How To Treat Infected Piercings, Plus Tips For Preventing Them From Happening Ever Again

Body piercing is the new norm, and along with that new norm means a new awareness of how to prevent or treat infected piercings. No one wants an infected ear piercing, much less an infected lip or nose piercing. With the rise in popularity of piercings, self-care is a must. Once considered taboo, belly jewels, septum piercings, and tongue rings are standard forms of self expression. According to a 2010 report by Pew Social Trends, "nearly one-in four (millennials) have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe." Even ladies who stick to more traditional looks have multiple piercings in their ears.

Since most of us have some type of metal or jewel adorning our bodies, we have to make sure we know what to do in case of emergency. There is nothing less fabulous than a red, itchy, runny, open wound surrounding a should-be beautiful cartilage piercing. Infections are such (horribly bad) show-stoppers.

Here are some how-to tips for preventing infection in new piercings, or problem-solving when the nasty has already happened.

1. Keep Your Piercing Happy

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Take good care of your new friend. The piercing site is essentially an open wound until healing sets in. Your first priority is to go to a clean, safe, and reputable place to get the job done. According to The Piercing Bible, proper piercing aftercare includes:

  • Soak in a gentle saline bath
  • Wash with gentle soap no more than twice a day
  • Rinse thoroughly then dry with a clean, disposable paper product (cloth can harbor bacteria)
  • Keep your dirty mitts off (no need to rotate and definitely don't remove!)

2. Understand The Normal Reactions You'll Have With New Piercings

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The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) states that some funky weirdness is normal after we punch a hole in our cartilage or epidermis. As long as we are following proper aftercare and there is no overt pain, it is normal to see:

  • Localized swelling (especially in oral piercings) which can last several days
  • A clear, crystalline crust that forms at the openings from dead skin cells, etc.
  • Discoloration of the skin which can be red, brown, pink, or purple in tone and may remain for months on navel or surface piercings

3. Look Out For Allergic Reactions To The Metal

Allergies at the piercing site are often mistaken for infection. The APP says common symptoms of an allergy include:

  • Red, itchy rash around the piercing (often up to several inches around the hole)
  • The piercing hole may appear significantly larger than the jewelry
  • Tenderness (even when there is no pain)
  • Skin eruptions below the piercing (where soap has contact) often mean a reaction to a cleaning product

To treat a piercing-related allergy, the APP recommends:

  • Topical or oral antihistamine
  • Changing jewelry material (Carefully! Ask a professional piercer for proper technique). Also scope the APP guideline brochure on Jewelry for Initial Piercings.
  • Switch to a milder cleaning product

4. Look Out For Warning Signs

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It's normal for healing to take time. According to the American Association of Family Physicians, belly button piercings can take up to nine months to completely heal (consider it your jewelry baby). Some discoloration or tenderness may not be a sign of serious trouble. But if you do have an infection, whether mild or more severe, the main rule of thumb is do not remove the jewelry. If you remove it, the outer holes could close and lead to an abscess. This is not only super gross, but potentially really bad for your health.

If caught soon enough, a mild, local infection may be treated at home. The Piercing Bible shares signs of mild, localized infection:

  • Skin is pinkish or reddish, swollen, and warm to the touch
  • Localized tenderness
  • A small amount of pus
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The Piercing Bible recommends treating local infections with:

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Saline bath
  • Bactroban (Mupirocin) cream or gel (not ointment) has been found to be effective for topical treatment of bacterial infections (ointment acts as a greasy irritant)

5. Stop Reading Immediately & Call A Doctor, Stat, If:

  • There is excessive pus at the site that is greenish, grayish, or yellowish
  • You feel ill, have been barfing, have chills or fever
  • You have intense pain, red streaking, or severe swelling
  • Refer your doc to a professional piercing site like the Association of Professional Piercers as there is piercing specific experience (don't remove the piercing!) that may not be intuitive to a medical professional
  • If you ignore a major infection, it could (total worst case scenario, don't be too scared) lead to death by sepsis
  • Use your fabulous lady sense, if things ain't right, get help

Now that you have the information you need for proper aftercare, signs of allergy, signs of an infected piercing, and how to treat an infected piercing, you're ready to go full metal! Have fun, be safe, and get out there and get some new piercings!

Of course you should always rely on medical professionals for your medical or health-related decisions as we can't be held responsible for your sweet behinds.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy (3)