Nipple piercings take longer to heal than most body piercings, and they require diligent aftercare to heal properly. In the following sections, we cover proper nipple piercing care, including how to clean your new nipple piercings, what you should and shouldn't do during the healing process, how long it will take for your new nipple piercings to heal, when you can change your jewelry for the first time, how to change your jewelry, and more. We also discuss what you should know before getting your nipples pierced and how to change your nipple rings, stretch your nipple piercings, and identify and address nipple piercing problems.
Before You Get Nipple Piercings
There are a few things you should know about nipple piercings before you take the plunge and get pierced. Most importantly, be prepared for the commitment involved with getting nipple piercings. The average nipple piercing healing time is between 9 and 12 months. While your nipple piercings are healing, you have to perform aftercare regularly and take other measures to protect your new piercings so they can heal properly. You'll have to avoid nipple play of any kind during that time, even though it will be tempting to tinker with your new jewelry. You don't want to risk irritating your healing fistulas (piercing holes) or putting yourself at risk of developing an infection.
Since many women experience tenderness and swollen breasts during menstruation, it's best to get nipple piercings in between menstrual cycles. Having your nipples pierced during your cycle would likely be extra painful. Also, if you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you should wait to get your nipples pierced. Otherwise, your nipple piercings likely wouldn't have enough time to heal before you gave birth and began breastfeeding. Breastfeeding with nipple piercings can be tough enough, but it would be extra uncomfortable if your nipple piercings were still healing. Plus, you'd be at greater risk for developing a nipple piercing infection if you began breastfeeding while your nipple piercings were still healing. Additionally, your body will change throughout your pregnancy, and you'd likely need your nipple rings replaced a few times as your breasts begin to grow and swell with milk. That's not ideal for healing nipple piercings, since frequent jewelry changes can irritate healing fistulas.
When you do get pierced, your piercer may offer you a choice of captive rings, straight barbells or bent barbells as your nipple piercing jewelry. It's best to go with straight or bent barbells for your starter nipple piercing jewelry, because these styles will put the least amount of downward pressure on your healing fistulas. Your starter barbells will be extra long to allow room for swelling. The longer barbells will be more apt to get caught on clothing, so be careful when you get dressed in the weeks after you get your nipples pierced. If a barbell gets snagged on your clothing, it could cause bleeding and or tearing, and even the smallest tears could give bacteria an entry point into your bloodstream where it could wreak havoc on your immune system.
Nipple Piercing Care
During the extended nipple piercing healing process, it's important that you follow your piercer's instructions for caring for your new nipple piercings and keeping them well-cleaned. You can use our nipple piercing aftercare dos and don'ts below to supplement the nipple piercing care instructions your piercer gives you.
What You Should Do:
- It's important to get sufficient, good quality sleep, eat nutritiously, stay hydrated, and practice good hygiene. These things will bolster your immune system and allow it to focus its full attention on healing your nipple piercings.
- Avoid traumatizing your nipple piercings to the best of your ability. Dress carefully to avoid snagging your barbells, which could tear your fistulas, cause bleeding, and make you more susceptible to infection. If you do irritate your new piercings, ramp up your nipple piercing aftercare efforts until the issue subsides.
- Women should wear sports bras at night and padded bras during the day to protect their healing nipple piercings. Men should consider wearing thick cotton undershirts day and night as an added layer of protection.
- Keep your nipple piercings clean by rinsing them 3-6 times per day with a sea salt-based piercing aftercare product like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray. You should also do 2 full sea salt solution soaks twice a day during the first few months of the healing process, then at least once a day thereafter until your nipple piercings are fully healed. Read the "How to Clean Your Nipple Piercings" instructions below for additional information on how to properly clean your nipple piercings.
What You Should Not Do:
- Absolutely do not take aspirin, drink alcohol, or consume excessive amounts of caffeine during the first few weeks of the nipple piercing healing process. These things will thin your blood and make it harder for your body to form clots if your nipple piercings bleed occasionally early in the healing process.
- If you're a smoker, you should try to quit before getting your nipples pierced. Nicotine has a systemic effect that slows down the body's ability to heal, so it may take even more than 12 months for your nipple piercings to heal if you continue smoking heavily after getting pierced. If you can't quit entirely, at least try to cut back or switch to nicotine patches, gum or an e-cigarette to reduce your daily nicotine intake. E-cigarette liquid and cartridges come in a variety of nicotine strengths, as do nicotine patches, so you can taper down the amount of nicotine you consume slowly and with fewer repercussions, like distracting cravings and moodiness.
- Don't submerge your nipple piercings in bath water or communal water like hot tubs or swimming pools. You'd be putting yourself at risk of developing a nipple piercing infection by soaking in bacteria-filled water.
- You shouldn't apply soap or harsh cleansers to your healing nipples. Soap and alcohol-based cleansers can be drying, and dry, cracked skin is more susceptible to infection. It's okay if sudsy water runs over your nipple piercings when you shower; just don't soap them up directly or use anything but sea salt solution to directly clean your healing nipple piercings.
- Absolutely do not play with your nipple jewelry while your piercings are healing. You could introduce bacteria and/or create micro tears in your fistulas that would put you at higher risk of developing a nipple piercing infection. You should touch your jewelry as little as possible, and when you do, it should only be after thoroughly washing your hands or when you're wearing gloves.
- Avoid other people's germs as much as possible, and do not let anyone else touch your healing nipple piercings with their hands or mouths. They could transfer bacteria into your healing nipple piercings and cause you to develop an infection.
- Don't twist, turn or slide your nipple rings to break up "crusties". Crusties are just dried lymph, a substance the body naturally excretes when healing any wound. Lymph is clear, but it tends to dry to a whitish crust around nipple rings. That crust can freeze your jewelry in place, so it's natural to want to break up crusties. However, it's better to just soak them with piercing aftercare spray to soften them, and then gently wipe the softened crusties away with a clean tissue or cotton swab.
- Do not apply any creams, oils, balms, or ointments to your nipple piercings. These things can clog your fistulas, trapping in bacteria and potentially triggering an infection. If the skin around your nipple piercings gets dry, you can enhance your sea salt solutions with tea tree oil using the instructions in the "How to Clean Your Nipple Piercings" section below. Diluting naturally-moisturizing tea tree oil in sea salt solution is much safer than directly applying a moisturizer to your nipple piercings.
- Don't change your jewelry prematurely. After the first 3-6 months, you can see your piercer and ask if it's safe to have him or her replace your long starter barbells with more closely-fitting jewelry. By then, you should be past the stage where you have occasional swelling, so it should be safe to wear shorter barbells. If your piercer tells you it's best to wait until the 9-month mark to change your jewelry, though, don't push the point. If s/he does replace your starter jewelry earlier, leave the replacement barbells in until you've had your nipple piercings for 12 months. You should be able to change your nipple rings whenever you want after that, as long as you haven't had any recent problems with your nipple piercings. Note that the more time that passes, the stronger and more reinforced your fistulas will become, which will make it progressively easier for you to change your nipple rings in future. When the time comes, follow our "How to Change Your Nipple Rings" instructions below to insert new jewelry more easily by yourself.
There are two things you need to do to keep your nipple piercings clean. First, you should mist them with a sea salt-based piercing aftercare spray 3-6 times per day. Sea salt solution is scientifically proven to be the best, gentlest cleanser for healing piercings. Salt is essential to life and good health. It's in our blood and our cells; it maintains our electrolyte balance, sustains us during exercise, and even prevents hypothermia. Since salt is part of our chemical make-up, sea salt solution is the least foreign cleanser you can apply to a healing wound, and it promotes healing. Spraying your nipple piercings with saline wash regularly will keep your fistulas flushed of debris, encourage them to heal well, and soften any crusties that form around your nipple rings so you can gently wipe them away.
You should also do full sea salt solution soaks twice a day during the first few months of the healing process, and at least once a day thereafter. If you experience nipple piercing problems at any point later in the healing process, you should go back to doing 2-3 soaks per day until the issue subsides.
There are a couple ways you can do full sea salt solution soaks. You can fill a small container, like a shot glass, with either a store-bought saline wash or a homemade sea salt solution, lean forward, put the container against your breast so it encompasses one of your nipples, sit up straight again while holding the container firmly against your breast, and let your nipple soak in the solution for 5 minutes. Empty the container, rinse it out, refill it with saline wash, and repeat the process with your other nipple. Alternatively, you can saturate a series of clean cotton balls with saline wash or homemade sea salt solution, and apply them one-at-a-time to your nipple piercings until you've kept them saturated for a total of 5 minutes.
To make your own sea salt solution, you'll need a cup of sterile water, a 1/4 teaspoon of a high-quality sea salt, like our Recovery Sea Salt From the Dead Sea, and 2-3 drops of tea tree oil (optional), which is a natural moisturizer and antiseptic. If you don't want to buy sterile water, you can bring tap water to a boil on the stove and let it roil for 5 minutes to sterilize it. Measure out one cup, stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and 2-3 drops of tea tree oil, and let the solution cool to a comfortable temperature before applying it to your nipple piercings. Note: Do not substitute table salt for sea salt; it contains iodine, so it isn't as ideal for healing piercings as pure sea salt. To save money on the proper ingredients, buy a Recovery Sea Salt & Tea Tree Oil Combo Pack, like the one shown to the left.
It's fine to use sea salt solution without tea tree oil to clean your nipple piercings, but if the skin around your piercings gets dry and/or begins to crack, tea tree oil is the best additive to re-moisturize your skin and prevent infection. If you're using store-bought saline piercing aftercare spray instead of making homemade sea salt solution and you want to use tea tree oil to moisturize your skin, just add a single drop to each saline-soaked cotton ball you apply to your nipple piercings when doing full soaks.
If at any point your nipple piercings begin to ooze a thicker, yellowish, more pus-like discharge or the tissue around them is red and inflamed, consider adding an antiseptic piercing rinse to your daily cleaning routine. Tattoo Goo's X-pressions swabs or antiseptic piercing spray are good options to try. Antiseptic piercing treatments should be applied just once or twice a day either right after a full sea salt solution soak or in between soaks, but not right before one. Otherwise the sea salt solution would wash away the antiseptic.
As mentioned earlier, you can have your piercer replace your starter barbells with more closely-fitting barbells somewhere between 3 and 9 months into the healing process. The exact timing depends on when you stop experiencing occasional swelling. As long as you're having swelling, you need to leave your extra-long starter barbells in so your jewelry doesn't put undue pressure on your healing fistulas. Prolonged pressure can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection, so see your piercer right away if your jewelry begins to press into your nipples at any point. S/he will replace your jewelry with longer barbells until the swelling subsides.
Once you're past the 3-month mark and a few more weeks have passed without swelling or other complications, ask your piercer if it's safe for you to switch to more closely-fitting barbells that are less likely to get snagged on clothing. You shouldn't try to change your jewelry yourself at this point; you may irritate your fistulas trying to get your new jewelry in by yourself.
After you've had your nipple piercings for a year, you can safely try changing your jewelry yourself. Buy a pair of circular barbells, captive bead rings, shorter straight barbells, or other nipple piercing jewelry that will fit your nipples closely but comfortably. Make sure you pick nipple rings that are the same gauge as your current jewelry. If you're not sure what diameter or length to choose, consult with your piercer. Alternatively, you can measure your current jewelry using our Measuring Body Jewelry guidelines and use those measurements as a gauge for selecting appropriately-sized new jewelry.
When purchasing new nipple rings, you should also invest in a piercing taper in the same gauge as your new jewelry. If you feel you need it, put a drop of a water-based lubricant like Astroglide on the end of the taper or on the side of our nipple where you'll be inserting the taper followed by your new jewelry. Screw your new nipple ring onto the threaded end of the taper, and then use the taper to slowly push out your current nipple ring and thread the new one through. Repeat with your other nipple. This is the easiest way to replace your nipple rings yourself.
If you know before you even get pierced that you'd eventually prefer to wear nipple rings that are larger than the standard 14g-12g barbells typically used as starter nipple piercing jewelry, you can ask your piercer to pierce your nipples at a larger gauge. Depending on the size of your nipples, your piercer may be able to outfit you with 10g-6g nipple rings from the start.
Once you're pierced, you'll need to stick with the same sized jewelry throughout the healing process. After you've had your nipple piercings for a year, you can contemplate stretching them, if desired. Massage emu oil into the skin around your nipple piercings for a week or so before switching to barbells that are a size larger than your current jewelry. The emu oil will increase your skin's elasticity and make it easier to insert your new nipple rings. You may still want to use a piercing taper that's the same gauge as your new nipple rings and a drop of water-based lubricant to ease your new larger jewelry into your fistulas as gently as possible.
Once you've gone up a whole size (e.g. from 12g to 10g), you should wait 1-1/2 times as long as it took your nipple piercings to heal initially before graduating to the next largest gauge. To make progress more quickly and with less irritation to your nipples, consider gradually increasing the size of your nipple piercings using stretching tape instead of going up a whole size at a time. Just remove one of your barbells, wrap it with a single layer of stretching tape, reinsert it, repeat with your other barbell, and then wait a few weeks to a month for your fistulas to calm down again before adding another layer of tape to your barbells. Once you've added a full gauge of stretching tape layers to your current barbells, you can replace your jewelry with barbells in the next size up, wait a few weeks, and then start adding a layer of stretching tape every few weeks again until you've reached your desired size.
Some people also like to use weights for stretching and/or stimulating well-healed nipple piercings. If you're interested in this approach, pick up a pair of captive rings, two S-hooks, and some small weights. When you're home, you can walk around the house shirtless with the weights hanging from your captive rings via the S-hooks to stretch your nipple piercings. Weights can also add a new dimension to nipple stimulation and sexual play.
There are a number of problems that can arise during the nipple piercing healing process. It's important to familiarize yourself with these issues so you can spot and address them quickly if you experience any of them.
It's common for people to experience some degree of swelling after getting their nipples pierced. That's why it's standard practice to outfit piercees with extra-long starter barbells, so there's room for your nipples to swell without causing your jewelry to press into the sides of your nipples. Unless you experience significant swelling, your starter jewelry should be long enough. You should see your piercer right away if you swell so much that the ends of your nipple rings begin to press uncomfortably into your nipples, though. Prolonged pressure can cause the tissue beneath your jewelry to die (a process called necrosis), which would put you at a higher risk for developing a nipple piercing infection.
To combat swelling, take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), if you can tolerate one. Note that ibuprofen can cause additional bruising if taken right after getting pierced, so over-the-counter drugs containing acetaminophen may be best early in the healing process. Avoid aspirin altogether, since it thins the blood and makes it harder for your body to form clots if you experience occasional bleeding while your nipple piercings are healing.
In addition to taking an anti-inflammatory drug, you can also soothe your swollen nipples with cool compresses. Gel ice packs are better than actual ice, because they don't get as cold. If you use one, wrap it in a clean paper towel or thin cloth before applying it to one side of your chest for 10-15 minutes. Replace the towel before applying a fresh gel pack to your other nipple. Alternatively, you can soak a clean washcloth in cold water, ring it out, and apply it to one side of your chest. Use a second washcloth soaked in cold water to treat your opposite nipple instead of reusing the first washcloth to avoid transferring bacteria from one nipple piercing to the other.
Discomfort During Menstruation
Women with nipple piercings often complain that their breasts are extra sore and tender to the touch during their menstrual cycles. The larger a woman's breasts, the greater the discomfort tends to be, although this can be an issue for smaller-breasted women, too. The longer you have your nipple piercings, the less likely they'll be to contribute to additional soreness and tenderness during menstruation. In the meantime, you can take the edge off of your discomfort by using cool compresses and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, following the guidelines in the "Swelling" section above.
Sometimes despite your best efforts, you may develop a nipple piercing infection in one or both fistulas. The signs to watch out for are discharge of thick, yellowish pus, red streaks radiating out from your piercing(s), skin that's hot to the touch, and sometimes fever. If you notice the signs early, you may be able to combat an infection by ramping up your nipple piercing aftercare routine. Do 2-3 full sea salt solution soaks per day, and add an antiseptic piercing rinse or antiseptic swabs to your regime once or twice a day after your full soaks or in between to get the full benefit of the antiseptic. If you haven't been incorporating tea tree oil into your sea salt solution soaks, you should start as soon as you see the first sign of infection. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that will enhance your sea salt solutions and help combat infection.
You should see signs of improvement within a few days after ramping up your aftercare regime. If you don't, or if your infection gets worse, see your family doctor right away. S/he may prescribe an antibiotic to combat the infection. Don't fret if your doctor tells you it would be best to remove your nipple rings. It's actually better to keep your fistulas open to encourage drainage and prevent an abscess from forming. If you do decide to remove your nipple rings, make sure you continue doing full sea salt solution soaks and misting your nipples with piercing aftercare spray 3-6 times per day in between soaks to keep your fistulas flushed as they close up.
Hypergranulation Around Nipple Piercings
Hypergranulation may occur around nipple piercings due to prolonged pressure and/or moisture caused by factors like excessive sweating and tight jewelry. It may present as a ring of angry red, swollen tissue around a piercing site or as a single red bump that appears fluid-filled at the edge of a fistula (see example to left). The coloring and lumpiness of hypergranulations cause many people to mistakenly think they've developed a keloid scar, but very few people are actually prone to keloids. One way to tell the difference between the two is that a keloid will keep growing well beyond a piercing site, whereas hypergranulations tend to form immediately around a fistula. Also, a keloid scar wouldn't respond positively to enhanced piercing aftercare the way a hypergranulation issue will.
If you develop one of these notorious red piercing bumps, you can take comfort knowing that it's just a temporary issue that can be easily remedied with a few small changes to your jewelry and aftercare regime. The first step to addressing a hypergranulation is to see your piercer and have your jewelry replaced with a more loosely-fitting barbell. Once the pressure is off your irritated fistula, you should ramp up your aftercare regime and do 2-3 full sea salt solution soaks per day, preferably that's been enhanced with tea tree oil. After cleaning your nipple piercings, blot the tissue dry with a clean tissue to minimize leftover moisture. Don't wipe the skin roughly; just blot gently. Keep up this routine for the next couple weeks, and your hypergranulation issue should subside.
Nipple Piercing Scars
The two most common types of piercing scars that people develop around their nipple piercings or where their nipple rings once were are hypertrophic scars and atrophic scars. A small percentage of the population may experience a third type of scarring issue known as keloid scars. Keloids are typically a genetic issue, so if any of your immediate family members are prone to them, you might be, too. You'll likely know if you're prone to keloids well before getting your nipples pierced. If you know you're prone to them, you should not get any body piercings. If you've never had a keloid scar form around a cut, piercing or other wound, it's highly unlikely that you'll suddenly start having a problem with them.
Hypertrophic scars and atrophic scars are much more common than keloids. Hypertrophic scars are raised scars that often have roughly-textured tops, that are typically flesh tone, and that form immediately around piercing sites when they occur. (The ring around the right side of the man's nipple piercing fistula shown to the right is an example of a hypertrophic scar.) Atrophic scars have a similar composition to hypertrophic scars, but they're recessed scars that usually only develop at retired piercing sites when the scar tissue falls short of filling a closed fistula, leaving you with an indent where your piercing hole was.
If you develop a hypertrophic scar around the side of one of your nipple piercings, or if you retire your nipple rings and develop atrophic scars, you can treat them with silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil. Neither product should be used during the first 12 months after getting your nipples pierced, because they could clog your fistulas, trapping in debris or bacteria and potentially leading to an infection. Once your nipple piercings are well healed, though, it's perfectly safe to massage a small amount of either silicone gel or jojoba oil into your scar tissue twice a day until the scar is sufficiently minimized or eliminated.
Keloid scars require medical intervention to treat. If you were to develop one around a nipple piercing, you'd need to see a dermatologist to address it. The doctor may offer you one or a combination of several treatment options, such as cryotherapy to freeze off the scar tissue, laser therapy to burn your scar off, surgical removal, and/or steroid injections to shrink the scar tissue. Some doctors also recommend using silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil as a supplement to other keloid scar treatments.
More Nipple Piercing Information
We offer a variety of other nipple piercing articles and informative blog posts that you can reference, if you're looking for additional nipple piercing information to supplement what you've learned here. Check out the following links for more nipple piercing info or tips on choosing new nipple rings:
- Do Nipple Piercings Hurt? Blog Post
- Nipple Piercing FAQs Article
- Basic Nipple Piercing Info Article
- Can You Breastfeed With Nipple Piercings? Blog Post
- Time for New Nipple Jewelry? Blog Post
- Choosing the Best Nipple Jewelry Article
- Nipple Shield Options Article
- How to Put on a Nipple Shield Article
- Nipple Piercing Resources Article
In addition to our informative nipple piercing articles and blog posts, you can also find lots of great nipple piercing info in our forum. Read about other people's nipple piercing experiences, or sign up for an account and post your own questions. Our knowledgeable moderators and community members will respond with helpful suggestions and nipple piercing information.
If you're interested in seeing nipple piercing pictures, check out our online photo gallery. Once you're signed into your account, you'll be able to see both male nipple piercing pictures and female nipple piercing pictures. (Note: Only logged-in members age 18 or older can view mature content like our female nipple piercing pictures.) You can also post photos of your own piercings and comment on other people's body mod photos once you're a member of our online community. If you need help navigating and utilizing the forum or gallery, read our How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles.