Happy summer! In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, it's "summertime, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high." It's time to hit the pool, take a road trip to the beach, enjoy a snow cone or soft-serve ice cream, barbeque with friends, crack some crabs, eat freshly picked corn on the cob, and do everything else that's a quintessentially summertime activity. You might even be planning to celebrate the season with a new piercing, like a belly button piercing or nipple piercings you can show off at the beach. If so, it's important to know how to care for your new piercing during the dog days of summer.
What You Need to Know Before Getting a Piercing This Summer
There are a few things you should keep in mind before you get a new piercing this summer. Most importantly, you won't be able to go swimming in a pool or soak in a hot tub while your piercing is healing, because chlorine or no, communal water is riddled with bacteria that could harm a new piercing. Research the healing times for any piercings you're considering getting. If the piercing you want will take more than 4-6 weeks to heal, decide if you can avoid the temptation of diving into a refreshing swimming pool until later in the summer. Even though salt water is therapeutic for healing piercings, a trip to the beach is also a bad idea while a new piercing is healing. All those granules of sand can spell big trouble for a delicate new piercing. If you don't mind waiting until mid- to late-summer to go swimming in a pool or the ocean and the piercing you want will be healed by then, then go for it! You may want to hold off until the fall to get nipple piercings, cartilage piercings, belly button piercings, or other piercings with longer healing times, though, because you'll miss out on enjoying the water this summer if you get one of those piercings now.
Another thing to keep in mind when choosing a new piercing to debut this summer is how amorous this season tends to be. The hotter it gets outside, the more people want to kiss and canoodle, but those activities are off-limits for some new piercings while they're healing. You'll have to keep your partner away from a new tongue piercing, oral web piercing, lip piercing, cheek piercings, nipple piercings, or genital piercing until fully healed, which can be tough during romance-filled summer months. If you know you can practice tough love and keep your partner's hands and mouth off your new piercing, then you're clear to get any piercing you want.
One last factor to consider is summer allergies. If you're highly allergic to flower, tree or grass pollens in particular, you may want to hold off until fall or winter to get a nostril piercing, septum piercing, rhino piercing, or nasallang piercing. If you can tolerate taking an antihistamine (e.g. Benadryl) or other allergy medicine that will dry up your runny nose, then it should be fine to proceed with a nose piercing. You just want to avoid constantly blowing your nose with any type of new nose piercing, because you could irritate it and potentially trigger an infection to develop.
Piercing aftercare varies somewhat for different types of piercings, but there are a few general guidelines you should follow for any new piercing you get this summer. Make sure to follow the aftercare instructions your piercer provides, and supplement them with tips from our piercing aftercare articles and the suggestions below.
While Your New Piercing Heals, Do...
- Keep Your New Piercing Clean. Spritz external piercings 3-6 times per day with a quality sea salt-based piercing cleanser like Recovery Aftercare Piercing Spray. For oral piercings, rinse your mouth with a sea salt mouthwash like H2Ocean's Arctic or Lemon Ice Oral Rinse 3-6 times per day, particularly after eating. You should also do two full five-minute sea salt solution (SSS) soaks or swishes per day using either a store-bought piercing aftercare solution or homemade sea salt solution. To make your own SSS, boil tap water for five minutes to sterilize it, measure out a cup in a heat-safe container, and stir in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, like Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt From the Dead Sea, until it's fully dissolved. Soak cotton balls in your homemade SSS or saturate them with piercing aftercare spray. Hold a soaked cotton ball to your piercing for about 30 seconds, toss it, and apply a fresh one. Repeat until you've soaked your piercing for five minutes. Make sure to get the front and back of double-sided piercings like ear piercings. When applying SSS to earlobe, nipple or genital piercings, you can sometimes just pour it into a small glass and submerge your piercing in the solution for five minutes. For oral piercings, swish your mouth with SSS for 30 seconds to a minute, spit, and repeat until you've swished for a full five minutes.
- Keep Your Piercing Moisturized. Sometimes the skin around external piercings gets dry. Left untreated, the skin may begin to crack, making you more susceptible to infection. To moisturize an external piercing naturally, add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to a cup of homemade sea salt solution or add a single drop to an aftercare spray-soaked cotton ball before applying it to your piercing. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and moisturizer that will soften your skin and protect you from infection. Other oils, creams, balms, and ointments are not good alternatives to this moisturizing method. These things can clog a healing fistula (piercing hole), trapping in bacteria and triggering an infection to develop.
- Bolster Your Immune System. A new piercing is a wound, and your immune system needs to be as strong as possible to heal it. To strengthen your immune system, eat nutritiously, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, get sufficient, good-quality sleep, and generally practice good hygiene. Avoid other people's germs as best you can by frequently washing your hands, keeping other people's hands and mouths away from your healing piercing, not eating or drinking after anyone else or sharing utensils, and only touching your piercing with clean or gloved hands.
- Be Careful What & How You Eat & Practice Gentle Oral Hygiene With a New Oral Piercing. This applies to tongue piercings, oral web piercings and facial piercings with an oral side, like lip piercings and cheek piercings. All of these types of piercings will be particularly delicate during the first 1-2 weeks, so you'll need to stick to soft foods like bananas, yogurt, applesauce, Jell-O, popsicles, rice, pudding, etc. Avoid hard foods like crusty breads that may scrape or bump your jewelry. Brush your teeth and floss gently, being careful to avoid your new jewelry. You may also want to ask your piercer to give you soft, flexible BioPlast starter jewelry that's less likely to crack a tooth if you chomp down on it or cause gum recession over time.
While Your New Piercing Heals, Don't...
- Take Aspirin or Other Blood Thinners or Drink Alcohol or Excessive Amounts of Caffeine. New piercings are prone to occasional bleeding during the early days of the healing process. It's important that your body can quickly form clots and scabs when any bleeding occurs--something it will struggle to do if you take aspirin or other blood thinners or consume beverages that can thin the blood, like alcoholic drinks and lots of coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
- Twist, Turn or Slide Your Jewelry to Loosen "Crusties". Piercing "crusties" are just dried lymph, a clear fluid the body naturally excretes while healing a wound that tends to dry to a whitish crust around external piercings. Crusties are a normal part of the piercing healing process and nothing to be alarmed about. If they freeze your jewelry in place or otherwise irritate you, just soften them with piercing aftercare spray and then gently wipe them away with a clean tissue. If you turn your jewelry to break them up, you could push some of the crusties into your fistula, which could irritate it. You may also push bacteria inside your piercing, which could trigger an infection. It's best not to play with your jewelry or handle your piercing directly at all during the healing process, so you avoid introducing potentially harmful microorganisms like bacteria or viruses into your piercing. If you have to touch it, only do so with freshly-washed or gloved hands.
- Smoke. Nicotine has a systemic effect that slows down the body's ability to heal, which is why surgeons ask patients to refrain from smoking for a period of time before and after having surgery. Additionally, smoke can dry out oral piercings and facial piercings with an oral side. If you're a smoker, try to quit before getting pierced. If you can't quit entirely, at least cut back or consider supplementing with a product that contains a lower dose of nicotine, like an e-cigarette filled with low nicotine e-juice or nicotine patches, gum and/or lozenges. "Light" cigarettes are not a good alternative; they just contain lighter-flavored tobacco, not less nicotine than regular cigarettes.
- Use Alcohol-Based Mouthwash if You Get an Oral Piercing or a Facial Piercing With an Oral Side. Alcohol is drying, and a dried-out fistula is more susceptible to infection. It's best to stick to sea salt mouthwash while your oral piercing or facial piercing with an oral side is healing. If you feel you need something stronger, you can use an antiseptic oral piercing rinse one to two times a day while your piercing is healing instead of an alcohol-based mouthwash like Listerine.
- Change Your Jewelry Prematurely. There are times when you have to get your jewelry changed before a new piercing is fully healed, like if you're experiencing a piercing problem. In those instances, you should have your piercer change your jewelry for you. Even once you've passed the normal healing time for your new piercing, your fistula will still be delicate. It takes a long time for a fistula to reinforce to the point that you can easily change jewelry whenever you want. Wait until your piercing is fully healed before trying to change your jewelry yourself. Even then, you may want to make your first jewelry change with your piercer present. That way, if you have trouble, your piercer can jump in and help, and you can avoid risking having your fistula close up while you try to get to a piercing shop for assistance. Alternatively, you can pay your piercer a small fee to change your jewelry for you the first time.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to properly care for a new piercing, you'll experience piercing problems like severe swelling, bruising or a piercing infection. By following the piercing care tips above, you're less likely to experience a piercing problem. However, it's a good idea to brush up on the problems you might experience so you can act quickly and appropriately if any issues arise. Read over the most common piercing problems below to educate yourself on what to do if you experience one of these problems.
Severe Swelling Around a Piercing Site
It's common to experience some degree of swelling around a new piercing. That's why piercers tend to outfit people with extra-long or wide-diameter starter jewelry. However, some people experience more severe swelling that can cause their jewelry to press into their skin uncomfortably or possibly even recess into their fistulas. If this happens to you, it's important to act quickly. Extended pressure on a new piercing can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to a piercing infection. If you experience severe swelling, your first order of business should be to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, if you can tolerate it. Start with acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), since it won't thin your blood like aspirin or cause excess bruising like ibuprofen (e.g. Advil). If acetaminophen doesn't help, you can try ibuprofen 4-6 hours later (or 12 hours later if you took extended-release acetaminophen). You should also apply a cold compress to your piercing. For external piercings, you can wrap a small gel ice pack in a paper towel or a thin, clean hand towel, and press it gently against your piercing for 10-15 minutes. Any longer and the cold could damage the tissue around your piercing. If you don't have a gel pack handy, soak a clean washcloth in ice water, ring it out, and apply it to your piercing until the washcloth warms up. Do not reapply the same washcloth. Get a fresh one if you want to do a second cold compress. For a severely swollen oral piercing, roll ice chips around your mouth or suck gently on a popsicle.
If your swelling doesn't sufficiently subside within an hour of taking an anti-inflammatory and/or applying cold therapy to your piercing, see your piercer right away. S/he will be able to swap out your body jewelry for a longer barbell or a larger captive ring that will reduce the pressure on your fistula until the swelling subsides. Once the swelling goes down and stays down, you can go back to your piercer to have your original starter jewelry reinserted, so the extra-large jewelry your piercer temporarily inserted doesn't become a hazard.
Bruising & Bleeding
Some people bruise more easily than others, and anyone can experience occasional bleeding after getting a new piercing. To minimize bruising, avoid taking ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) and aspirin and drinking alcoholic beverages for the first couple weeks after getting pierced. Alcohol and aspirin can also contribute to excessive bleeding and an inability to properly form blood clots, so you have two good reasons to avoid these things after getting pierced.
Any bruising that does occur after you get a new piercing should be remedied by your body with time, unless you develop a severely swollen bruise called a hematoma. Hematomas sometimes require medical intervention when they're extremely large or they continue bleeding internally. If you're concerned about the degree of swelling and bruising around your piercing, talk to your family doctor.
You can minimize the chances of occasional bleeding by avoiding playing with your jewelry and twisting/turning/sliding jewelry to break up dried lymph ("crusties"). If crusties freeze your jewelry in place or become a nuisance, soften them with piercing aftercare spray, and then gently wipe them away with a clean tissue. If at any point you experience excessive bleeding that doesn't slow and begin to clot within a few minutes, call your family physician or go to either your local emergency room or urgent care center for assistance.
Piercing Migration & Rejection
Certain piercings are more prone to migration and rejection than others, particularly dermal piercings and surface piercings like nape piercings, Christina piercings and frenum piercings. You can minimize your chances of migration and rejection from the get-go by asking your piercer to pierce you with the heaviest-gauge needle and jewelry that's appropriate for your piercing and by having him or her pierce you as deeply as possible. Performing proper piercing aftercare on a daily basis will also help keep your jewelry where it should be. If your jewelry begins to migrate towards the surface of your skin, you should strongly consider removing it and getting re-pierced later, since complete rejection can leave you with unsightly piercing scars. If you have to remove your jewelry, continue flushing your fistula with sea salt solution twice a day and misting it with piercing aftercare spray 3-6 times a day until it's fully closed to avoid developing an abscess or other infection.
Hypergranulations tend to present in one of two ways around new piercings. You may develop a reddish-purple bump alongside your piercing that appears fluid-filled, or the skin around your piercing may take on an angry red, puffy appearance. Hypergranulations are very common with new piercings, and they're also commonly mistaken for keloid scars. Keloids only impact a small percentage of the population, and they're noticeably different from hypergranulations in one significant way: they keep growing well beyond a piercing site rather than forming alongside or around a piercing the way hypergranulations do. If a mysterious piercing bump or lumpy, irritated tissue forms around your piercing, it's more likely to be a hypergranulation issue than a keloid scar.
Hypergranulations typically form in response to a combination of excess pressure and moisture at a piercing site. If you develop a hypergranulation, the first thing you should do is see your piercer for a body jewelry change. Once you have a longer barbell or larger captive ring inserted, the pressure will be off your piercing. Since excess pressure is typically what traps moisture in, the moisture factor should also be eliminated by a jewelry change. After getting your jewelry replaced, ramp up your piercing aftercare regime. Do 2-3 full sea salt solution soaks or swishes per day and continue misting your piercing with aftercare spray 3-6 times per day until the hypergranulation issue subsides. If you feel it's necessary, you can also apply an antiseptic piercing rinse or antiseptic swabs to your piercing once or twice a day in between your full soaks and aftercare spray spritzes. Alternatively or in addition to using an antiseptic rinse, you can add tea tree oil to your full sea salt solution soaks to take advantage of its antiseptic and moisturizing properties. Just add 1 drop to each aftercare spray-soaked cotton ball you apply, or add 2-3 drops to a cup of homemade sea salt solution. You should see results within 1-2 weeks of having your jewelry changed and ramping up your piercing aftercare routine.
Signs of infection include dicharge of thick, yellowish pus from a piercing site, red streaks radiating from a piercing, skin that's hot to the touch, and/or fever. If you begin to see signs of an infection developing in a new piercing, ramp up your piercing aftercare regime as suggested in the Hypergranulation section above. If you don't start seeing results within a couple days or if your symptoms get worse at any point, see your family doctor right away. S/he may prescribe an antibiotic for your piercing infection. If one is prescribed, take the whole prescription as indicated. Stopping an antibiotic prematurely can feed an infection, causing it to come back stronger and more resistant to antibiotics. You should also keep up your enhanced piercing aftercare regime while taking the antibiotic.
It's best to leave your jewelry in while treating a piercing infection. Removing your jewelry may make you more susceptible to developing an abscess, where the infection becomes trapped inside a partially-closed fistula. If you really want to remove your jewelry, just make sure you keep up with your piercing aftercare regime while the fistula closes. Keeping your fistula flushed will help you avoid developing an abscess.
There are three types of piercing scars: hypertrophic (raised) scars, atrophic (recessed) scars, and keloid scars, which grow out of control well beyond a piercing site. Only a small percentage of the population is prone to keloid scarring, which is a hereditary issue. If you know you're prone to keloids or are concerned you may be because someone in your immediate family gets them around wounds, you should avoid all forms of body modification, including piercings.
Read the piercing scar descriptions below to learn what characteristics define each type and how to minimize piercing scars.
Hypertrophic scars are raised, flesh-tone scars with roughly-textured surfaces that form immediately around a piercing or over top of a retired piercing. Keeping up with proper piercing aftercare during the healing process and while retired piercings are closing can help minimize your chances of developing a hypertrophic scar. If one does form around or over top of a piercing site, you can minimize the scar tissue by applying a small amount of silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil to the scar tissue twice a day for as many weeks or months as it takes to get satisfactory results.
Atrophic scars are recessed, flesh-tone scars with roughly-textured surfaces that form where retired piercings once were. They're caused by the body under-producing collagen when closing a fistula. You can minimize your chances of developing an atrophic scar in a retired fistula by regularly cleaning it with sea salt solution while the hole closes. If you develop a scar despite your best efforts, apply a small amount of silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil twice a day until the scar tissue is sufficiently minimized or eliminated.
Keloid scars are bulbous, smooth-surfaced, purplish-red scars that grow excessively, well beyond a piercing site or other wound. Keloids require medical intervention by a dermatologist to treat. Treatment methods include cryotherapy to freeze off scar tissue, laser therapy to burn it off, corticosteroid injections to shrink the scar tissue, surgical removal, or a combination of treatments that may also include applying a silicone scar therapy gel at home.
For more summertime body mod, jewelry and alternative apparel tips, check out these other summertime blog posts:
- Is Your Body Beach-Ready?
- Don't Check Out of Summer Just Yet; Refresh Your Look Instead
- Keep Your Cool: Hot Weather Doesn't Justify Lookin' a Hot Mess
If you'd like to learn more about proper piercing aftercare for specific piercings, check out our Piercing Aftercare section. It's filled with helpful articles about aftercare for various types of body piercings and tattoos. We also have a Piercing Information section filled with useful articles about all aspects of the piercing process, piercing care, body jewelry, and more.
Be sure to check out our online community for additional information and piercing pictures, too. After you sign up for a Painful Pleasures account, you can read and respond to posts in our forum, post your own questions for our knowledgeable moderators and community members to answer, share pictures of your piercings and other body mods in our photo gallery, view piercing photos other people have shared, rate and comment on photos, and much more.