Piercing Rejection and Migration

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 21, 2020
    Last Updated: December 29, 2020

You have a piercing that you love – but what happens if your body has a different opinion? Sometimes, your body can misidentify your piercing as a threat to your health and attempt to push it out.

Piercing rejection/migration can occur without much warning and can lead to the loss of your piercing, pain, infection and even scarring. Let’s take a closer look at what it is, why it happens and what you should do to treat and prevent it.

What is Piercing Rejection and Migration?

If a foreign object pierces your skin, your immune system works quickly to push the object out of your body and seal the wound. Normally, that’s a good thing as it helps protect against bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes your body can misidentify a piercing as a threat and that can cause problems.

If your piercing is rejected, your body will move it towards the skin’s surface, healing the tissues behind it. Left untreated, it’ll push the piercing through your skin entirely, potentially creating an infection and leaving behind a scar.

Migration is when your piercing moves within your body. While rejection results in migration, sometimes migration occurs for other reasons too. You need to keep an eye on whether your piercing changes location in your body, even subtly, as it can potentially lead to rejection or other problems.   

What Causes Piercing Rejection?

Piercing rejections are a bit of a mystery. They can happen a few weeks after receiving your first piercing, or can occur out-of-the-blue to a piercing you’ve had for years. While nobody knows exactly why or when a rejection will occur, a few factors do tend to contribute to their likelihood:

  • Genetics. Everyone’s immune system reacts differently, and yours might target piercings aggressively.
  • Piercing location. Piercings through tight, flat skin have an increased risk of rejection.
  • Jewelry fit. If your jewelry doesn’t fit properly, rejection is more likely.
  • Jewelry material. People react to metal types differently. Generally, titanium is considered the least likely to cause a negative reaction.
  • Physical changes. Pregnancy, weight loss, weight gain and other transformations can increase rejection likelihood.
  • Immune system changes. Illness, stress, medications and anything else that weakens your immune system can also impact your body’s reaction to your piercings.

In some cases, piercing rejection can be caused by a combination of these factors. Truthfully, most people are unable to pinpoint the exact reason for a piercing rejection.

Types of Piercings Most Often Rejected

The most commonly-rejected types of piercings are surface piercings. These are any piercings that lay flat against the skin’s surface. They usually have a distinct double-pierced look. Popular surface piercings include:

Surface piercings typically go through thin, flat skin. By comparison, standard piercings pass through the plane of the skin. Jewelry in earlobes and cartilage have a much lower chance of rejection.

Symptoms of Migration and Rejections

Many rejections, especially those related to genetics or an allergy, happen within a few weeks or months after the piercing is put in. Migrations can happen at practically any time due to body changes, an injury or other factors.

Always stay alert for any migration, as it’s often the first sign of rejection. Does your jewelry hang differently? Does it feel heavier against your skin?

Next, check out the entrance and exit holes. Do they droop? Are they getting larger? Additionally, look at the distance between the holes. You want at least one-quarter inch of space. Anything less is likely a sign of migration.  

Once rejection starts, you’ll notice more apparent symptoms, including signs of potential infection. Watch for red, flaky, hard or irritated skin around the piercing. Pus, especially if it’s a color instead of clear, is also a worrying sign. Furthermore, you might feel a lot of pressure around the area.  

Treatment for Rejection and Migration

Remember these two tips above all others:

  • At the first sign of migration, remove the piercing.
  • At the first sign of rejection, remove the piercing and visit your piercer.

After you’ve removed the jewelry, you have a few options available. If only migration occurred, you can try re-piercing the area with new jewelry consisting of a different shape, size or made from a different material.

For example, if you had a ring piercing that migrated so it would no longer sit flat against your skin, you might want to try a heavier replacement.

Treating Infection

If your piercing is rejected completely and breaks through your skin, don’t panic. You can usually treat a minor wound at home.

First, use water and hypoallergenic soap or a saline solution to clean the wound. Pat dry with a clean cloth. Next, cover the area with gauze secured with medical tape. Avoid using an adhesive bandage, as it typically will pull too hard against your skin.

Keep a close eye on your injury over the next few days. You’ll want to see a doctor if the wound is deep, has a foul smell, oozes pus or bleeds profusely.

How the Type of Material Affects Potential Rejection

Many people have issues with the type of metal. Try replacing any stainless steel piercing with one made from either titanium or niobium. They’re considered the least irritating to sensitive skin. Non-irritating plastic rings and bars are other options.

Localized Piercing Pimple

Some people develop a condition often referred to as a Localized Piercing Pimple. It’s a bit different from the irritation associated with rejection, although they can look similar.

With a Piercing Pimple, a red, inflamed pustule forms near your piercing. It might burn or itch, though it might also be pain-free. Use a warm, wet towel to help reduce swelling and antihistamines to subdue itching.  

They’ll typically go away on their own, although they can come back. If they return frequently, you’ll want to visit your doctor. Medication can help eliminate the bacteria causing their reoccurrence.

Does Rejection Occur More than Once?

If your body rejects a piercing, will it reject more in the future? Not necessarily. However, you’ll want to work with your piercer to determine the best course of action.

Generally, you don’t want to re-pierce any area where you’ve had a particularly bad experience. If you developed itchy, irritated skin, it is probably best to abandon a piercing in that area altogether. Every negative reaction in the same spot, increases the chance of scarring.

You’ll likely have better results if you pierce a new area. Also, make sure you follow all aftercare instructions carefully. Keep your piercing clean, avoid touching it frequently and don’t sleep directly on it.  

Unfortunately, some people’s bodies simply don’t handle piercings well. If you find that you develop problems with multiple types of piercings, in various locations, there’s typically no surefire solution.

Final Thoughts

Migrating and rejected piercings are no fun, though they’re rarely dangerous. If you remove the piercing at the first sign of trouble, you can typically avoid any serious, long-term effects. Pay attention to movement, skin irritation and painful sensations.

Finally, always choose an experienced piercer familiar with potential migration and rejection issues, especially if you’ve had piercing problems develop in the past. They can help you select a piercing location, with appropriate materials, that’s best suited for success.

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