Piercings and how we care for them have changed a lot since we were children. I happen to know this because the piercings I got as a child had to be closed because my father (who happens to be amazing in all areas of parenting except for when it comes to his daughter's pierced ears) decided to change my earrings too soon after they were pierced, which is like cardinal rule #1. Anyway, this resulted in horrifically infected ears, of which I will spare you the graphic detail.
I got a new set of piercings a year later, and same case as before, we used a piercing gun. I later found out, and by later I mean 15 years later, that piercing guns can attribute to nickel intolerance. This was my situation, and I made the decision to close my second set of piercings and vowed not to introduce any new holes to my body without use of a sanitary needle.
But on a whim two weeks ago, I decided to get my ears re-pierced with my mother, who happens to be much cooler than I am because she got her helix pierced.
My third trip to the proverbial rodeo taught me piercing after care has changed a ton since I was a child. Here's a breakdown on a few things I've learned from piercing artist Maria Tash and dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Howe.
Do Your Research Before You Get Your Piercings
Every state and territory throughout Australia has different regulations around body piercing.
"Postpone getting a piercing if you currently have an infection of the skin, particularly if it is in the area where you are getting pierced, especially if you have bacterial folliculitis, which is common and people often ignore," continues Dr. Howe.
Why you shouldn't ignore it? According to Dr. Howe, the bacteria causing the folliculitis is most frequently staph and can super-infect any fresh wounds. YIKES.
Don't Touch Your Piercings
"It's very important not to touch your fresh piercing with dirty hands," says Maria Tash. "I think people overlook how easy it is to touch the door handle and then your fresh wound (piercing) and potentially introduce germs to the area. One has to be very mindful about what touches the healing piercing."
Yep, that's definitely valid!
Utilise a Healing Regimen
Dr. Howe notes that you should wet a gauze pad—not soak it—with saline solution, and then hold it on the piercing site for 10-15 minutes. "This will moisten and gently loosen any dried crusts," he says. "Afterwards, apply a thin layer of ointment, either petroleum jelly or an OTC topical antibiotic such as Bacitracin."
Applying an ointment will also help create a better healing environment. "The ointment prevents formation of serious crusts, and allows the free movement of liquid growth factors," says Dr. Howe. "These growth factors are released by the wound itself and stimulate growth and migration of cells into the healing wound."
Some piercing experts might tell patients to avoid applying ointments because they will prevent oxygen from reaching the skin. However, Dr. Howe says that is untrue. "The oxygen our tissues need is delivered via our blood stream. We do not absorb oxygen directly into the surface of our skin. Applying an occlusive ointment has no effect on tissue oxygenation," he notes.
Don't Cleanse With Hibiclens/Harsh Cleansers. Just Don't.
"These detergents kill the new epithelial cells migrating into the wound and slow its healing," says Dr. Howe.
Tash agrees with notion. "In the old days, people were using rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because they are fairly effective, cheap, and readily available disinfectants," she says. "However, they are very harsh to the surrounding skin and the newly growing skin cells inside the piercing. Most lobe piercings take two months to heal, and cartilage can take up to a year to heal. These products are not intended to be applied to skin twice a day for long periods of time. Imagine if one applied rubbing alcohol to the same spot on your face twice a day for even a week—the area would be red and the skin very dry," she further explains.
Turning Your Earring Doesn't Help It Heal
This one was a biggie for me, and Tash debunked it. "Turning your earring to help it to heal is an old piercing gun stud myth. These studs were tight up against the ear, and it turning it theoretically could help get after-care product inside the tunnel of the piercing. But realistically, the skin does not stick to the metal stud at all, and you should let the body grow the skin cells of the piercing tunnel without jarring them with torque or by touching them with dirty hands," says Tash. "Warm hot water in the shower will loosen up any discharge all healing piercings produce, and a sterile cloth compress with saline or mild antibacterial soap will gently clean it," she notes.
Infection Can Occur in 20 Percent of New Piercings, So Keep Watch
If you think your new piercing is infected, go to the doctor. It's that simple. People with new piercings should seek medical care for signs of infection, such as increasing redness or swelling, increasing pain, red streaking in the skin around the piercing, or fever. "I usually treat the infection with the piercing still in place—the jewelry keeps the piercing tract open, allowing for drainage of infection," says Dr. Howe. "Such decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, however. If the infection proves persistent, removal of the jewelry may be necessary."
But seriously guys, if you think you have a piercing that is infected, go see a doctor to be safe, as ignoring them could result in an infection, and you don't want to mess with that.