Aftercare Myths and Misinformation
As many folks who have piercings know, getting them is the easy part. It’s healing them that can be the hardest part! Piercings can take months to heal and require regular care and cleaning during that time. While we have, as an industry, gone to great lengths to discover what works best as far as healing goes, there is unfortunately a ton of misinformation out there about how to heal a body piercing. This article addresses 7 of the most common incorrect statements I hear about piercing care!
Twist the earring every day so it doesn’t get stuck!
Yikes! This very old piece of advice is still regularly handed out by places like Claires and Piercing Pagoda, and passed along by word of mouth. If you don’t twist your jewelry every day your skin is going to grow to the piercing and get stuck! So you’ve gotta twist! This advice is incredibly outdated, and also dangerous. This comes from way back in the day, when we pierced with a sewing needle and thread. We would tie the thread in a loop and wear that in the piercing for the first few days or weeks, before changing it to a metal earring. Back then we did pull the thread through the piercing back and forth- thread is porous and can get stuck to a healing wound. Fortunately, these days we pierce with metal and metal can’t stick to you. If it could you’d be twisting your braces or your hip replacement! There is never any need to twist jewelry in a body piercing, and when you do you just damage the healing tissue on the inside of the wound. Not to mention any bacteria on your hands or under your nails. So next piercing you get, just leave it be!
Clean with Alcohol
Alcohol is a must in most medicine cabinets and bathroom sinks, and most folks are used to using it for every wound and injury under the sun. However, we are realizing this is not so great for use on a body piercing. Alcohol is amazing for killing germs, in fact it’s an essential step for some in prepping unbroken skin before piercing or other medical procedures. But it's also extremely harsh and drying- particularly to tender healing skin. And guess what the inside of your piercing is made of? That same super tender healing skin. Cleaning with alcohol can cause dryness, and swelling around your piercing, and create irritation issues. Even doctors are moving away from harsh aftercare for simple wounds. Dr Kazu Suzuki at Tower Wound Care Center in LA has some great things to say on a few of these household products. “In the wound care world, we say, ‘Don’t put anything in your wound that you wouldn’t put in your eye,'” says Suzuki. “Peroxide bubbles up, and it may help dislodge the debris from the wound and dissolve some crusty blood, yet it is very harsh and irritating to an open wound. The same with alcohol. Yes, it will kill some bacteria, but it also kills and irritates healthy skin and the wound bed. I suggest you do not use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or Betadine solution in the open wound.”
Clean with Peroxide
Peroxide is great right? When you use it it bubbles up and you can really see it cleaning! Well, not so much. These days even modern medical professionals are moving away from suggesting peroxide for wound care, just like alcohol. Those bubbles you see when you use peroxide are oxygen. It’s oxidizing bacteria, virus, and germs. But, it's also getting rid of natural good bacteria that is protecting your wound at the same time. It can even harm healthy tissue that may be forming- so exactly the tissue healing inside of your piercing. Not to mention most modern piercing is done with implant grade titanium, and the jewelry can be damaged by peroxide. Overall even many nurses and doctors have stoped suggesting the use of peroxide simply because it is too harsh, and it’s damaging the wound as much as it's helping. Theres no need for something so harsh on a body piercing, let alone on most wounds!
Clean it with Antibacterial Soap
Antibacterial soap has to be good for a piercing right?!? It’s killing all that awful bacteria! Well….as it turns out it’s not really doing all that much besides drying us out and creating super bugs. In September 2017 the FDA finalized a ban after years of studies on 19 primary chemicals in antibacterial soaps. The years of studies found that the companies could not prove these chemicals weren’t harmful during long term exposure, and also couldn’t even prove they were more effective than regular soap and water at killing bacteria. This ban was widely applauded by the scientific community who for years had been expressing concern about commercial use of these soaps. That being said this doesn’t apply to folks in lines of work needing these chemicals. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, chefs, vets, and anyone exposing themselves to harmful bacteria do need a specific soap. That said the soap that folks like piercers and medical professionals can purchase have much higher, controlled amounts of these chemicals that are effective enough to kill more bacteria than just hand washing. The minuscule amounts in your average dial gold weren’t doing much in your bathroom or kitchen. The following is the FDA’s official statement:
“Food and Drug Administration (FDA, we, or the Agency) is issuing this final rule establishing that certain active ingredients used in over-the-counter (OTC) consumer antiseptic products intended for use with water (referred to throughout this document as consumer antiseptic washes) are not generally recognized as safe and effective (GRAS/GRAE) and are misbranded. FDA is issuing this final rule after considering the recommendations of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee (NDAC); public comments on the Agency’s notices of proposed rulemaking; and all data and information on OTC consumer antiseptic wash products that have come to the Agency’s attention.“
If you need to clean the skin around your piercing, use a mild regular soap. Never try to get this directly in or on the piercing. And hey, maybe consider switching to a standard mild soap for daily use in your home as well!
You can sleep on it as soon as it doesn’t hurt
This is where piercings love to trick you! A few weeks or months in they feel perfectly fine, no soreness or tenderness even when you touch or boop them. So that must mean they are safe to be slept on again right? Not so! The full duration of healing, usually 6-9 months, piercings are very susceptible to something called migration. This is where pressure from sleeping or bumping causes the bar to shift through the skin. This can leave your previously perfectly straight piercing sitting on a steep angle. This can happen at any point in the healing process which is why it’s so important to stay off your piercing. You don’t always think about it but the human head weighs 7-10lbs. Thats 7-10lbs of pressure on your little piercing all night long! That’s a lot! So for the sake of your piercing (and your poor piercer) stay off them while they are healing! If you are a side sleeper you can purchase a travel pillow, those U shaped pillows you see at the airport. Rather then putting it around your neck you can place your ear in the hole. That way you can still sleep on your side, but you aren’t squishing your poor piercing all night long.
Hoops heal better because the piercing can breathe
Wouldn’t this be rad! With how popular the look of sleek, simple gold hoops has become it would be fantastic if they were also the best choice for your new piercing. The unfortunate answer is, they aren’t. Most clients want a small, fitted hoop which is not ok for initial piercing. The piercing must have room for swelling and healing, and that means any hoops will be fairly oversized. Even if you didn’t mind the fashion of a large hoop, they often get bumped, snagged, and knocked around. All of this is very irritating to your new piercing and and lead to the always dreaded piercing bump. With the exception of a few piercings such as daiths and septums, it is almost always easier to be pierced with a stud for healing and swap to a hoop once fully healed. That being said some piercers are comfortable starting certain piercings with hoops, as long as clients understand the added difficulty with healing, and that it won’t be a snug fit. This is on a piercer by piercer basis, and things like climate and environment can play a big role. It’s worth discussing with your piercer but don’t be disappointed if they say no!
Mixing sea salt and water is the best to clean your piercing
This advice was actually widely given by piercers for many years. We told people to mix saline at home because it wasn’t easy or affordable to purchase saline anywhere. Most pharmacies and drug stores didn’t have any, and there certainly weren’t any companies marketing saline to piercers and clients. Now, in 2019, all of that has changed. As the medical industry has moved towards gentle aftercare, saline has filled the shelves across the country, and many brands have stepped forward to produce affordable, sterile saline for piercings as well. Now, you may still think “but saline is just salt and water in a can! Why can’t I mix it myself?” Well, sterile saline wound wash is what’s called an isotonic mixture. This means the salt and pH are similar to our bodies and bodily fluids- no burning and stinging when cleaning. Just perfect saline identical to the saline already in your body. It’s impossible to create this exact mixture at home in your kitchen. Beyond that saline is packaged in an aerosol can, meaning it remains sterile no matter how long you have it. Salt sitting around at home in a standard container can get all kinds of bits and bugs in it. Not to mention you are likely using food grade salt- and food grade anything has an acceptable amount of bugs, animals matter, and yes, even poop. For reference,
“The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans” is a publication of the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition that details the acceptable levels of food contamination from sources such as maggots, thrips, insect fragments, “foreign matter”, mold, rodent hairs, and insect and mammalian feces. The publication details the acceptable amounts of contaminants on a per food basis, listing both the defect source (pre-harvest infection, processing infestation, processing contamination, etc.) and significance (aesthetic, potential health hazard, mouth/tooth injury, etc.)”
As you would imagine, medical grade salt used in the production of saline doesn’t have any acceptable level of contamination. In short- it’s easiest to just purchase affordable saline from your piercer or local pharmacy to keep your piercing clean!
If you have any questions about healing your piercing, or are unsure if you are taking proper care, safepiercing.org has some wonderful industry standard guidelines listed on their website. Generally you should follow what your piercer has told you. If you are unsure that you are getting good advice from your piercer, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. There is a forum on Facebook called Ask A Professional Piercer where many respected, vetted industry professionals assist clients with getting accurate advice and help with their piercings.
Cutaneous wound healing: recruiting developmental pathways for regeneration.Cell Mol Life Sci. 2013 Jun;70(12):2059-81. doi: 10.1007/s00018-012-1152-9. Epub 2012 Oct 4.