Whether you've just gotten a new navel piercing or are thinking about getting one, it's important to know what proper belly button piercing aftercare entails. We have all the info you need to ensure that your belly piercing heals as quickly and well as possible, including how to clean a new belly button piercing, what types of clothing to wear while yours is healing, the best types of jewelry for a healing belly button piercing, what to do if you suspect you have an infection or other piercing issue, and more.
What You Need to Know before You Get a Navel Piercing
If you want your new belly button piercing to heal well, there are a few things you should know before you even get pierced. By talking to your piercer about these things before s/he pierces you, you'll be taking steps to ensure that your new belly button piercing heals properly and with as few issues as possible.
- If you have an outie, ask your piercer how s/he would place a belly piercing on you. S/he may recommend doing a full-on surface piercing above your belly button, which is a position that's more likely to result in migration or rejection of your belly piercing jewelry. If this is the only option for you, ask your piercer to pierce you at a heavier gauge — preferably no smaller than 12g. The heavier your belly piercing jewelry and the more deeply you're pierced, the less likely your new belly button piercing will be to migrate out or reject entirely. This is true even for standard-placement belly button piercings; heavier-gauge jewelry is less likely to migrate out than finer-gauge jewelry (e.g. 16g and smaller).
- Your piercer may offer you the choice between a bent barbell, a captive ring, or a circular barbell for your belly button piercing starter jewelry. A bent barbell is ideal, because it's less likely to be constantly irritated by clothing the way a captive ring could be. Circular barbells are your second-best option. Whichever way you go, the most important thing is that your jewelry is sufficiently long enough so that it won't put pressure on your healing piercing.
- Most piercers will encourage you to go with either a titanium or surgical steel barbell. Titanium is the better of the two options, because it's the most inert metal and least likely to trigger an allergic reaction. If you have particularly sensitive skin or think your piercing would heal better if you had more flexible jewelry, then ask for a PTFE belly button ring (also called BioPlast or BioFlex). If you play sports, PTFE jewelry is the safest type of jewelry to wear in a healing belly button piercing — if your coach will even let you have a belly piercing, that is. Find out before you spend money getting a piercing you may not be able to keep.
Basic Belly Button Piercing Aftercare
Once you've been pierced, it's incredibly important to keep your new belly button piercing clean and attend to it in other ways to ensure that it heals fully and well. In general, you should eat nutritiously, stay hydrated, get quality sleep, and practice good hygiene. The better nourished, hydrated and rested you are and the more cleanly you are overall, the stronger your immune system will be. A strong immune system that isn't distracted by other issues, like exhaustion or malnutrition, can focus all of its energy on healing your new navel piercing.
It's also important to rinse your belly button piercing with a saline wash like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray 3 to 6 times a day. Two of those rinses should be full sea salt solution soaks, with aftercare spray mistings in between. To do a full sea salt solution soak, you can either saturate cotton balls with store-bought aftercare spray and apply them one-at-a-time for a total of 5 minutes, or you can make a homemade sea salt solution and apply it using a small container or cotton balls. If you're interested in making a homemade sea salt solution, use our recipe below.
- Either buy sterile water or boil water for 5 minutes to sterilize it.
- Measure out 1 cup of water (in a heat-safe container, if you boiled your own).
- Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt. Table salt isn't a good alternative to sea salt, because it contains iodine. Sea salt from the Dead Sea, like our Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt, is the best kind of sea salt to use.
- Add 2–3 drops of tea tree oil for its moisturizing and antiseptic properties, if desired. (We offer a Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt & Tea Tree Oil Combo Pack that will save you money, if you need both ingredients.)
- Let the mixture cool to a comfortable temperature.
- Fill a small container, like a shot glass or our 3oz disposable rinse cups, with your homemade sea salt solution. Bend over, and press the rim of the cup to your stomach so that it encompasses your belly button piercing. Hold the cup firmly against your skin as you sit upright. Hold it in place for 5 minutes, and then throw away the used solution. Alternatively, you can soak cotton balls in your sea salt solution and apply them to your belly button piercing one-at-a-time for a total of 5 minutes.
Showering with a New Belly Button Piercing
You should never soap up a new belly piercing directly, because soap can dry out your skin and irritate a new piercing. It's okay if sudsy water runs over your belly button piercing when you're showering, but you should wash it exclusively with sea salt solution.
Moisturizers & New Navel Piercings
You should really never apply creams, balms or oils to a new belly button piercing, with the exception of emu oil. Most ointments and creams will clog a healing fistula, potentially trapping in bacteria and leading to infection. Emu oil is different than other oils, though. It's a highly-moisturizing, deeply-penetrating nutritional supplement for the skin that won't clog your pores and that will allow your skin to breathe during the healing process. It's rich in essential fatty acids that aid in new cell development, promote faster healing and reduce or eliminate scarring. Even though it won't clog your pores, you should still be careful when applying emu oil to a new belly button piercing and just massage it into the skin around your piercing rather than slathering it thickly over top of your piercing.
If you want an even lighter moisturizer, just add tea tree oil to your sea salt solution soaks. You can either mix a couple drops of tea tree oil into a batch of homemade sea salt solution or add a single drop to each saline-soaked cotton ball you apply, if you're strictly using store-bought saline wash. Don't ever apply tea tree oil directly to your skin. It requires a carrier, like another oil (which isn't good for new piercings) or sea salt solution.
What Not to Wear While Your Navel Piercing Heals
Belly button piercings are located right where your body folds in half when you bend over, which means that both physical movement and clothes are liable to irritate your new belly piercing constantly. Wearing tight clothing will only make things worse. Be ready to commit to a lighter, more flowy wardrobe for the first 6-8 weeks after getting pierced to ensure that your clothing causes as few problems as possible. Swear off skinny jeans, spandex exercise pants, and every other piece of tight-fitting clothing you own until your piercing is well healed. In the interim, it's best to wear loose, comfortable clothing like skirts, dresses, sweatpants, low-rise pants with a waistline that sits well below your belly piercing, and cotton underwear.
Addressing Belly Button Piercing Problems
Belly button piercings can be fickle healers, because of where they're located, the fact that they're surface piercings, and some people's laissez-faire attitude towards belly piercing aftercare. There are several different problems that may arise during the belly button piercing healing process for any one of these reasons. It's important to familiarize yourself with the issues that can arise so you recognize one if you encounter it and deal with it swiftly and appropriately.
Some people swell more than others after getting a new piercing. Swelling isn't necessarily and issue you should be concerned about unless you swell so much that your jewelry presses into your skin in an uncomfortable way. If that happens, see your piercer immediately and ask him or her to swap out your current belly button ring for one with a longer barbell. Otherwise, the pressure could cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection.
Discharge of Lymph
Lymph is a clear fluid that the body naturally excretes during the belly piercing healing process. It's totally normal and nothing to worry about. Lymph dries to a whitish crust, which most people refer to as "crusties". You should never twist, turn or slide your belly button ring to loosen crusties. Simply apply a sea salt solution-soaked cotton ball to soften them, and then gently wipe the crusties away with a clean tissue.
Hypergranulation is an issue that occurs as the result of excess moisture and/or pressure, which can both be issues with new belly button piercings. It presents as a taut red bump around your fistula (piercing hole) that looks almost fluid-filled. (You can see hypergranulation pictures here.) Many people mistake hypergranulation for keloids forming, but keloids are actually really rare and are more likely to form later on in the healing process than hypergranulation bumps. (Learn more in the "Belly Button Piercing Scars" section below.)
If you experience a hypergranulation issue, you may need to get your piercer to change your jewelry to either a longer bent barbell or a different style of jewelry, like a ring, to eliminate any pressure on your belly button piercing. You should also ramp up your aftercare regime, doing 2-3 full sea salt solution soaks a day and misting your piercing with aftercare spray 3–6 times a day until the issue clears up. You should also reevaluate your wardrobe and focus on wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothing to minimize sweating around your piercing. If you sweat profusely anyway, which can be an issue no matter what you wear in the hot summer months, then you may want to consider using a spray-on deodorant and antiperspirant on your stomach. Shield your piercing anytime you spray deodorant around it, though.
Infected Belly Piercings
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it, infection creeps into a new piercing. The signs to look out for are discharge of thick, yellow pus (not clear lymph, which is benign), red streaks emanating outward from your piercing, skin that's hot to the touch around your piercing, and in extreme cases, fever. If you suspect you have an infected belly button piercing, see your family physician right away and ask if you need an antibiotic. If s/he tells you to take out your jewelry, don't worry; it's actually better to leave your jewelry in while taking your antibiotic so that infected fluids have a way to drain out. Removing your jewelry could potentially cause an abscess, so it's better to leave it in. Just take your antibiotic on schedule and clean your belly piercing regularly. You should do full sea salt solution soaks 2-3 times a day and mist your piercing with aftercare spray 3–6 times a day until the infection clears up.
Some people develop hypertrophic scars around their belly button piercings, which present as a small, circular scar immediately around the fistula that has a relatively flat top with a slightly-textured surface. Fewer people still will develop keloids around their belly button piercings. Keloids are a genetic issue that affect a very small percentage of the population, and they present as smooth-surfaced, bulbous, reddish scars that grow excessively past the area immediately surrounding a piercing. If you later remove your belly button piercing, you could end up with a third type of scar known as an atrophic scar, which is a recessed scar with a roughly-textured surface that doesn't quite fill the hole where a piercing was.
Jojoba oil and silicone scar therapy gels are the best options for treating hypertrophic scars and atrophic scars. Simply massage one of these ointments into the scar tissue twice a day for as many weeks or months as it takes to diminish the appearance of your belly piercing scar. You should wait until your piercing is fully healed before beginning either of these treatments, though, since they could clog your healing fistula.
Keloid scars can be more difficult to treat, and they often require a dermatologist's intervention to eliminate. Although silicone scar therapy gel can help reduce the appearance of keloids in some cases, most people have to either have them surgically removed, lasered, frozen off, or treated with corticosteroids to shrink them.
You can learn more about the different types of belly button piercing scars you may encounter and how best to treat them in our blog post, Identifying & Minimizing Body Piercing Scars.
Changing Your Belly Button Ring
It takes most belly button piercings at least 3 to 6 months to heal, but for those who have had problems during the healing process, it can take up to a year for a navel piercing to fully heal. You should not attempt to change your jewelry before the 6 month mark, unless you have a problem with swelling or an allergic reaction to your jewelry material. In that case, get your piercer to help you change your jewelry. Even after 6 months, you may want to ask your piercer to help you swap out your starter belly ring for a new one, since it can be hard to do yourself until your fistula is well-established and reinforced.
If you want to try to change your belly button ring yourself the first time, consider using a threaded taper to help you insert your new barbell. Make sure the new barbell is exactly the same gauge as the starter one, too, so you don't have trouble inserting it. Whether or not you use a taper, consider replacing your starter belly ring with an internally-threaded belly button ring so you won't have to worry about exposed threads scraping and irritating your fistula when you insert it. If you have trouble getting your new jewelry in, you can add a small drop of a water-based lubricant like Astroglide to the taper or jewelry to help ease it into your belly piercing. Don't overdo it on the lube, though; it can turn changing your jewelry into a slippery, unmanageable mess.
More Belly Button Piercing Info
We offer a variety of informative belly piercing articles in our Information Center that you might want to reference for tips on buying new belly rings, caring for your belly piercing and more. Here are a few articles you may find helpful:
- The Belly Button Piercing & Healing Process
- Belly Button Piercing FAQs
- Pregnant & Pierced
- How to Modify Your Belly Ring
- Quick Tips for Choosing a Belly Button Ring
- How to Buy the Best Belly Rings for You
- Tips for Picking a Custom Belly Ring
- Investing in a Gold Belly Button Ring
- What You Need to Know About Cheap Belly Button Rings
- When Good Piercings Go Bad
- Piercing Retainers
- Belly Piercing Resources