Today’s blog is the start of a series! A long awaited series all about Aftercare! Aftercare is the process and steps for caring for your piercing in order to ensure that it heals correctly. Aftercare is a huge step in having healthy and happy piercings and bad or incorrect aftercare can absolutely cause piercings to become irritated, and even not heal. This blog will be an introduction to aftercare, piercing healing, and a brief look at how piercings heal before we get into how you can care for them. I can already hear people clamoring “just get to the point” and I will! The following blog posts will cover specific aftercare for ear and facial piercings, oral piercings, surface piercings, and genital piercings, with each getting their own dedicated blogs filled with my favorite tips and tricks. But before we get into that I think it’s important to understand how a piercing heals in order to understand how to care for it. This gives context to why piercers suggest the care they suggest and will help you better understand what’s going on when your piercing is healing. I promise- all of this information is relevant and will help you heal your piercings better!
How Piercings Heal
Piercings are a form of puncture wound, which is a deep wound caused by something sharp and pointed. Not only that, but piercings are a wound with a foreign body inside of it, that the body must heal around- the jewelry! This is often a very challenging thing for our bodies to do, and part of what can make the process of healing a piercing so much work. Piercings, like many other wounds, heal in three stages.
Stage 1- Inflammation
During the initial stage of wound healing the body will widen the blood vessels around a piercing in order to bring blood carrying white blood cells and other immune responders to the site of a wound or piercing. These cells help protect against infection, help clot the wound, and already begin work on healing the area. And this response happens immediately after we pierce you- our bodies are amazingly fast like that! This his is why your skin feels warm and is red and puffy after a piercing. Your your body is already hard at work healing!
Stage 2- Proliferation
This is when the body shifts gears into building mode. In this stage your body begins creating new skin around the wound, and works to create a fistula or a tube of scar tissue around the jewelry. During this stage you may see an increase of secretions from your piercing, including fluids, and dry crust and debris. This is a normal part of the healing process. You will likely see a little less swelling, and the skin around the piercing may be lightning to a pink color as it heals. For some people, hyperpigmentation or dark spots occur around the piercing as a side effect of the healing process during this stage, and this is also normal.
Stage 3- Maturation
This happens after new, weak skin has been built around the jewelry. Now the body works on strengthening that skin into healthy, strong, durable skin. During this phase the skin is very weak and fragile, and small things can tear or break it. If you’ve ever gotten a good blister and popped it- you know that shiny sensitive pink skin on the inside? That fragile, thin, weak skin? This is what the inside of a piercing is like at the end of stage 2, and stage 3 is all about strengthening it and making it into healthy, stable skin.
To learn more about the science of wound healing check out this blog here.
It’s important to remember healing is not linear. Piercings often fluctuate between stages during healing. For example, your piercing might be entering phase 3 and you snag it, damaging the healing skin. Now your bodies back in phase 2 and needs to rebuild that skin all over again. Or, if you snag it really good, maybe even back to phase one. If you get sick or are extra stressed during the healing process your body may need to use its energy and cells elsewhere, meaning your piercing doesn’t get the attention it needs, and it lingers in one stage or another for a little longer. It would be amazing if piercings healed perfectly in each phase, and neatly- 1, 2, 3. Instead, healing looks a lot more like 1, 2, 3, 2, 3. Or, if you are clumsy and accident prone like me, more like 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3.
This is part of why piercings have such a long healing time. Many clients are shocked to hear that most piercing take about 6-9 months to heal, and sometimes even longer. It’s because we virtually never see the healing process take a smooth simple path. Theres usually quite a bit of back and forth. We don’t live in a bubble- we are going to catch and snag our piercings, sleep on them, get sick, get stressed, travel, and do all sorts of things that disrupt the healing process. And that’s totally ok! Because our bodies are pretty amazing and are going to do the best they can to heal despite that.
How does this relate to aftercare?
Aftercare does not heal piercings. Our bodies heal piercings. It would be amazing if there was a magical product that made our skin grow and heal faster but their really isn’t (trust me, we’d know it if there was.) Our bodies are doing all the work of healing a piercing. We are just creating an environment that makes that as easy as possible for our body to do the work.
This means that truly the most important element of aftercare is patience. Being patient with our bodies and giving them the time to fully heal. We can’t rush healing and make it happen any faster, and when we get impatient we often tend to mess with, play with, and touch our piercings even more. But consider how fragile that healing skin is- us messing with them often causes more harm then good.
The other element of aftercare is a clean environment for our piercings to heal in. Remember in stage 2 when the body produces secretions as a side effect of healing? Often these secretions have collagen and lymphatic fluid as an offshoot of the healing process. These secretions dry up around our jewelry and form the crust we commonly see around a piercing. If we let that get built up it can irritate the skin around the piercing. It can also trap bacteria, hair, and other debris around the piercing which can cause issues. So we do want to clean that away so our piercings can heal. Sterile saline wound wash is the most commonly suggested product for cleaning away that crust and debris and it works great!
Saline is the preferred aftercare product for piercings! It’s mild, gentle for all skin types, and pretty easily accessible and affordable. Overall saline is an amazing product for cleaning piercings with. That being said, saline is not medicine or magic. It’s not going to magically make your piercings heal better or faster. The point of saline is simply to clean away the crust and debris that is on your healing piercing that could cause hygiene and health issues for the piercing.
In the past we used to mix saline ourselves at home, but this method is outdated and inaccurate. You can learn more about why in this blog post.
Now we know saline is just to clean away crust and debris. And we know our bodies are what’s healing our piercings- not what we put on them. So with that in mind here are some links to blog posts that address commonly suggested but harmful aftercare products.
None of these are products you want to use on your piercing, and these blogs will explain in-depth why not.
And if you don’t have access to saline, clean water works just as well! Remember, aftercare products aren’t healing our piercings, our bodies are! The purpose of saline is to remove crust and debris from the piercing. Saline is great to do that because it’s isotonic, safe for wounds, sterile, and the gentle mist cans work for their own irrigation. But if you can’t access saline clean water also works great. The important factor is clean water. If you have hard water or well water that’s not the cleanest, that can cause more harm then good. Filtered water is a great alternative. But, saline, being sterile and readily available, is usually your best choice.
Now that we understand the basics of aftercare and how piercings heal, hopefully this leave you much more prepared to understand what’s happening as your piercing is healing and how to care for it. Understanding this also helps understand why so many of the internets “quick fixes” for piercings really aren’t effective or needed. Stay tuned, because next week we’ll be diving into breakdowns of specific aftercare suggestions for different piercings and placements. Happy Healing!