Body piercing aftercare: how to avoid infection

You did it! You got your courage up, maybe took along a friend to hold your hand, and you went out and got a body part pierced!

So now what do you do?

Well, in addition to showing you’re piercing off at least, if it’s in a part of the body you don’t mind displaying to people one of the most important things to remember about being pierced is, quite frankly, hygiene. Countless numbers of people have a poor experience with their piercing and end up having to stop wearing their body jewelry simply because they didn’t take proper care of their piercings afterward. Hopefully, you got pierced by a professionally trained piercer who provided you with a list of Dos and Don’ts for keeping your piercing clean. However, it never hurts to have additional information. After all, this is your body we’re talking about, and you want to take care of it correctly.

Aftercare is very important for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is infection. Even if your piercer used sterile techniques during your piercing, there’s still a chance of infection occurring from skin bacteria. We’ve all got it, and if you play with your piercing which is always tempting — or forget to wash your hands on occasion, chances are fair that you could develop a little bit of infection.

Piercings of cartilage, like in your upper ear or nose, are more susceptible to infection because cartilage doesn’t have a blood flow of its own. Instead, it depends on the tissue around it to provide it with nutrients. Unfortunately, sometimes that tissue transmits bacteria, and then you end up with you guessed it a cartilage infection.

Different piercings take different lengths of time to heal, from just a few weeks on the tongue or eyebrow to several months for the nipples, genitalia, or navel. That means at least a few weeks or months of you taking good care of your piercing. Let’s talk about some ways to prevent infection from occurring in the first place, and then we’ll discuss what to do if you think you’ve got one.

Before you even GET your piercing, check out the piercer. Is the shop clean? Does the staff wear gloves, and change them between clients? Does the piercer use individually pouched needles and body jewelry, or is he just randomly grabbing stuff out of a bucket? If your state requires piercers to be certified, is your guy’s licensing available for clients to see

Before you get your piercing, does the shop hand you a written info sheet about aftercare? If anything strikes you as unsanitary, or if your gut feeling is that the place just isn’t hygienic, then leave. There are nearly ten thousand piercing shops in America alone, which means you don’t have to settle for a dirty one. Do research, and ask friends who have piercings where they got theirs done, and whether or not they had complications with their piercings.

Also, make sure that your piercer is using hollow stainless-steel needles instead of the piercing guns you see at the mall. The guns have non-removable plastic parts which are harder to sterilize. In addition to a higher chance of bacteria spreading, you also run the risk of extra damage to the tissue, because of the high-impact blunt trauma inflicted by piercing guns. Furthermore, the shape and composition of body jewelry really isn’t compatible with guns.

Any doctor will tell you that hand-washing is the number one key to preventing infections from starting. So first and foremost, wash your hands before you touch your body jewelry. It’s a healthy habit to get into anyway, so now’s as good a time as any to start. Wash your hands not only before, but also AFTER you handle your new piercing. After all, you don’t want to transmit belly-button bacteria to your eyes, or genital bacteria to your lips, or other unpleasant combinations, do you?

In addition to keeping your hands clean, remember that your piercing is an open wound. Treat it gently. Make sure you don’t wear clothing that’s going to chafe against it a belly button piercing is a good time to invest in a pair of low-rise jeans if you don’t already have them. Be sure not to bang your piercing against anything. If you’ve gone for a nipple or genital piercing, be extra cautious during sexual activity for those first few months.

To wash your piercing, make sure you use either sea salt or antibacterial soap. Ask your piercer if they have a preference for their clients to use. Do NOT use rubbing alcohol, Neosporin or Bactine, because professional piercers report that more clients have complications when using these products on open wounds.

A couple of times a week or more if it’s not uncomfortable for you — spin or rotate your jewelry while cleaning it, to get the sea salt or antibacterial soap inside the piercing. This will help it heal faster, and you’ll get a better long-term result. Rotating/spinning the jewelry during the healing phase also helps cut down on scabbing. No one wants a scabby piercing.

Finally, make sure you keep your starter jewelry in until the piercing is healed. Hopefully, your piercer used stainless steel, titanium, or gold. These are easier to keep clean. As your body begins to heal, a thin layer of skin will form between the wound and the jewelry. If you remove your jewelry too soon, you run the risk of opening the wound back up again. A general rule of thumb is that if you can play with your jewelry, pull gently on it, and spin it around without ANY tenderness at all, you may consider changing it.

How will you know if you’ve developed an infection in your piercing? Well, for starters, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to be tender to the touch, there will probably be drainage, and maybe even an odor. Basic steps in taking care of infection include draining the wound and applying heat to promote circulation. Moist heat, such as a warm sea salt compress, can be applied to provide some relief. If you believe you have an infection, you should contact your piercer immediately for instructions. He or she may recommend that you follow up with your physician for antibiotic treatment if it looks as though an abscess has formed.

One important thing to remember and hopefully your physician will understand this too is that rather than removing the body jewelry, the piece can often remain in place as a drain. If the jewelry is too large to allow for complete drainage, it can be replaced by a smaller piece. If you think your doctor is going to insist on you taking your jewelry out permanently, consider finding a piercing-friendly physician. Many student health centers on college campuses have doctors who are more experienced in dealing with complications from piercings.

In addition to infection, poor aftercare can lead to scarring and distortion of the tissue. Keloids are a type of scar which sometimes develops at the site of skin trauma which piercing definitely is. If you are prone to keloids, make sure you discuss this with your piercer beforehand.

So now you know what to do with your piercing to keep it safe and healthy. Go wash your hands, clean your new body jewelry, and then go show it off to all your friends!

So now

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