BASIC PIERCING CARE
New piercings should typically be cleaned twice daily. (Frequency also depends on your skin type, your daily activities and environment, and what piercing you are trying to heal.) You should continue this cleaning routine for the entire healing period. Do not over-clean your piercing. Cleaning too often with an overly harsh cleaning solution, or with too many different types of cleaning solutions, can irritate your piercing. If cleaning your piercing twice a day is suggested, don’t assume cleaning it ten times a day is better – it isn’t.
Healing piercings discharge lymph, blood and blood plasma, and dead cells. The purpose in cleaning your piercing is to remove this discharge as well as any dirt or bacteria picked up during the day. The products you use on your piercing are not what make it heal—they only keep the piercing clean while your body works to heal it. Do not think of your cleaning solution as medicine, because it isn’t. Salt water and/or saline solutions should be used to irrigate your piercing, but it is the action of flushing out the wound that helps healing, not the saline itself. Likewise, soap should just be treated like soap; lather around your piercing and then rinse thoroughly.
TO CLEAN YOUR PIERCING, USE ONE OF THESE METHODS:
Warm Sea Salt Soaks
The single best thing you can do for your piercing is to keep up a regular regimen of salt water soaks. These flush out the piercing, help to draw out discharge, stimulate blood circulation, and soothe irritations. We strongly suggest soaking your piercing at least twice a day—more often if healing is difficult.
Make a soaking solution by mixing sea salt and distilled water. Use pure sea salt (non-iodized) and not table salt, which contains extra chemicals that can irritate your piercing and dextrose (sugar) that can cause yeast infections. When buying salt, read the label: it should contain only salt (sodium chloride) and possibly an anti-caking agent (often calcium phosphate, calcium silicate, or prussiate of soda). Do not use Epsom salts, as this is a completely different chemical compound. Make sure your salt-to-water ratio is correct. A stronger or weaker solution is not better and may actually harm your piercing.
It’s often easiest to mix it up by the gallon and keep it in the fridge. Cold soaks can be soothing for the first few days; after, heat as needed to make a warm salt-water soak.
Mix according to the table below (use measuring spoons and cups for accuracy).
1/4 Teaspoon 1 Cup (8 oz.)
1 Teaspoon 1 Quart (32 oz.)
4 Teaspoons 1 Gallon
To use: Fill a small glass with the solution and warm. (You can heat it in the microwave.) Put the solution in a glass, press the glass against your skin to form a seal, and hold it over your piercing for five minutes or until the water cools. For piercings like nostrils, ears, nipples, and some penis piercings, the entire body part should be submerged in the solution.
Sterile Saline Sprays
Sterile saline solutions are convenient, portable cleaning options. While rinsing with saline solution doesn’t promote increased blood flow to the area the way that a warm soak does, it does provide a quick cleaning fix if you’re at work, traveling, or someplace where soaking isn’t an option. Popular brands include H2Ocean®, Steri-Wash®, NeilMed® saline solution, and Simply Saline™ Wound Wash. (The saline products sold for contact lenses or ear and nasal irrigation sometimes contain additives that may not be suited to healing piercings. Instead, check the first aid aisle of your drugstore and look for saline specifically formulated for wound care.)
To use, liberally spray the solution, thoroughly saturating the piercing. Your jewelry does not need to be rotated and sterile saline solution does not need to be rinsed off. (Do not simply dip cotton balls or swabs in a saline solution and apply it to the skin; you must irrigate the piercing to clean it effectively.)
Mild Liquid Soap
While sea salt soaks and/or saline rinses are the preferred aftercare for most piercings, soap effectively removes the residue of sweat, dirt, skin oils, cosmetics, cigarette smoke, and natural discharge that can sometimes remain after a salt water soak or saline rinse. Use a natural, fragrance-free and dye-free soap. Stay away from harsh antibacterial soaps, especially those containing triclosan (like Dial®). Remember: It is the action of washing that is most effective in removing bacteria, not the soap itself. Lastly, be sure to use a liquid soap, because bar soaps collect dirt and bacteria that can easily be reapplied to your piercing.
Thoroughly wash your hands, then lather the soap in your fingers before lathering the piercing and surrounding skin. Thoroughly clean the piercing and jewelry, making sure to gently remove any discharge on the jewelry, then rinse. It is not necessary to rotate the jewelry during cleaning. If you find cleaning with soap is too harsh—if the skin around the piercing is becoming dry, red, or irritated—go back to salt water soaks and/or saline rinses.
ORAL PIERCING CARE
Rinse Your Mouth
After you smoke, eat, or drink anything besides bottled water, rinse for 30 to 60 seconds with salt water. This will clean your mouth and piercing and soothe discomfort. It will also minimize the white discharge that normally forms around the jewelry and helps to eliminate the residue from smoking.
To mix a solution, use sea salt—not table salt—and use the same ratio in the chart under Basic Piercing Care. Use bottled water or distilled water, not tap water. (If you have high blood pressure, you may need to limit your use of salt water and use plain water instead. Ask your doctor.)
If you choose to use mouthwash instead of salt water, stay away from alcohol-based products like Listerine® and similar store brands. These are far too harsh, and repeated use can actually slow down healing. Instead, use a mild, alcohol-free mouth rinse. Just remember: It’s the rinsing itself that is doing the work, not what you’re rinsing your mouth with, so the gentler solution is the best choice for speedy healing. Using a mouthwash too often—or one that is too harsh—can easily do more harm than good.
Clean the Outside of Your Piercing
In addition to rinsing your mouth, you will also need to clean the outside of your lip, cheek, or beauty mark piercing. For this, follow the suggestions under Basic Piercing Care.
Oral piercings will usually swell for several days after they are first done, and some swelling may even be present for several weeks after that. Suck on ice for the first few days. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) may also help. Keep your head elevated the first week while sleeping (use extra pillows). Avoid anything that thins your blood, like alcohol or aspirin, or makes your heart rate go up, like caffeine or stimulants. Avoid drinking straws and water pipes.
Change Your Jewelry After Your Piercing is Healed
To allow for swelling, your initial ring or post will be larger or longer than the jewelry that will ultimately be worn. Once the swelling is gone and the piercing is healed, a shorter post or smaller diameter ring can be used. Do not leave the original jewelry size in longer than the healing period. Improperly sized jewelry is often the cause of irritated or damaged gums, chipped teeth, and other oral trauma. But be patient: Changing the jewelry too soon can result in more swelling and delayed healing. If you’re not sure it’s time, ask your piercer.
Keep Your Jewelry In
Oral piercings usually heal in about four to eight weeks. Jewelry can be changed after healing, but it should never be left out, even for short periods of time. Oral piercings close very quickly, making reinsertion of jewelry difficult—sometimes impossible.
Check Your Jewelry Occasionally
Make sure the ends on your jewelry are on tightly. We make sure they are secure when you leave the shop; after that, it’s up to you. For oral piercings, which may be difficult to grasp, try wearing disposable gloves to tighten jewelry.
Eat What You Want
While healing an oral piercing you are not restricted in what you should eat, but by what you can eat. Spicy-hot and temperature-hot foods may be uncomfortable, but cold foods can be soothing. Acidic drinks (like citrus fruit juices) may irritate fresh piercings. Eat what is comfortable for you.
Take it Easy on the Drinking
Excessive alcohol consumption during the initial healing period can be irritating and cause more swelling. Take it easy for the first few weeks.
This is the best thing you can do for your piercing—and yourself. At the very least, cut down on smoking during healing.
Avoid Wet Kissing and Unprotected Oral Sex During Healing
Remember: this is an open wound. Any fluid exchange should be considered unsafe sex. Even if you are in a monogamous relationship, your partner still has different natural bacteria than you do.
Keep Your Fingers Out of Your Mouth
The ends of pens and pencils, too. And buy a new, clean toothbrush.
Avoid chewing gum during healing. Natural toothpastes or those meant for sensitive teeth may be less irritating during healing than the traditional kind. Avoid the urge to play with your piercing while it’s healing—there will be plenty of time for that afterward.
GENITAL PIERCING CARE
Aftercare for genital piercings is the same as for most other piercings. These piercings are among the easiest and quickest to heal, so care is often minimal. Simply follow the instructions under Basic Piercing Care.
Take a Short Break from Sex
Sexual activity is not prohibited during the entire healing period, but a short break can help you heal faster. If you do have sex during this time (this includes masturbation), pay attention to any discomfort, practice fluid-safe sex, and be sure to clean your piercing immediately afterward.
Avoid Fluid Exchange
Use barriers to protect your new piercings during any sexual activity, even with monogamous partners. This means condoms over penis piercings and similar protection (dental dams, etc.) over vulva piercings. Unprotected oral sex should especially be avoided during the healing period, as this is one of the fastest ways to get an infection.
Try Emu Oil
Emu oil can be a helpful addition to aftercare and is especially useful for healing genital piercings. Simply rub a single drop onto the skin around the piercing with a clean finger. This helps with healing and also helps prevent crusty discharge from being forced through your piercing.
Stick with Saline or Sea Salt Rinses
Soap can be too strong for genital piercings. It can be especially irritating for piercings through the urethra, and can upset the natural balance of flora if used for vulva piercings—even contributing to a yeast infection. Stick with sea salt soaks and/or saline rinses.
Don’t Be Surprised by Bruising
While it doesn’t happen to everyone, bruising is not uncommon, especially with genital piercings.
Be Prepared for Bleeding
Be prepared for bleeding for the first twenty-four hours, and don’t be surprised by spotty bleeding anytime within the first week after the piercing. With Prince Alberts, reverse PAs, ampallangs, and apadravyas, expect significant bleeding for the first one to three days; keep these piercings wrapped in gauze for the first several days, and put a rubber glove over the gauze wrap the first night. For vulva piercings, use a pad for the first night, and longer if necessary.
Rinse During Urination
For piercing around or through the urethra, irrigate the piercing with a saline rinse when urinating for the first few days. This can cut down on the stinging feeling during the initial healing. Drink plenty of water too. This is especially helpful with both Prince Albert and Princess Albertina piercings.
The single best way to speed the healing of your new piercing is to take care of your whole body. Eat properly. Drink plenty of water. Get enough sleep. Manage your stress. Reduce smoking, drinking, and recreational drug use. The healthier you are, the healthier your piercing will be.
Keep Dirty Hands Off Your Piercing
Touching with dirty fingers is an easy way to get a piercing infected. Wash your hands before handling your healing piercing. Despite what you may have heard, you do not need to rotate or twist your jewelry during healing. Unless you are cleaning your piercing, keep your hands off!
Check Your Jewelry
Any jewelry with screw-on ends should be checked occasionally (with clean hands) to make sure those ends are screwed on tightly and are not in danger of coming loose.
Keep Your Jewelry In
While your piercing is healing, keep jewelry in it at all times. After your piercing is healed you can change your jewelry, but jewelry should never be left out for longer than the time it takes to insert a new piece. If you must remove your jewelry temporarily after healing, such as for work or surgery, there are less visible (and non-metal) alternatives that can be worn for short periods of time. Ask your piercer what your options are.
Cut Down on Smoking
Not just for oral piercings, but facial piercings as well. Besides being all-around unhealthy, smoke leaves residue on your piercing that can irritate it and slow healing. This means staying out of smoky environments as well.
Avoid Oral Contact
Mouths are full of bacteria and germs. Having someone’s mouth on your piercing is one of the fastest routes to infection. Avoid wet kissing with fresh oral piercings, unprotected oral sex with healing genital or oral piercings, and tongues on nipples. Keep your lover’s tongue out of your ear while you’re healing a cartilage piercing. Limit the sharing of straws and forks too.
Avoid Other People’s Body Fluids
A healing piercing is an open wound, so treat it accordingly. Even if you are in a monogamous relationship, you and your partner have different bacteria from each other. (You can end up sharing more than just the moment.)
Don’t Let Your Clothing Constrict Your Piercing
If your clothing is contorting your piercing it’s going to affect healing. With navel piercings, make sure the waistline of your clothing is low enough that it does not touch your piercing while standing or sitting. Be careful with large belts and the waistbands of tights. If bras are irritating your nipple piercings, try cotton tank tops or sports bras. Keep constrictive clothing off surface piercings and surface anchors as well.
Wear Natural Fibers
Natural fibers (cotton, silk, etc.) allow your piercing to breathe. Synthetic fibers do not, and this can slow down healing. Be especially conscious of bras and padding over nipple piercings and underwear over genital piercings.
Wear Clean Clothes
Keep any clothing touching a piercing clean. Make sure your sheets and bedding are fresh as well. Try using clean T-shirts as pillowcases for healing facial and ear piercings.
Keep Makeup and Hair Products Away from Healing Piercings
Be especially careful of hairspray and powdered foundation.
Clean Your Cell Phone
Or better yet, use the other ear. Also, wipe down eyeglass frames that come in contact with fresh piercings.
Change Your Sleeping Position
When healing cartilage piercings, sleep on your other side, if possible. Try to stay off your stomach with healing navel piercings as well.
Keep Pets Away from New Piercings
Pets are cute, but they shed. Cats walk in their litter boxes, and dogs lick more than just your face. Keep pets out of your bed during healing.
Be Mindful of Where You Swim
If possible, avoid swimming with a healing piercing. If you do decide to go in the water with a fresh piercing, be mindful about where you swim. (The clear ocean water of the Caribbean is not the same as the still water in your local swimming hole.) Public pools, lakes, and especially hot tubs should be avoided during healing. If you must swim, consider using a watertight covering such as Tegaderm™. At the very least, be sure to clean your piercing after you get out of the water.
DO NOT USE Rubbing Alcohol or Hydrogen Peroxide
These are both too harsh for long-term use. Alcohol irritates and dries out your skin, and hydrogen peroxide destroys healthy skin surrounding the piercing and can actually slow healing. Witch hazel solutions should also be avoided.
DO NOT USE Antibiotic Ointments
These include Neosporin®, bacitracin, or triple antibiotic ointments. These are not meant to be used for more than two weeks—making them ineffective for healing piercings. They also contain petroleum jelly, which creates the perfect warm, moist environment for bacteria to grow. This also keeps soap and other cleaning solutions from properly irrigating the piercing. Ointments are made for cuts and scrapes, not long-term healing.
DO NOT USE Bactine® and Solutions with BZK (Benzalkonium Chloride)
These can be irritating, and can slow down healing. Bactine® and similar products also have a very short shelf life once opened, so if you have a leftover bottle of one of these in your medicine cabinet do not use it. Throw it out, and stick with saline solution or a mild soap instead.
DO NOT USE Q-tips® or Cotton Balls
When cleaning a piercing, the most important thing you’re doing is soaking and/or irrigating the piercing. Dabbing saline solution on your piercing with Q-tips® or cotton balls does little to help. Plus, you can irritate your piercing with cotton fibers that can get trapped around your piercing. Stick with a soak or rinse instead.