When is a Piercing Healed?
How will I know when my piercing is healed? You have been religious about your soaks/compresses, cleaning and you've become as anal as a surgeon but you are still unsure if the piercing is healed. The thing is that often the piercing may seem healed but isn't completely healed and one of the number one causes of infection and other problems is ceasing the aftercare before the piercing is healed. So in this installment, I'm going to cover what happens during healing and signs that the piercing is healed.
What happens during Healing:
At the heart of healing a piercing, what you are doing is forcing your body to except a foreign object and then grow a flesh tunnel or fistula around the jewelry. The body will first try to reject the foreign object or make you fully aware that the object is there. When the body finds that the object can not be rejected, it will begin the slow process of growing the fistula starting at each side and working inward.
The Stages of Healing:
- Acceptance - During the first week to two weeks the body will do everything it can to reject the jewelry and give off signs that the jewelry should be removed. During this period there will be many of the normal signs of trauma. The area will have Inflammation, be discolored, tender, throbbing pain, and heat in the area, This is caused by the chemicals that are released from the damaged cells. This not only protects the wound from pathogens but also triggers the new skin growth.
- Proliferative Phase - Epitheliazation is the act of your body producing new skin. It begins this at both ends of the piercing and then working inward. Angiogenesis or the creation of new blood vessels to supply blood to the tissue and to repair damage that was caused during the piercing. This stage can take up to a year and requires long term care and precautions to insure that the piercing doesn't become infected or have other problems. During this period it is normal for scabs to form around the piercing early on, Lymph discharge to collect on the jewelry, tender phases and the piercing to tighten to the point where the jewelry will not move freely. Often the piercing will not be painful and seem healed but the fact is the piercing is still an open wound.
- Toughening and seasoning: This stage begins once the fistula has completed it's growth and the two have connected, the piercing is no longer an open wound. However, the piercing fistula or tunnel is thin and fragile. During this phase the body produces additional skin cells to expand and strengthen the fistula. There should be no discomfort during this phase, the discharge should have stopped and the piercing holes will pull in and be more even and uniformed. This phase can last a number of years. Changing the jewelry usually isn't an issue but jewelry should be left in the piercing at all times. Changing the jewelry before the second stage ends or even shortly after it has can damage the piercing. When in doubt see your piercer. It is always best to have the jewelry changed by a professional and not changed often. Since the tissue is thin and fragile, there is always a risk of damaging the piercing during jewelry changes.
Average Healing Times:
I always give clients an average healing time for the piercings. This is not a magic number due to the many difference in healing time from person to person. Factors that might effect healing time from person to person are diet, health, activities like sports and genetics. Healing times from piercing to piercing also are greatly vast and depend on a number of things like locations of the piercing, trauma that takes place during the piercing itself, blood flow to the area, size of piercing and tissue type. For example, a blood rich area like the tongue can take as little as two weeks but a navel where there is less blood supply and there is additional stress on the are may take up to a year to get through the Proliferative Phase.
Everyone is different and has different challenges to address when healing a piercing but on average most:
- Ear piercings take from 8 to 12 weeks
- Facial piercings take from 8-10 weeks
- Tongue piercings take from 2 to 4 weeks
- Lip and Labret piercings take from 8 to 12 weeks
- Nipple and Navel piercings take from 6 moths to a year
- Genital piercings take from 8 to 12 weeks
Some situations and piercings I will suggest average healing time that maybe longer than needed. For example with genital piercing where the person is sexually active, I suggest at least 3 months of healing even though the piercing complete the Proliferative Phase within 6 weeks. The reason is that with sexual activity there is an increased risk of damage to the healing piercing causing prolonged healing. A better safe then sorry approach is often better than relying on a set time for healing.
Signs that a Piercing is Healed:
I don't know how many times I've had someone stand in front of me and argue that their piercing is healed when clearly it is not. Just because the piercing area is no longer red and there is no pain, that doesn't mean the second stage of healing is complete and it's no longer an open wound. Yes, you may not have seen discharge for a week and you can grab the thing and pull it out from the body without pain but it isn't healed.
Discharge will form often harden on the right at the piercing entrance for weeks at a time, then suddenly stop only to return a few weeks later. Some times there is no discharge at all or maybe you shower so often that it never has a chance to collect. So, do not rely on discharge no longer happening alone to assume the piercing is healed.
Pain or lack of pain is no indication that the piercing is healed either. Often within a week the acceptance phase has ended and there will be little or no pain even when handling the piercing. No longer having tenderness to touch only means that the acceptance phase has ended and your body has gotten down to the tasks of repairing the area and building new tissue.
Just like infections, a piercing completing healing will give off a number of signs that it is healed. Instead of looking at individual signs, you need to consider that three things have happened:
- The discharge has completely ended. Understand that there are period when it will cease during healing, so never use discharge as the only sign of the piercing be healed.
- The edges of the piercing holes are smooth and pull inward. When the tissue connects in the center the holes will pull inward and look more smooth and natural. Take notice of the other holes on your body both the pierced ones and the ones nature gave you. They are all smooth and rounded and a healed piercing will be too.
- The jewelry is loose and moves some what freely. This looseness will increase as the piercing toughens and strengthens. If when you try moving the jewelry it seems to pull the piercing in the direction you are moving the jewelry additional time maybe needed.
Whenever in doubt, see your piercer. Nothing beats the expert opinion of someone that deals with piercings healed or healing on a daily bases. I always encourage follow ups even if everything seems fine I'm happy to see how the healing is going and in most case be more on effective than a Groundhog on predicting the end of the long winter of healing.