Smelly Piercings: Causes & Treatment

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 21, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Ear piercings smell bad due to an unwanted reaction with your skin. This is such a common problem that the phenomenon has been labeled “ear cheese.” It’s when sebum mixes with the bacteria in the skin when your ear’s pierced.

Although this is common for ear piercings, it’s a situation with any piercing on the body. There are ways you can mitigate this smell, though, which you’ll find below.

What’s Really Happening?

So what’s really happening with “ear cheese?” No, your ear isn’t turning into a fine delicacy that can be paired with a nice red wine. Instead, your body is acting out a set of pre-determined functions that occur when you do something as radical as poking a hole through your epidermis.

The cause of the smell is due to an enzyme called sebum, which is secreted by your sebaceous glands. These glands are prevalent in your skin, and their purpose is to create an oily secretion that helps make the outer layer of your skin waterproof.

When you pierce your skin, the sebum interacts with the dead skin of the region, all the while mixing with bacteria that are also latching onto the wound. This potent mixture tends to have a pungent essence, which is where the term “ear cheese” comes from.

Infections Can Cause Bad Smells, Too

If your piercing becomes infected, a buildup or leakage of pus can also cause quite a strong odor. If you’re at all worried that your new piercing may have become infected, it’s advisable to get back to your piercer, or seek further medical advice.

Possible Solutions

It’s possible to prevent piercings from smelling, but if you’re too late to that party, you can reduce the smell with these options:

  • Wash the afflicted region
  • Keep your hands and environment clean
  • Remove all jewelry
  • Use natural oils and extracts

Wash the Afflicted Region

If you can keep the bacteria away, there shouldn’t be a smell. Washing the wound with water or a mild, fragrance-free soap should suffice. Make sure you don’t overdo it with the washing, though, as overexposing the wound to moisture can cause moisture-associated skin damage — MASD.

Keep Your Hands and Environment Clean

You may be tempted to test and probe your new wound to see what the puss is all about, but this is something you need to avoid. Before you interact with your wound, it’s important to keep your hands clean.

Even your surroundings should be cleaner than usual, especially constant points of contact, such as your bed. You have a good chance of bacteria getting onto the skin if your sheets aren’t very clean.

Remove All Jewelry

Most types of jewelry don’t interact well with new piercings. It’s best to keep the jewelry away from the region until your wound heals. If you can’t do that, you should at least keep the jewelry clean. 

Removing the jewelry on your own might further damage the region, so it’s best to go to a professional piercer for this. 

Use Natural Oils and Extracts

If your wound isn’t healing as expected and the stench is beginning to spread around the home, you can use some natural oils and extracts to accelerate the healing process. 

Tea tree oil and lavender oil are two natural solutions that can be applied after you’ve washed and dried the infected region. They have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antiseptic properties that can greatly help with the healing process.

Smell, Smell Go Away

If your piercings do start to smell, it’s your sebaceous glands acting out, and it isn’t something you need to worry about if you’re looking after your piercing as advised. Keep the pierced area clean can prevent or alleviate the smell, but you should consult a doctor if you’re concerned and it doesn’t go away.

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