In piercing there are lots of terms and phrases we use that many clients may not be familiar with. Today I want to discuss one term in particular that is very important to understand if you are getting many piercings or enjoy more delicate jewelry- Cheesewire Effect. When we discuss the cheese wire effect in piercing, we are referring to the process by which jewelry that is ill-fitting (often too tight and too thin) begins to migrate through the tissue due specifically to the fit of the jewelry.
This term gets its roots from a similar medical term. In medicine, the term cheesewiring or cheesewire effect (used interchangeably) describes any process in which cells or intercellular matrix are dissected or extruded either by the material being pressed through a taut element, or by the tension of a taut element pulling through tissue. The procedure is typically conducted in a surgical setting. In medicine, this is often seen with sutures dragging through the skin, leaving distinct scarring in their path. Both the medical cheesewire effect and piercing cheese wire effect take their names from the process of using a thin wire to slice through cheese. The concept remains the same across the board- a thin enough wire, suture, or piece of jewelry will push through the tissue or cheese with ease if enough pressure is exerted on it.
In short, cheese wire effect is the process of an object (sutures or jewelry) under too much tension, pulling through the skin. With piercings, this most commonly occurs when someone is wearing hoops that are both too thin and too tight of a diameter, jewelry that is too heavy, or improperly fitted pieces.
What Causes Cheesewire Effect in Piercings?
This is caused by jewelry that is ill-fitting and putting excessive pressure on the tissue surrounding the piercing- most often too thin and too tight. We see this most commonly in piercing due to hoops that are too small of a diameter for the area they are placed, as well as being a very thin gauge. Two of the most common piercings to deal with this issue are nostrils and conches. As piercers, we know clients love the look of very snug, very thin, and delicate rings. But when these hoops are too small for the area they are worn, they will quite literally just cut through the tissue until they either reach a place where the pressure stops or they grow straight out. This is also made worse by the natural movement of the nose as we talk, emote, and breathe. Often clients will wear a hoop that fits perfectly while their nose is at rest- but leaves no room for the natural movement of the nostril.
The thin, tight hoop acts like a wire through cheese and literally just pushes right through the tissue. The same thing can occur over time with earlobe piercing from wearing jewelry that is too large or too heavy. Our skin is strong, but not that strong. You might think how do people wear super heavy ear weights then if heavy earrings can tear through your ears? And the answer is the thickness of the wearable. When all of that weight is put on a teeny tiny 22g wire, it just cuts right through the tissue. But when we spread that weight out over a larger surface area- like that of an ear weight with a half-inch wearable surface, the weight is more evenly distributed and there is more tissue supporting it all the way around. This distribution of weight and pressure is what allows the ear to support the weight safely.
This migration sometimes can be stopped and stabilized when the jewelry reaches a placement where there is less tension or if the piercing is changed to a more appropriate size or weight, or given time without jewelry to shrink and recover. However, not everyone gets so lucky, and sometimes the piercing can grow entirely out of their body. Whether this is caught in time or allowed to migrate fully, this can leave some severe scars that many folks do not like the look of.
How To Prevent Cheesewire Effect?
Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid ever having to deal with cheese wire effect. As long as you wear jewelry that is appropriately sized for your body, you don’t have to worry about this! That is why it is often so important to be fitted for jewelry by a professional piercer. They can measure your piercing and determine a piece of jewelry that is the correct fit for you, as well as do a fitting with multiple pieces to really find your ideal size. Piercers can also recommend different styles that may be more suitable to your anatomy, and help you determine what works best for you. Beyond that, wearing jewelry that is an 18g at the thinnest is also a great way to prevent this from happening. I know- folks love their 20 and 22g pieces- but these sizes are so thin they make cheesewire effect more likely to occur. 18g is a much more stable size and while this can still happen with 18g jewelry, it’s much less likely than with 20 and 22g.
Jewelry should be snug, but not overly tight, and give the area space to move and flex with day-to-day activities. This fit will vary from person to person based on their anatomy, lifestyle, and needs. Jewelry should also be an appropriate thickness for stability. The gauge will vary depending on the piercing in question, anatomy, and lifestyle. An experienced piercer can measure and fit you for appropriate sizes of jewelry and go over the pros and cons of different sizes and fits for different placements. This is part of why piercers often encourage being fitted in person unless you are 100% confident of the sizing you need, particularly when ordering jewelry. It is very easy to accidentally order a piece that is too small or too thin- and cheese wire effect can cause migration in just a matter of days.
Cheesewire effect is an unfortunate side effect of improper jewelry that can leave you with permanent scarring, damaged piercings, and other issues. It’s never worth causing yourself real harm over a single piece of jewelry. Please make smart choices about what you put in your piercings, ensure things are sized correctly, and when in doubt have a piercer help you! Part of a piercer's education is the ability to fit you for jewelry that is a safe, stable size. This is how we prevent things like cheesewire effect from ever occurring. If you ever have a piece in that feels too tight or appears to be causing irritation, tenderness, or damage to your piercing, please get in touch with a piercer asap. Be aware and cautious with the jewelry you wear, and listen to your body if something feels off or loose wrong. Stay safe, and happy healing folks!