What Happens To A Piercing Once It's Removed? Here's What To Do To Minimize Scarring

Most people do a lot of research when they consider getting a piercing. They want to know what will happen to their body as well as what they should and shouldn’t do to their piercing to ensure their beautiful new piece of jewelry heals properly. But sometimes piercings have to be removed, whether we want to or not. I recently took out my lip stud because of how it was affecting my teeth; I didn’t want to, but knew it would avoid dental problems in the future. This got me thinking about what happens when you remove a piercing and what are the steps you should take to minimize scarring.

To find out the nitty gritty on this topic, I headed over to Stingray Body Art and More in Allston, MA. There I spoke with professional piercer Kristina Kelley, who has been piercing for 10 years. On top of that, she is also a laser tattoo removal technician, a licensed aesthetician, and is hoping to start pre-med in the near future. In other words, she knows a lot about altering your body, as far as piercings and tattoos go. Kelley gave me the rundown on everything you need to know about removing a piercing and what happens to your body once you stop wearing your jewelry.

Of course, Kelley emphasized throughout our entire conversation that everyone’s body and skin is different and won’t react the same to a piercing removal as someone else. That said, here are seven general things you should know when it comes to removing a piercing.

1. How To Remove The Jewelry Properly

Naturally, the first step you have to do is take out the jewelry. While some piercings require a piercer to remove the jewelry, other times you can do it all by yourself. This might seem easy and obvious, but coming from someone who has spent over an hour trying to remove her lip ring, it isn’t always easy. The first thing you should do before touching your piercing is make sure your hands are clean. Kelley also suggests using gloves to get a better grip on the jewelry and not irritate the area from pulling and tugging for too long.

But sometimes nothing works, and for this, Kelley says to simply go to a piercing shop. They are always glad to help, especially if it means not hurting yourself in the process.

However, she does make it clear that you should not remove jewelry in an infected piercing. You should first get it looked at by a piercer or doctor to make sure that the proper steps are taken to avoid further infection or problems.

2. Your Hole Will Shrink

Kelley explains that, once you remove your jewelry, there is “no pressure holding the hole open” and it will begin to shrink. Skin is made up of collagen and is elastic, so taking out the hard metal thing from the fistula (name for the hole) makes it vulnerable to close up. This is why piercers emphasize not removing newly-pierced jewelry from the hole.

If your piercing hasn’t healed and you want to remove it, chances are the hole will shrink and close without a problem, leaving minimal scarring. However, if its an older piercing — like my five-year-old lip piercing — it could possibly take years for the hole to get smaller. Kelley says that it is all a matter of how big the hole was, where the piercing is on the body, and how your skin is naturally. In my case, my hole started to shrink quickly that by the end of the day, it was significantly smaller and I could barely insert my labret.

3. Your Hole Will Fill Up With Sebum

Once there is nothing in the hole for a few weeks or months, the hole will shrink and fill up with some disgusting gunk called sebum. Sebum is your body’s collection of natural oils that are produced from our sebaceous glands. Usually, after sitting in the hole, it will have some kind of odor that isn’t exactly pleasant. People with stretched ears usually call this “ear chesse” since it kind of looks like cheese.

According to Kelley, this is an unavoidable thing and nothing to be worried about. Whether you have a piece of jewelry in place or not, you will produce sebum, but since there’s nothing else in the hole, there will most likely be more.

If you had an unhealed piercing removed, it should have completely closed. But if it was older, the hole could be smaller in size (or closed up completely) and there most likely is some form of indentation left on the skin. Kelley explains that this indentation “depends on the person” but is a “remnant” of having a piercing.

4. Scar Tissue Depends On The Placement Of Your Previous Piercing & The Jewelry You Wore

So, how will the hole scar or look like afterwards? Again, Kelley makes sure to say that it depends on the person’s skin. Scar tissue is fibrous and can be a different color skin than a person’s normal pigment. For this reason, people with darker skin color fair better in having less noticeable scars. Additionally, Kelley explains that people with “oilier skin have less visible scarring.” Nevertheless it depends on two factors: The placement of the piercing and the jewelry itself.

To explain the importance of placement affecting someone’s skin after removal, Kelley gives the example of cheek piercings. Cheek piercings are “commitment piercings,” as Kelley likes to describe them, because the chance of scarring or leaving some indentation on the skin is extremely high. For people with cheek piercings, removing them can leave permanent dimples and scarring if the right jewelry wasn’t used. Kelley even said that many piercers won’t do this kind of piercing because of the permanent effects it can have on a person’s skin and face.

As for jewelry, she gave the unfortunate fact that subpar jewelry can leave darker, grayer marks on the skin. This isn’t totally important if you’re always going to keep your piercing, but once it’s removed, there’s no way to make that coloring go away without cosmetic surgery. This is why she emphasizes using high-quality jewelry from reputable shops.

5. Minimizing Scars Can Be A Lot Of Work

Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Even though scarring is almost inevitable, Kelley explains that people can do some stuff to minimize what is left after removing a piercing. For homeopathic methods, massaging your hole with oils like vitamin E oil or jojoba oil can help to lessen the appearance of the scar tissue. Massaging helps with blood-flow and softening stiff scar tissue. But, if you want a more permanent fix, she says the only way is cosmetic surgery.

If you really want to completely eradicate any chance of scarring, getting a surgical re-excision or cross technique done by a licensed cosmetic surgeon is the best solution.

6. Taking Care Of A Removed Piercing Is Simple

Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Kelley explains that you “can do almost nothing” to care for a removed piercing. If the hole was unhealed when you took it out, you should continue to follow the same steps as you would for caring for a new piercing. But, if it was already healed, there isn’t much that needs to be done. She does suggest rinsing since it can remove the built-up sebum that can smell.

7. Re-Piercing Is Possible, But Can Be Tricky

Even though Kelley likes to tell all her clients that “they make sure to want the piercing” in the first place, sometimes we change our minds later. If you’ve removed a piercing, but want it back, getting it re-pierced “depends on the degree of scar tissue.” If the hole is still there, a piercer can use the taper method — a taper is a type of object that gets bigger from one end to the other, and usually used to stretch ears — and stretch the hole open again to insert the jewelry. Other times, the piercer can pierce nearby but not directly over the scar tissue of the original piercing.

Stainless Steel Taper Stretching, $7, Amazon

Overall, removing a piercing for whatever reason isn’t as scary as it seems. Sure, you’ll have something left over, but it’s never the end of the world. Take it from someone who accidentally scratched her cheek two hours after she was born — having a little mark on your body from a piercing makes you even more unique!

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