I’m scared my piercing might be rejecting!?! This is something we hear quite often from clients, and while rejection is a real fear, it’s also less common than many folks realize. Today, lets look at rejection. How it works, what causes it, and what to look for if your piercing really is rejecting! To start, what exactly is rejection. Well, a piercing is a foreign object trapped inside a wound. The body has a few choices to make- it can either encapsulate the object in scar tissue, called a fistula, and create a permanent pathway for the jewelry. Or, it can attempt to push the foreign object out, like a splinter in your hand. Rejection is when the body is successful at pushing the foreign object out. Rejection is possible on any body piercing, but tends to be more common on anything that could be considered a surface piercing, or piercings that pass through softer, more fragile tissue. Rejection is most common with surface piercings, microdermals, eyebrows, navels, and nipples, and less common but still possible with all other piercings, including cartilage and lobe piercings.
Rejection has a few key signs, unique to other forms of irritation. To start, you’ll notice the tissue over the jewelry getting thinner and thinner. Usually, this is accompanied by irritation bumps which form, scab up, exfoliate off, and reform again. Each time they crop back up, the skin over the piercing is a little thinner, and a little thinner. Many times the edge of a piercing will have a V shape rather than a C shape, where you can see the thinning point. Just having irritation bumps does not necessarily mean a piercing is rejecting however. Irritations can be caused for all sorts of reasons, from catching or snagging, sleeping, low quality jewelry. You name it! Bumps alone don’t mean rejection. The main factor for rejection to be happening is the gradual migration of jewelry outwards. If that’s not happening, you don’t have to stress rejection. So relax, don’t panic. If you just got makeup in your nostril piercing and you have a little bump, its 99.9% not rejecting, just grumpy, and you’ll be fine.
Rejection vs Migration- Is there a difference? Well, yes and no. Rejection, inherently, is migration. The piercing is migrating out toward the surface. However, sometimes migration stops. The piercing gets a little shallower but stabilizes. Rejection is when the piercing is fully on its way out, and will grow out completely no matter what you do. Some folks get lucky, and the migration stops and stabilizes, and they can save the piercing, although this is not common. Just because migration can stop and stabilize, doesn’t mean it will. So if your piercer advices you that a piercing can’t be salvaged and should be removed, please listen. The scars left behind from fully rejected piercings are often unsightly, and can be difficult if not impossible to repierce through at a later point. Not worth the risk.
So what causes rejection? Like irritation bumps, rejection is caused by a range of factors. The most common being a lack of tissue to support the piercing correctly. This can either be from a lack of proper anatomy, or being pierced incorrectly. For example, one of the most common areas we see rejection is navel piercings. Often, inexperienced or uneducated piercers pierce in front of the navel, rather than inside the navel. This leaves a lack of stable tissue able to support the piercing, and it eventually rejects and pushes out. Along side this, its possible not to have anatomy with enough tissue to support a navel piercing, and piercing anyway will lead to rejection because the anatomy simply didn’t allow for the piercing in the first place. Another common example of this is industrial piercings. Often folks will try to force industrials on ears not able to support them, by forcing one end of the piercing into alignment with the other. This of course eventually leads to rejection on that side.
Other common causes for rejection include, but aren’t limited to:
-Low quality jewelry- I’ve seen stable, years healed navels and eyebrows reject due to painted, plated, plastic ‘jewelry’ being worn. These low quality pieces trigger a reaction with the delicate channel of the piercing, and the body immediately goes “nope, don’t want this here, yeet!” And out it grows.
-Improperly fitted jewelry- I see this most often with hoops that are way too tight, and too thin. The pieces literally are too small for the area they are worn, and they slice and drag right through the skin till they grow out. This can leave bad scarring, and is always an unfortunate scenario.
-A bad snag or tear- Even a well established piercing, if caught and torn hard enough, can begin to reject. These are usually accidents- catching a nipple piercing on a towel, or your helix on a door frame, but its still super unfortunate. Any snag hard enough to rip a piercing can cause rejection to happen, so if you do have a bad accident please reach out to your piercer for assistance in getting it to heal and recover correctly!
-Long Term Temporary Piercings- Some piercings are temporary in nature, and the body will eventually be successful at pushing them out. Surface piercings and Microdermals fall under this category. While there are always the lucky success stories who have them for years without fail, these piercings should always be viewed as having an expiration date, and treated more gently than others. At the first signs of irritation or issue you should contact your piercer to make sure its not anything serious.
-Pregnancy- The body goes through a huge number of changes when you become pregnant. It seeks out anything it views as foreign or possibly harmful to the baby, and this can often include piercings. Yes, even 20 or 30 year old healed earlobe or nostril piercings can freak out during pregnancy, and I have seen very healthy and happy piercings start to migrate and reject for seemingly no reason during pregnancy. Keep a close eye on your piercings during this time, and work with your piercer to make sure things are looking healthy and happy.
Rejection is a valid concern when getting a piercing, and a risk to be aware of. That said, rejection is often preventable with a skilled piercer, proper jewelry, and diligent aftercare. Always make sure you are seeing someone who will take the time to assess your anatomy, set you up with the right pieces, and work with you to make your piercing experience a successful one!