Piercing Aftercare: How to Take Care of a Piercing

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

You finally got that new piercing you’ve been dying to get. It looks great, and you feel awesome, but now comes the challenge of aftercare. A piercing requires a lot of attention and care after you leave the tattoo or piercing shop.

Taking care of a piercing is a delicate matter. Avoiding infection is crucial, and it’s of the utmost importance to keep the piercing clean. There are plenty of misconceptions about proper piercing aftercare, but there are many agreed-upon practices to promote healing. Here, we clear up these misconceptions and answer questions about how to take care of a piercing.


Caring for a Piercing

Caring for a piercing is all about keeping the piercing clean and avoiding infection. There are many ways to care for a new piercing.

There are those who recommend things like rubbing alcohol or branded ear care solutions, while others may suggest slathering on the ointment. Many disagree on what is best, but it is generally agreed that some of these suggestions can make healing worse.

There are, however, generally agreed-upon ways to take care of a piercing. Some necessary steps to keep in mind when it comes to piercing aftercare and steps to avoid are universal

Aftercare Do’s

Keep these best practices in mind post-piercing. 

Only Touch with Clean Hands

When doing piercing aftercare, always wash your hands before touching your piercing. Only handle your piercing when your hands are clean. Because a piercing is essentially an open wound until it heals, handling a new piercing with dirty hands can cause dirt and bacteria to get into the wound and lead to infection.

Use Mild Cleansing Agents

When cleaning your piercing, wash it gently with warm water and mild soap. For most piercings, it is best to use only a small amount of soap. You can also use a sterile saline solution or sea salt soak on a new piercing, which is usually the best option.

The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.

Always rinse the piercing thoroughly after cleaning. Be sure to clean the jewelry as well to remove any built-up dirt, discharge, and bacteria that may enter the piercing.

Clean Thoroughly

For the first few weeks of aftercare, be sure to wash the piercing twice a day. Don’t overclean the piercing as this can be irritating and lead to drying, cracking, and bleeding. 

You can use a cotton pad or swab to assist in the cleaning process, but only use soft materials; avoid things like paper towels that may break down when cleaning. Be sure not to use too much friction as this can also cause irritation. 

Keep Your New Bling In

Make sure to keep the jewelry remains in place in the piercing and do not remove the jewelry when cleaning it. Removing the jewelry can cause the piercing to close. Avoid playing with the jewelry while the piercing is healing as well. Touching the piercing unnecessarily can irritate it and delay healing. 

Be sure to be as gentle as possible when cleaning your piercing. 

Aftercare Don’ts

These are those no-no’s you should avoid with a fresh piercing.

Hands Off!

Don’t twist or play with the jewelry while it’s healing. While it may be tempting to touch this exciting new piece of jewelry that is a part of you, it will only irritate the healing wound. It is a good rule of thumb not to touch your new piercing in general while it’s healing unless you’re cleaning it.

Skip OTC Ointments

Don’t use over-the-counter ointments like Neosporin or A&D on the piercing as these will block air circulation. Also, avoid antibacterials like Bactine or Benzalkonium Chloride as they are not intended for long-term use, and they can cause irritation. If the area around your piercing is drying out, try cleaning it less frequently or with a different solution.

Avoid using rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide as they are drying and can lead to cracking or bleeding in the piercing. Many sites may suggest using rubbing alcohol on a new piercing, but it is not a smart idea as rubbing alcohol does not promote healing. Also, avoid products like witch hazel on your new piercing.

Skip Cosmetics

Be sure to avoid getting or putting makeup, lotion, or other cosmetics on the piercing. Be especially careful of facial piercings getting cosmetics on or in them. These products can block the piercing and delay healing or cause irritation.

Give It Some Space

Try to avoid catching or snagging the piercing on clothing or bedding. A new ear piercing may catch on a sweater, or a lip piercing may get caught on a pillowcase. Be careful when getting dressed, and try not to sleep on the piercing as well.

Avoid swimming as much as possible for the first few weeks of healing. Bodies of water like lakes, oceans, and pools have bacteria in them that can infect and irritate a new piercing.

Be patient. The best way to avoid infection is to be gentle and patient with your piercing and allow it to heal on its own.

What to Expect With a New Piercing

With a new piercing, there are going to be some new but natural changes around this sensitive area of skin. You are going to experience normal things like sensitivity or even bleeding from the piercing. Be aware of any signs of something amiss in the healing process. 

Normal Healing

A new piercing will typically be tender to the touch. Because it is a wound, it is going to be particularly sensitive. There is also likely to be some swelling and even some bruising localized to the area. During the healing process, there may be some plasma or general discharge emitted from the area. This is called lymph.

Piercings take anywhere from eight weeks to one year to heal fully. Depending on where the piercing is, be aware of how long it is going to take. For example, a cartilage piercing can take three to five months to heal, while a navel piercing can take eight months to a year. 

Abnormal Healing

If your piercing is not healing right, there are signs to look out for. It will likely be swollen around the pierced area. It is also going to be red and very tender, more so than normal. There will also likely be signs of pus that is yellow or green, and possibly some bleeding.

You may also be aware of some pain around the piercing if it is not healing properly. It may be hot to the touch as well. All of these could be signs that your body is rejecting the piercing. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. 

Types of Piercings to Care For

Some piercings require a bit different care, depending on where they are on your body.

Ear Lobes

Pierced ears are one of the fastest piercings to heal. Whether it is a first hole or a fourth hole in the lobe, they can quickly heal fully. They generally take between six and eight weeks to fully heal. 

It is always best to keep the earrings in day and night during healing. You can twist the earrings if they are studs to keep the pierced holes open if your piercer has recommended this. Don’t handle them too often, though. Clean the piercings daily with warm water and mild soap.

It is okay to wipe the area around the piercing with rubbing alcohol occasionally, but be aware of overdrying. Learn more about caring for pierced ears here

Cartilage

Cartilage piercings can take anywhere from three to eight months to even twelve months to fully heal. Avoid touching the piercing during healing, and don’t sleep on it either. 

A cartilage piercing can be soaked or misted with saline solution. You can make or buy saline solutions to use on the piercing. Soak the ear by filling a cup or bowl with enough solution to submerge the piercing. Avoid washing the piercing with soap, although you can wash the jewelry with soap. 

There will likely be discharge that develops and crusts around the piercing. Don’t touch or pick at the “crusties,” as this will only irritate the piercing.

Nose

A nose piercing is likely to be very tender, as the nose is a sensitive spot. It takes between two and four months for a nose piercing to heal. 

Cleaning a nose piercing involves rinsing it daily with saline solution. You can use a cotton pad to aid you in cleaning. A new nose piercing should be cleaned twice a day. The jewelry should be cleaned as well to avoid dirt and debris getting into the piercing. 

A septum piercing takes around three months to heal. It is similar to a regular nose ring in that it is best to clean with a saline solution. It only needs to be misted once a day as it is cleaned naturally by the nose’s mucus membranes.

Don’t twist or play with the nose jewelry. Don’t try to force a dislodged ring back into its hole; simply twist it in a clockwise motion until it returns to its place. Leave the original jewelry in place until it is fully healed. 

Tongue/Oral

Because this type of piercing is inside of the mouth, the aftercare process is different for oral piercings. Oral piercings take up to four weeks to heal fully. Pay attention to any signs of rejection with oral piercings, and be careful not to eat particularly challenging foods that may dislodge the piercing.

You should clean a tongue, cheek, or gum piercing multiple times a day for at least 60 seconds. You can rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash, sterile saline, and plain water. Don’t use a mouthwash that contains alcohol. After rinsing, be sure to pat the piercing dry. 

With oral piercings, there is always going to be some swelling within the first few days. After the swelling has subsided and healing has finished, you can downsize the jewelry to your liking. 

Navel

A navel piercing can take up to one year to fully heal. The navel piercing takes longer to heal because of the increased likelihood of irritation. This is a piercing that is more likely to be caught or irritated by clothing, so be sure to either avoid tight fighting clothes or wear an Ace bandage to protect the piercing. 

Avoid putting anything on the navel unless instructed by your piercer or doctor. When cleaning a navel piercing, be sure to clean the entire area so as to remove any dirt or lint that may be trapped. Use a saline solution at least twice a day. 

If “crusties” appear, don’t fuss with them, but you can clean them when cleaning the piercing. Try not to clean too often as this will irritate the area. Wearing loose-fitting clothes will help the healing process. 

What To Do If Your Piercing is Infected

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, an infection occurs. Pay close attention to your piercing during aftercare in case signs of infection arise. There are things that can be done to aid in ridding the infection and promoting healing. 

What an Infection Looks Like

An infected piercing is going to be red surrounding the pierced area and will be tender to the touch. It is also likely to be swollen and may have some colored discharge. There could also be fluid drainage, itching, or tearing.

What to Do First

Always wash your hands before touching your piercing. Rinse your piercing with a saline solution or distilled water at least three times a day. Avoid rubbing alcohol or antibiotic ointments as they can slow the healing. 

Don’t remove the jewelry. Removing the jewelry can cause the piercing hole to close and trap the infection. Clean the piercing thoroughly. 

When to Call a Doctor

Some signs that taking care of the infection at home seems to not be working are the jewelry not moving, pain around the piercing, or a fever. Some infections may need antibiotic treatment. 

If the infection does not clear within a few days of home treatment, or the jewelry becomes embedded in the skin, it is always the best idea to call a doctor. 

Final Thoughts on Piercing Aftercare

Taking care of a piercing is important to do well in order to keep the piercing clean and avoid infection. Piercing aftercare is about being gentle, using the right solutions, and avoiding irritating the piercing. Healing times will vary with every piercing and with every body. It’s essential to be patient and kind to our piercings so that they heal correctly.