’s history. We are always more than happy to help!
Often once the source of irritation is gone, the irritation quickly goes away and you can enjoy a beautiful piercing again!