I spend a great deal of time focusing on what you will need to do to help your piercing to heal but other than covering the things you don't want to do in my consultation and aftercare instruction, I don't really focus too much on the piercing don'ts. So I thought I'd write a whole blog on some of the most common mistakes that people make and the reasons that it isn't a good idea.
As a disclaimer, often when a problem comes up with a piercing, we run to the internet and began jumping from one option to another to find a solution, It's easy to get confused with the conflicting viewpoints and advice and I think it is important to state that no amount of research can replace a visit to an educated and experienced piercer. Also, I think it is important to even return to a piercer that gave you the wrong advice. Think about it if people keep coming back with the same problems over and over, maybe it will be enough for them to rethink their aftercare, methods, and advice.
- Removing or Changing Jewelry - Do not remove or change the jewelry until the piercing is healed. Jewelry should only be changed during the healing period if and only if leaving the jewelry used during the piercing has a risk of causing additional damage. For example, tongue piercings where a longer than needed barbell is used for the piercing to allow for swelling should be downsized in a week to 10 days to reduce risk to damaging teeth, gums, and bones in your mouth.
- Healing Times - Do not stop the aftercare regiment until the piercing is healed. The piercing may seem healed because there is no discomfort or limited discharge after a week but the fact is that the piercing is not healed. Just because it seems healed doesn't mean it is. When in doubt ask your piercer to make the decision whether it is healed or not.
- Tongue Piercings take on average 2 to 4 weeks to heal.
- Ear Piercings, eyebrow piercings, nostril piercings, septum piercings, lip and labret piercings take on average 8 to 12 weeks to heal.
- Nipple and Navel piercings take on average 6 to 12 months to heal
- Genital piercings take on average 6 to 8 weeks to heal but due to sexual activity should be treated as a healing piercing for at least 3 months.
- Problems - If something comes up that doesn't seem right, do not put off getting it taken care of. Meaning if you think that your piercing is infected or doesn't seem healthy don't put off contacting your piercer or seeking medical treatment in hopes it will just get better. Also, don't run to the internet and start trying everything that is suggested to solve the problem. There is a great deal of good information on the internet but it doesn't replace sitting down with your piercer first hand and figuring out what the cause of the problem is and what is the best course of action is.
- Healthy and Diet - Being unhealthy or having a poor diet can prolong the piercing's healing time and increase the likelihood of infection or other problems. Having a nutritional diet, getting plenty of rest and reducing stress will all aid in your body's ability to heal your piercing quickly and fight off infection.
- Over Cleaning - Piercings only need to be cleaned a couple of times a day, I suggest twice daily. Overcleaning the piercing can prolong healing, dry out the tissue around the piercing and cause additional problems.
- Antiseptics vs. Saline Solution Only vs. Doing Nothing -This has has been a debate that has been ongoing between piercers since the 1990s. I could write a whole blog just on this subject but it is my experience that using an antiseptic is the best option. The reason being is due to the amount of time it takes to heal a piercing, there is a high risk that the person healing the piercing will make a mistake and contaminate the piercing. For this reason, I believe that addressing the contamination as soon as possible is the best option to eliminate the possibility of infection. Saline Solutions such as H2Ocean do not have any antiseptic qualities at all to address the introduction of a foreign pathogen into the wound. The body's natural immune system will in most cases fight off minor invasions but unless the person has the antibodies to fight off that pathogen, an infection will happen. Often those that follow the do-nothing methods sight tibial cultures that heal piercing without problems or access to antiseptics but their environment is much different than those in populated areas. Most of us are exposed to thousands of pathogens daily that you will not find in the small isolated tribal communities they sight.
- Squeezing or Popping the Bump - From childhood, we are taught to squeeze and pop bump or other fluid build-ups in the body. The idea is to get that stuff out of our body and somehow that will correct the problem. With piercings, these fluid build ups are usually a sign of a much bigger problem and is often how your body reacts to solve, expel or isolate the issue. By trying to force the fluid out of the body we are not allowing the body to do what it is trying to do. In fact, often it makes it much worse or causes the problem to spread. These bumps will in most cases only get bigger when they are drained and until the cause is corrected will continue to return. When they form contact your piercer or seek medical attention. so the cause can be address as soon as possible.
A healing piercing is an open wound and an open pathway to the body in which foreign pathogens can invade and cause infection. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a year for a piercing to completely heal and most of us are just not used to have an open wound for that long. Precautions need to be taken including the following:
- Handling the Piercing: Do not handle the piercing or let others handle the piercing without first washing hands under running water with soap and at least 30 seconds of frictions. In fact, other than maybe your piercer, no one else should handle the piercing or jewelry until the piercing is completely healed. Also the only time you should have any contact with a healing piercing is when you are cleaning the piercing. Handling and playing with a healing piercing is only going to increase the chances for infection, prolonged healing or other problems.
- Oral Contact: No oral contact. This includes your own. Even your own mouth can contain a number of foreign pathogens that when they are introduced into an open wound will cause an infection. Mom was right the second filthiest part of the body is the mouth. With oral piercings where the tissue is acceptable to small tears, you should wait additional time after the piercing has healed to give the piercing tunnel time to strengthen. Usually, a minimum of 6 weeks after the piercing is healed.
- Other's Bodily fluids: Do not allow bodily fluids of anyone other than yourself to come in contact with the piercing or the jewelry until it is completely healed. This is basically anything that comes out of another person's body. With genital piercings, a latex barrier should be used. Understand that we are not only concerned with STD but other pathogens that your partner may have that are acceptable to them but not you. for this reason, I suggest practicing safe sex for a minimum of 6 months.
- Your Own Bodily Fluids: Your bodily fluids are not sterile but acceptable to you under the right conditions. Meaning that anything but fecial mater is acceptable to you if it is body temperature. This doesn't include saliva which can contain a number of contaminates.
- Your Environment: Keep your environment and anything that might come in contact with the piercing. This includes clothing, bedding, towels, washcloths, etc... With ear piercings, be cautions of contact with telephones that may come in contact with the piercing. Avoid contact with phones, earpieces or headphones used by other people, especially office phones, payphones and mobile phones used by other people. Also, hats, helmets or headgear should be cleaned on a regular base. If it comes in contact with your piercing clean it.
- Swimming: Do not submerge the piercing in waters that you can not control the quality of, In other words only in your own clean bathtub. Swimming should be avoided until the piercing is completely healed. Especially natural waters like lakes, rivers, ponds and the ocean where there is absolutely no way to ensure that the water free of pathogens. Pools that have been correctly tested and treated should be devoid of pathogens but understand that there is no way to ensure this and the chemicals used to treat the water may cause reactions. Hot tubs that are accessed by the general public should be avoided completely. This is especially true of those in hotel rooms. Even with personal hot tubs, ensure that it is properly cleaned and maintained.
- Pets: Limit your pet's contact with the piercing. As pet owners we all long the affection that our pets give us but since this often involves some form of oral contact there is a chance of contaminating the piercing. Cats especially seemed to be drawn to jewelry and can cause abuse to a piercing. Also if you sleep with your pet, be diligent with the cleaning of bedding.
I often use the phrase, "Baby the piercing" and I often get confused looks when I say it. A piercing is a healing wound and trauma to the wound will prolong healing. Abuse to the piercing during and even after the healing period can cause healthy piercings to suddenly become problematic. Here are some of the activities that should be avoided during and in some cases even after the piercing is healed.
- Clothing: Tight clothing or clothing at restricts the piercing in any way should be avoided during and after the healing period. If it hurt to wear it do not wear it. It's best to wear loose-fitting clothing that is made of a natural and "breathable" fabric like cotton. Contact with clothing can prolong healing, cause migration or other problems.
- Female Nipple Piercing - Everyone is shaped different but for at least the first few weeks, you should wear a bra or clothing with even support. Avoid anything that might put additional pressure on the piercing or forces the jewelry to be pushed or pulled away from the piercing. Most women find a Sport's bra, tank top or men's a-shirt the best choice.
- Male Nipples Piercings - With shirts that have pockets avoid putting heavy objects or other items that may add additional pressure to the piercing.
- Navel Piercings - Avoid paints, tights or pantyhose that waste band to in contact with the piercing or above the piercing. Wear either lose fitting pants or pants with a waistband that is below the piercing.
- Ear Piercings and Facial Piercings - Avoid hats, helmets, headphones or headgear that is pressed against the piercing or restricts the flow of oxygen to the piercing;.
- Genital Piercings - Avoid clothing that rubs or restricts the piercing. Underwear should feel comfortable and be made of a breathable fabric.
- Sleeping: Avoid sleeping on the piercing during the healing period. Try to adjust your sleeping habits to avoid contact with the piercing or change your bedding to avoid contact with the piercing. This means with a majority of piercings sleeping on your side or back. With ear piercings, you can take a clean bath towel, rolling it up and then lay it out is the shape of a doughnut or nest and sleep with your ear in the center.
- Exercise and Sports: One of the most common questions I'm asked is about exercise and how it affects the healing of the piercing. The answer I give is exercise the way you are supposed to, it hurts to do something, don't do it or reduce the amount you are doing. In most cases, once the soreness of the acceptance phase of the first few weeks, the movement that effects the piercing area should cause discomfort. As far as sports and other activity uses some common sense, if the activity is going to put stress on the piercing or damage it, then don't do it. With organized sports planning a time to get a piercing when you are not competing is the best option.
- Playing with the piercing: Do not play or over handle the piercing during healing. Just like picking at a scab, the wound will take longer to heal and playing with the piercing will increase the chances of migration, infection, scarring or other problems. Also, keep everyone else hands off it.
- Sexual Activity: This usually only affects genital and oral piercings. First and foremost practice safe sex not only when you switch partners but when the piercing is healing.
- Oral Piercings - While the piercing is healing there should be no oral contact at all and that includes kissing. This means two months at the least and even though a tongue piercing may heal in a few weeks, you should wait at least 8 weeks for the piercing to strengthen. With oral sex, it is best to also wait at least 8 weeks and should even then be gentile.
- Genital Piercings - I do not suggest have sex without a latex barrier for the first six months. You should wait until there is no discomfort and it should be gentle avoiding stress or pressure against the piercing. Listen to your body, if it hurts don't do it. Sometimes changing postilions or activity can reduce stress on the piercing or decrease discomfort. Also with male genital piercings avoid condoms that are ribbed or overly tight fitting. Large reservoir condoms may be more comfortable with piercings like the Prince Albret by allowing additional room for the jewelry.
- Jewelry: Even after the piercing is completely healed, jewelry that is heavy. has sharp edges or things that hang off the jewelry should be avoided. Heavy jewelry can cause a healed piercing to migrate, tear or a number of other unforeseen complications. Jewelry that has sharp edges or items hanging off the jewelry will tend to get caught on clothing, bedding, etc.. which can damage the piercing. The more simple the jewelry the better off and the less likelihood of problems involving long term wear.
- Stretching and Pulling: Even if the piercing has completely healed, additional time is needed to strengthen the piercing to the put where it can be stretched. Stretching too quickly or skipping sizes can damage the piercing. Pulling on the jewelry will not speed up the body's production of tissue and may, in fact, damage the piercing or prolong the healing. The only real thing you can to do when stretching a piercing is giving it time. yanking and pulling on the piercing or using tapered jewelry will not speed up the stretching process and will tend to do more damage than good.
Raiding the Medicine Cabinet:
Most of us, when faced with some medical problems, tend to due to two things. Search the internet and then raid the medicine cabinet for anything we think might help. Most will grab for a well established over the counter ointment or disinfectant that has been a family staple since the beginning of time. The problem is that most OTC aka Over The Counter products are designed for the common wounds the average person encounters like cuts and abrasions. A piercing is, in fact, a puncture wound and most OTC products will, in fact, create additional side effects to the already existing conditions and make things much, much worse. Here are a few that should be avoided, when in doubt read the label and if it states "Not for uses on deep wounds or puncture wounds" don't use it. In fact, talk with your piercer before using any OTC products other than what is listed in their aftercare. Even then I'm sad to report that I've encountered piercer suggesting some of these products themselves.
Rubbing Alcohol - It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing.
Witch Hazel - It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing.
Hydrogen Peroxide - It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing. Also, a by-product of the chemical reaction it has when it comes in contact with Staph Bacteria can cause damage to new skin cells.
Hibiclens -It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing.
Betadine - It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing.
Listerine(or other alcohol bases mouthwashes) - It is far too harass and will dry out the piercing, not allow it to discharge properly and prolong healing.
Bacitracin ointment - Is petroleum-based and will prolong healing, block the piercing's ability to discharge and leave a film for dirt, hair, etc.. to collect and be introduced into the piercing.
Neosporin Ointment - Is petroleum-based and will prolong healing, block the piercing's ability to discharge and leave a film for dirt, hair, etc.. to collect and be introduced into the piercing.
A&D Ointment - Is petroleum-based and will prolong healing, block the piercing's ability to discharge and leave a film for dirt, hair, etc.. to collect and be introduced into the piercing.
Vaseline - I wouldn't have thought anyone would think using it on a healing piercing until a local "pierce" start giving aftercare instructions that involved it's used. Is petroleum-based and will prolong healing, block the piercing's ability to discharge and leave a film for dirt, hair, etc.. to collect and be introduced into the piercing.
Bactine - It is too harsh for the piercing and can prolong healing. Even their own website states that it shouldn't be used on puncture wounds - http://www.bactine.com/bactinefaq.htm
What it always comes down to is ask. I can't begin to list the number of problems, I've seen over the years that could have been avoided by a simple question. A professional piercer has a passion for piercing and is willing to share that passion with anyone that has the thirst for knowledge. If your piercer doesn't have that passion, find one that does have that passion. A piercing experience should be, education, more education, paperwork, more education, set up, little more education, split-second piercing, jewelry insertion and then even more education.