Today, let's talk about reopening piercings! Around the world, piercers are familiar with this situation- a client comes in crestfallen that they have to re-pierce a favorite piercing they lost jewelry in and they are convinced is closed. But we get to save the day and tell the client their piercing is very much still there and ok! Few things make a piercer feel more magical than being able to save a piercing someone thought was gone for good. Very often we have clients who come in who had piercings for many many years, and either accidentally or intentionally jewelry was removed and now they can’t get anything back in. And yes, sometimes the piercing has fully closed. But sometimes the piercing has only shrunken and we can get jewelry back in with minimal issue! And that’s always our ideal situation so we can save you the healing process of a new piercing.
Closed vs Shrunken
To start, when can a piercing be reopened? Well, reopening a piercing isn’t magic- it’s actually quite simple. Often a client assumes any piercing they can’t easily get jewelry into is “closed”. This means the piercing channel is fully healed together, and there’s no channel left for jewelry to be inserted into. And, yes, sometimes this does happen. But, sometimes the channel isn’t fully healed together- sometimes it's still there but just shrunken much smaller. Think like stretched ears- if you remove the plugs you wear for a while, they will shrink and the same size that was in them doesn’t fit anymore. But the holes are still there. This happens to your regular piercings on a smaller scale as well.
When a piercing heals it heals a tube of scar tissue around the jewelry, creating a channel for the jewelry to rest in. This channel is your piercing. But the jewelry often helps the piercing keep its shape. Scar tissue is not magical, so without the jewelry in the channel helping maintain that shape, often the channel will close together or shrink down with time without jewelry in. This is particularly common in cartilage piercings and mucous membrane piercings like nostrils and oral piercings. The jewelry is actively helping maintain the shape of the piercing channel, and without it, it shrinks or becomes smaller very easily.
If its is shrunken, however, it is still there! Just smaller than it was before. So with the correct tools, we can gently stretch it back to the size of the jewelry and insert some. This is an important distinction from a closed piercing where the tissue has healed and sealed together. If there’s no channel, we can’t reopen something.
The stretched ear analogy is perfect because reopening a piercing is really just another form of stretching! We are taking a channel that has shrunken very small from not having jewelry in it and gently stretching it back up to the size of the jewelry so it fits. This is the same concept behind stretching a piercing to slowly wear larger jewelry.
Often the next question is how long before it closes vs just shrinks? And this is a question with no definite answer. There are a number of factors that can affect how long a piercing can go without jewelry before fully closing.
-How old? If a piercing is fairly new and still healing and jewelry is removed it can sometimes close as quickly as minutes. Sometimes within 24 hours, we can still get jewelry back in but even that’s not guaranteed. If the piercing is still healing it's still an open wound and without the jewelry, the body is going to begin healing that wound closed very very quickly. Even a piercing that’s only recently fully healed for example a just 6 months old nostril piercing is likely to close faster than one you’ve had for 5 or 10 years. Generally, the older a piercing is the more likely it is to stay open.
What placement? Certain placements are better at staying open than others. Consider your earlobes for example- many folks can go months and sometimes years without wearing jewelry in lobe piercings and it goes back in very easily. Lobes are great at staying open! In comparison, cartilage piercings are more prone to shrinking. Navels are often fairly good at staying open, and nostrils and oral piercings are known for closing fully.
What condition was the piercing in when the jewelry was removed? Was the piercing super healthy and happy? Or was it irritated? Often if the jewelry is removed in an irritated piercing, it will close or shrink much faster than a healthy piercing. The material previously worn plays a role as well, if you were wearing low-quality jewelry even if the piercing felt ok, it's more likely to shrink or fully close as well.
Some of this just comes down to how your body heals and how your skin responds. Some people are very lucky and their piercings tend to stay open very easily no matter how long without jewelry! Others are less lucky and their piercings shrink or close very quickly no matter how old or healthy they are. They just shrink quickly!
How long you can go without jewelry is very dependent on a number of factors, but a general rule of thumb would be for a fresh piercing to get to a piercer within 24-48 hours, and for a healed piercing ideally within a week for jewelry coming out. These give you the best chances of getting jewelry back in, but it's never a guarantee. Some folks will have piercings close in hours and days, and time clients we can get jewelry back in even if it hasn’t been worn in a few years! It’s very variable.
How does it work?
So now that we understand the conditions under which a piercing can be reopened- a channel still being present just shrunken, how do we actually reopen them? Well, this is exactly what tapers are designed for! I touch on this briefly in my article about tapers, but they are the perfect tool for this job. Remember the ear-stretching analogy? With a shrunken piercing its similar, we are stretching the channel up to be able to accommodate jewelry! But, unlike ear stretching, there’s nothing currently in the piercing. So we can’t use the natural loosening of the piercing channel around jewelry to loosen things for the next size the way we can for stretching our ears. This is a place where tapers are perfect to assist in a stretch.
You may be thinking but Lynn, then why don’t we use tapers for lobes? Well, there’s no need to! With lobe piercings jewelry is already in the channel and will loosen over time and the next size can then fit. With reopening the piercing nothing is currently in the channel so we can’t rely on the body's natural ability to loosen. Besides that, with lobes tapers can force stretches and cause damage and microtears. This is also possible with reopening. Often times after a reopening because of the stretch with a taper clients may experience swelling, tenderness, and irritation for 2-4 weeks. This is still preferable to re-piercing since that would be 6-9 months of healing and care. But with lobes, there’s no need to risk causing that trauma or damage to the area.
Tapers do carry inherent risk, and if they are used incorrectly for a reopening they can tear or damage the channel, cause blowouts, and other issues. For this reason, reopening should be done by an experienced piercer who is trained to use these tools. They can identify what size the piercing can safely be reopened to, and use these tools to cause the least amount of trauma and harm possible. Sometimes this means reopening to a smaller size than the original piercing, using a different style of jewelry for initial reopening, or sometimes making the call to re-pierce rather than reopen. It takes a trained eye to be able to assess the remaining piercing channel and know the best way to work with it.
Reopening is often an uncomfortable or "spicy" process, and depending on the piercing may feel more unpleasant and tender than getting it pierced fresh. But even with that discomfort, reopenings are usually 100% back to normal after just a few weeks, as opposed to the full healing needed with a new piercing. What you gain in how quickly these recover and heal is more than worth the little bit of extra initial discomfort.
Not every piercing will be able to be reopened but many can! It’s so awesome to be able to salvage a piercing someone thought was closed or gone for good, and my studio whenever safe and possible we try to reopen piercings to save clients time, money, and healing. If you have a piercing you used to have and miss, it’s always worth seeing if it can be reopened rather than repierced. And if jewelry recently came out of a piercing and you can’t get it back in, don’t lose hope! Head to see your piercer sooner rather than later because we may be able to save it for you! Happy healing!