Q-tips! Those are those little cotton bits we are very familiar with for cleaning out our ears. And, a hotly debated topic in the piercing industry. You might think Lynn, q-tips? Cotton swabs? A debated topic?? Well, it really is! Piercers can not seem to agree on using these as part of piercing aftercare. There are strong arguments on either side of the debate, which often leaves clients in a weird middle ground. One piercer told me to use q-tips, but another told me they aren’t safe. What do I do? Well, today we are going to break down the pros and cons of using Q-tips to clean your healing piercings.
-Q-tips can leave fibers behind and tangled on jewelry. This is the biggest argument against them, as the loose cotton at the ends can snag on prong setting or even around the barbell, and become tangles. These little pieces of fuzz can be difficult to remove on your own and sometimes even difficult to see, which means it can sit trapped on the jewelry collecting bacteria and debris and cause issues and irritation during the healing process. It’s not uncommon for some piercers to have to gently remove a large ring of q tip fibers, crust, and hair from piercings that has ben causing some serious irritation.
-Q-tips can tempt clients to pick. Piercings often heal the best when mostly left to their own devices- clean off crust and debris as needed, and leave it alone the rest of the time. Using q-tips can tempt clients to pick at their piercings or over irritate them during cleaning by moving and pushing them around. While it is important to remove any debris, you don’t want to constantly be picking at and messing with your piercing as that is equally as irritating. Many piercers stress that when clients use q-tips they often just spin and pull at the piercing while cleaning and don’t remove enough debris, so essentially end up just irritating the piercing with movement without actually cleaning things.
-Some piercings are almost impossible to clean without q-tips- things like daiths, rooks, and forward helixes where the piercing are tucked along small ridges can get built up with a large amount of natural crust and debris. This is perfectly normal given the nature of these piercings and where they sit on the ear, but that crust still needs to be removed! And just spraying saline or letting shower water run over the area often isn’t enough to get that debris off. Without using something to manually remove it that debris can sit against the skin and cause irritations.
-Some clients have skin conditions that make them produce more crust or secretions during healing. Climate can also play a role in this. Humid areas tend to see more swelling with healing piercings and more secretion. And skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, and others can cause clients to produce an excess amount of crust and secretion from their healing piercings. This can often build up more then can be removed with just rinsing in the shower alone or spraying saline, and can cause irritation in its own right.
So, while these pros and cons with Q-tips are I find all totally valid, here’s my professional and personal opinion. I don’t think Q-tips are the worst, and I think they do have a place in piercing aftercare. That said, I usually suggest my clients get the q-tips that they sell for touching up makeup! These come to tiny little points for cleaning the edges of eyeliner and eyeshadow and are often found near makeup in the drug store. I prefer these because they are often more tightly woven so I see less issues with fibers getting tangled, and the small points are great for getting into tiny areas like behind a forward helix or under a rook. I also warn clients that q-tips can tangle and to watch out for that while cleaning and be aware if that happens.
I also suggest clients spray saline on a q-tip and use it wet. I see less issues with fibers tangling when these are used wet rather then dry. For very stubborn crust or debris, cleaning after a hot shower is also great. You can let the shower water run over your piercings and work loose any easy to remove debris. Anything more stubborn will be left behind, but it will be softened from the water and heat and be fairly easy to remove with a damp q-tip.
That said, if you find that just spraying saline or just letting shower water run over your piercings does enough to get them clean then that is awesome! If that’s the case you probably don’t need q-tips as part of your aftercare. And if you don’t need them and things are staying clean and healing well without them, don’t worry about using them! It would only add some added potential for irritation into your routine. But for many clients, in many climates, with different skin conditions, or different piercings, q-tips may be a needed part of their care routine! And for those clients, there piercings may not heal properly without something to help them remove that excess debris!
I say all the time we don’t have one size fits all bodies. Thats why anatomy, jewelry placement, and jewelry size all matters so much- because every body we work on is unique! But the same goes for aftercare- one size fits all aftercare often doesn’t fit people with different anatomies, health concerns, lifestyles, or climates. And that’s totally ok! Aftercare can be modified to better work for your body and needs just like anything else can be. So go forth, use q-tips if you need them, but use them safely and with care!