If you're considering getting a lip piercing or have just gotten a labret piercing, snake bites or other bites, a Monroe piercing, a Medusa piercing, or another type of lip piercing, it's important to learn how to care for your new piercing(s) to ensure that they heal properly and last for as many years as you want to keep them. In this lip piercing care guide, we'll teach you how to choose a good starter lip ring, proper lip piercing aftercare, how to identify and address different types of lip piercing problems, when it's safe to change your jewelry for the first time, and more.
Before You Get a Lip Piercing...
With the exception of vertical labret piercings, most lip piercings have a facial side and an oral side. The end of the lip piercing jewelry that's in your mouth may rub against your gums or occasionally get caught between your teeth, particularly during the early days of the healing process when you're wearing an extra-long labret stud to accommodate any swelling that occurs after you're pierced. Prolonged friction between your labret jewelry and your gums can cause your gums to recede over time, and chomping down on a metal barbell end could cause you to crack a tooth. That's why it's important to get lip piercing jewelry that will be as gentle on your mouth as possible.
BioPlast labret studs make ideal starter lip piercing jewelry, because they're made of a soft, flexible material that's less likely to irritate your gums or damage your teeth than steel or titanium labret jewelry. Before you get a lip piercing, talk to your piercer about your BioPlast labret jewelry options. If s/he doesn't have BioPlast labret jewelry you're crazy about, you can order BioPlast labret studs and tops from Painful Pleasures and either have us autoclave your labret jewelry for you before shipping it to you or pay your piercer to sterilize your new jewelry before inserting it. If you order BioPlast labret jewelry from us, you should first ask your piercer what length shaft s/he thinks would be best for you. Remember that your starter piercing jewelry needs to be extra long in case your lip swells severely after you're pierced. Once your lip piercing is fully healed, you can switch to a shorter, more closely-fitting labret stud.
Lip Piercing Aftercare
As with any piercing, there are some general rules you should follow to keep your immune system healthy and help your new lip piercing heal quickly and well. Make sure you eat nutritiously, get plenty of quality sleep, stay hydrated, and practice good hygiene overall. You should also avoid nicotine, alcohol, elicit drugs, aspirin, excessive amounts of caffeine, emotional stress, eating and drinking after people, and other people's bodily fluids. That means no wet kissing or oral sex while your lip piercing is healing. It may take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3+ months for your lip piercing to heal, depending on what type of lip piercing you get and how thorough your lip piercing care is. Most lip piercings take between 6 and 8 weeks to fully heal, but lip piercing options like joker bites (a.k.a. Dahlia piercings) and Monroe piercings (a.k.a. Crawford or Madonna piercings) typically take 3 months or more to heal. (Learn more about types of lip piercings.)
There are some things you definitely should do and some things you absolutely should not do during the lip piercing healing process. You should:
- Rinse the outside of your lip piercing with a lip piercing care product like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray 3-6 times per day.
- Rinse the inside of your mouth with an oral rinse like Recovery Oral Piercing Aftercare - Alcohol Free Mouthwash 3-6 times per day.
- Protect your lip piercing from trauma by not playing with your lip ring, letting your jewelry get caught on clothing when getting dressed, or banging the side of your lip ring that's in your mouth with your toothbrush when brushing your teeth.
- Gently remove crusties (clear lymph that dries to a whitish crust) by softening them with sea salt solution before wiping them away with a tissue.
- Treat dry, irritated skin with moisturizing, antiseptic tea tree oil-infused sea salt solution. (See recipe below.)
- Be careful what you eat while your lip piercing is healing, particularly during the first week or two. Take small bites of food and chew gently, and avoid foods that may irritate your lip piercing, like chips and crusty bread.
While your lip piercing is healing, you should avoid the following things:
- Don't smoke. Smoke is drying and has a systemic effect that slows down your body's ability to heal. If you're a regular smoker, you should consider buying an e-cigarette that generates water vapor instead of smoke.
- Avoid aspirin and excess amounts of caffeine, particularly during the first few days to a week after getting pierced. These things can thin your blood and make it harder for your body to clot if your fistula (piercing hole) bleeds off and on for a few days after you're pierced.
- Don't twist, turn or slide your jewelry to loosen crusties. You could push bacteria into your healing fistula or cause minor bleeding.
- Try not to touch your piercing unless you have to, and only then with freshly-washed or gloved hands. (Read our Guidelines for Hand Hygiene article to learn about proper hand-washing and hand sanitizer application methods that will help you stay well.)
- Do not use alcohol-based mouthwash while your lip piercing is healing, because it can dry out the oral side of your piercing.
- Don't French kiss anyone, share food or drinks, chew on foreign objects, or engage in oral sex. All these things are likely to introduce germs into your body that could directly infect your lip piercing or give you a cold or flu that would distract your immune system from focusing its full attention on healing your lip piercing.
- Absolutely do not apply creams, oils, ointments, or balms to your lip piercing if you have dry skin or are worried you're getting an infection. Things like triple antibiotic ointment and skin cream could clog your fistula, trapping in bacteria or debris and leading to an infection. Use our sea salt solution and tea tree oil remedy below to moisturize your skin instead.
- You can rinse your piercing or allow soapy water to flow over it briefly, but you shouldn't directly soap up your piercing or submerge your face in water. Avoid swimming, deep soaks in a bath tub, etc., until your lip piercing is fully healed. When you wash your face, try to keep soap away from your lip piercing to avoid drying it out.
- Don't change your labret jewelry prematurely. The only exception is if you're having a jewelry-related lip piercing problem, like an allergic reaction or significant swelling that's rendered your lip stud too short or that's causing your lip ring to cut into your lip.
In the past, piercers used to frequently recommend cleaning new piercings with antibacterial soap. Science has since taught us that simple sea salt solution is the absolute best thing to use to clean healing piercings, though, because salt is already present in the body at the cellular level and it's a natural healer. Our Recovery Aftercare line includes several great sea salt-based products you can use to clean your lip piercing. If you prefer store-bought solutions, try our Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray on the external side of your lip piercing and Recovery Oral Piercing Aftercare - Alcohol Free Mouthwash to rinse the oral side of your lip piercing. Those who like to make their own sea salt solution can use our Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt From the Dead Sea, or pick up a sea salt and tea tree oil combo pack so you have tea tree oil on hand if the skin around the outside of your lip piercing gets dry or starts to crack. Buying both ingredients together will save you money, too.
To make your own sea salt solution, bring tap water to a roiling boil for at least 5 minutes to sterilize it, or buy sterile water. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (not table salt, which contains iodine). For oral use, just wait for the mixture to cool to a comfortable temperature before swishing the solution around your mouth. When using homemade sea salt solution externally, you can add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to moisturize your skin. Tea tree oil has natural antiseptic properties in addition to being a moisturizer, so if your piercing is irritated or if your skin has gotten so dry that it's starting to crack, making you more susceptible to infection, it's a great additive that will enhance the natural healing properties of your sea salt solution soaks.
You should do 5 minute-long sea salt solution soaks twice a day during the first few weeks of the lip piercing healing process. When using store-bought saline spray, just soak a cotton ball with it and hold it against the outside of your lip piercing for a minute, then repeat with fresh cotton balls for a total of 5 minutes. Alternatively, you can use cotton balls soaked in homemade sea salt solution. You'll also need to swish oral sea salt mouthwash around your mouth for 5 minutes twice a day. In between your full soaks and oral rinses, you should mist the outside of your piercing with saline spray and swish your mouth morning, night and after eating anything to dislodge any food particles that get stuck in your fistula. When performing regular oral hygiene, brush your teeth and floss before you use saline spray and sea salt mouthwash so that they're the last thing that hits your piercing and you get their full benefit.
In general, antiseptic mouthwash and antiseptic piercing sprays aren't necessary to maintain the health of a healing lip piercing. However, if you suspect you're developing an infection, you can incorporate an antiseptic cleaner like X-Pressions Xtra Strength Antiseptic Piercing Aftercare Rinse (made by aftercare industry leader Tattoo Goo) into your lip piercing cleaning regime once or twice a day, as needed. X-Pressions antiseptic piercing rinse is intended for both external and internal use, so you can use it to clean both the inside and outside of your irritated lip piercing. Alternatively, you could dilute hydrogen peroxide per the bottle's instructions for use as a mouthwash, if that's all you have handy. Never apply full-strength hydrogen peroxide to a healing piercing.
There are a number of lip piercing problems that you may encounter during the healing process, particularly if you aren't good about following the recommendations above. Familiarize yourself with these issues so that you can identify and address them quickly if you encounter any of them.
Discharge of Lymph
It's perfectly normal for the body to excrete lymph from a healing fistula. Lymph is a mostly clear fluid that dries to a whitish crust that piercing enthusiasts call "crusties". On the oral side of your piercing, lymph may present as wet clear or whitish strands that can be easily eliminated with a quick sea salt mouthwash rinse. Externally, lymph is more likely to dry around your piercing, getting hard and crusty and occasionally freezing your labret jewelry in place. You should never twist, turn or slide your lip ring to break up crusties. You're liable to cause bleeding and you could push bacteria into your healing piercing, making you more susceptible to infection. Instead, you should saturate the outside of your lip piercing with piercing aftercare spray to soften the crusties, then gently wipe them away with a clean tissue or cotton swab.
It's normal to have some swelling after getting a lip piercing, and your starter jewelry should be long enough to accommodate any swelling that occurs. However, if you have such significant swelling that your labret stud begins to press into your lip uncomfortably, you have to act immediately. If you can tolerate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil (not aspirin), take some and head over to your local piercing shop. Your piercer will need to replace your jewelry with a longer labret stud or more loosely-fitting lip ring or lip loop, at least until the swelling subsides. Leaving lip piercing jewelry that's too tight in for a prolonged period of time can cause necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to infection.
Signs of a lip piercing infection include discharge of thick, yellowish pus, red streaks radiating from your lip piercing, skin that's hot to the touch, and occasionally fever. If you notice a change in the discharge coming from your fistula or any of the other signs of a lip piercing infection, you need to ramp up your aftercare regime ASAP. Adding tea tree oil to your homemade sea salt solution or putting a drop of tea tree oil on a piercing aftercare spray-soaked cotton ball each time you apply one will give you a fighting chance of beating the infection before it takes such deep root that only antibiotics will address the problem. (Remember: Only use tea tree oil-infused sea salt solution externally.) You should also consider adding an antiseptic mouthwash to your daily cleaning routine, like Tattoo Goo's X-Pressions Antiseptic Piercing Aftercare Rinse or hydrogen peroxide that's been diluted per the bottle's instructions for use as a mouthwash. X-Pressions Extra Strength Antiseptic Piercing Swabs or rinse may also be used to clean the outside of your lip piercing. Don't overdo it on the antiseptic piercing products, though. If you use them too frequently, you could compound your problem instead of making strides to heal your lip piercing infection. Cleaning with antiseptic solution 1-2 times per day should be sufficient.
If you don't see an improvement after a couple days of enhanced lip piercing aftercare or if your infection seems to be getting worse, see your family doctor right away. S/he will evaluate the problem and prescribe an antibiotic if it's needed. Make sure you take the full course of antibiotics if your doctor prescribes them, and keep up with your lip piercing cleaning routine while you take them. You should also consider taking a probiotic supplement and eat lots of yogurt with live and active cultures while on antibiotics and for a few days to a week after finishing the course, to maintain the good bacteria in your intestinal track and (for women) avoid a yeast infection.
Don't panic if your doctor recommends removing your lip piercing jewelry. It's actually safer to leave it in, because allowing a fistula to close up while bacteria is trapped inside can lead to an abscess. Just make sure you do 2-3 full sea salt solution soaks and oral rinses per day while taking your antibiotic, mist the outside of your piercing with piercing aftercare spray in between soaks, and swish your mouth with sea salt mouthwash for at least 30 seconds when you wake up, after eating, and before you go to bed. Even if you do decide to remove your jewelry, you should keep up with this routine until your fistula is fully closed.
It's not uncommon for people to develop red bumps around their healing lip piercings that may appear fluid-filled. The taught, angry-red skin can often lead people to assume they're developing a keloid scar, but that's rarely the case. Keloids are a genetic issue that affect very few people, but anyone can develop a hypergranulation issue.
Hypergranulation is usually the result of a combination of moisture and pressure around a healing wound. If you get a red lip piercing bump, your jewelry is likely a little too tight and/or your piercing is discharging an unusual amount of lymph, keeping your piercing constantly moist. Get the pressure off, and you'll likely excrete less lymph, too. Don't try to change your jewelry yourself, though; have your piercer swap out your labret stud for a longer one instead. It takes a minimum of a few months for a fistula to thicken and reinforce to the point where you can change your jewelry yourself without doing more harm than good. The longer you wait, the easier it'll be for you to change your labret jewelry on your own.
Once you get the pressure off your healing piercing, increase your aftercare regime the same way you would if you were dealing with a lip piercing infection. It may take a week or two, but sooner or later the red bump should diminish and eventually disappear entirely.
Lip Piercing Scars
The three types of lip piercing scars you may encounter are atrophic scars, hypertrophic scars and keloids. Atrophic scars are recessed, skin-tone scars, hypertrophic scars are raised skin-tone scars that form immediately around a fistula, and keloids are reddish-colored, taut, lumpy scars that grow well beyond a piercing site or other wound.
Keloids - As mentioned in the hypergranulation section above, keloids effect a very small percentage of the population. If you're prone to developing keloids, you'll likely know well before you ever get a piercing. They're a hereditary issue, so if someone else in your immediate family gets keloids, you may also be prone to them. If you know that keloids are an issue for you, you should avoid piercings altogether--particularly facial piercings, so you don't end up with unsightly scars on your face. Keloids require medical intervention like surgery, laser therapy or cryotherapy to remove, so if you develop a keloid, you should see a dermatologist.
Hypertrophic Scars - Hypertrophic scars are much more common than keloids. Anyone can develop a hypertrophic scar around a lip piercing or other wound. Typically they won't present themselves until weeks or months after getting a lip piercing. If you develop a small, reddish-pink or skin-tone scar that forms immediately around your fistula, you're probably dealing with a hypertrophic scar. Hypertrophic scars are actually the goal of scarification, which involves cutting the skin in patterns like the flower design shown to the right.
You can treat hypertrophic scars with silicone scar therapy gel or by rubbing a small amount of jojoba oil into the scar tissue a couple times a day for as many weeks or months as it takes to reduce the appearance of your scar. You should wait until your lip piercing is fully healed before beginning a scar therapy treatment, since the gel or oil could clog your fistula and trap bacteria and/or debris inside, leading to infection. A dermatologist might recommend a different treatment for minimizing your hypertrophic scar, but silicone scar therapy gel and jojoba oil are less invasive and usually equally if not more effective than medical procedures like surgery and laser therapy treatments, which could just leave you with another scar.
Atrophic Scars - You're only likely to develop an atrophic scar if you remove a lip piercing. When the tissue starts to fill in where your lip piercing fistula was, your regenerating cells may become "confused" and stop short of completely filling in the hole. This can result in a little divot where your piercing used to be, which is called an atrophic scar because the bumpy scar tissue is indented rather than protruding past the surrounding facial tissue like a hypertrophic scar would. (See an example of an atrophic labret piercing scar to the left.) The treatment for atrophic scars is the same as for hypertrophic scars. Get silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil, and massage a small amount into the scar tissue twice a day until the scar is sufficiently diminished or eliminated, which may take weeks or months.
If you're interested in learning more about body piercing scars or the efficacy of silicone scar therapy gel, read our Body Piercing Scars article or check out our blog posts on this topic, Identifying and Minimizing Body Piercing Scars and Is Silicone Gel Effective for Treating Scars?
Additional Lip Piercing Information
We offer a wide range of lip piercing articles and informative blog posts in our Information Center that you can reference for additional info about everything from the types of lip piercings you can get to lip piercing aftercare, labret jewelry options and beyond. We also carry The Piercing Bible by master piercer Elayne Angel, which is a great resource for any body piercing enthusiast. You can buy a copy in our Retail, Wholesale or Distributor Store for a very reasonable price. (Note that we offer reduced prices exclusively to tattoo and piercing artists, shop owners and other body modification professionals in our Wholesale and Distributor Stores, which require minimum orders of $100 and $500 respectively. Our Retail Store is open to the general public, though.) For free lip piercing information, just click on any of the article and blog post titles below.
- How Stress Can Effect Your Piercings Blog Post
- Lip Piercings & Lip Rings Article
- Lip Piercings FAQs Article
- Lip Piercing Options Blog Post
- Modifying Your Labret Length & Balls Article
- Oral Piercing Aftercare Article
- What Type of Facial Piercings Can I Get? Blog Post
If you have additional lip piercing questions, visit our Forum. Once you've signed up for a Painful Pleasures account and have properly introduced yourself to our online community, you can post lip piercing questions for our knowledgeable moderators and experienced community members to answer. You can read about other people's lip piercing experiences even if you don't have a Painful Pleasures account.
To see lip piercing pictures, check out our Gallery. You can view lip piercing photos even if you don't have a Painful Pleasures account, but having an account will allow you to also post photos of your own body mods, comment on other people's pictures and view mature content. Note that you must be 18 or older to get full access to the Painful Pleasures Body Mod Gallery.
If you need help navigating our Forum or Gallery, read our helpful How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles. For tips on how to change your labret top, circular barbell or lip loop ends, captive bead ring, or other lip piercing jewelry, check out our Videos section. You'll find educational piercing and jewelry alteration videos like the How to Change Your Labret Top one below that will show you different ways you can modify your lip piercing jewelry to better suit your taste. We also have product feature and instructional videos on our Painful Pleasures YouTube channel.