Published on May 10, 2024 at 8:00

Facial and body piercings have become increasingly popular in recent decades. This information sheet explains how to care for your piercing to avoid complications.

Prevention

The risks of piercings vary depending on the location of the piercing. Common issues include local reactions, infections, and scarring. However, there is a risk of developing more serious health problems, such as systemic infections (e.g., a heart infection, hepatitis B or C, HIV, or tetanus).

To minimize these risks, it may be wise to consult a health care professional before getting a new piercing, especially if you take any medications or have a chronic illness. In addition, make sure that your piercer and shop follow good hygiene practices:

  • The piercer disinfects the skin before piercing.
  • The piercer uses single-use equipment or sterilized reusable equipment.
  • The environment is kept clean (e.g., surfaces are disinfected, hazardous equipment is disposed of safely).
  • The piercer uses disposable gloves and washes their hands.
  • The appropriate jewelry is used for piercing.

Treatment

It's normal to experience slight bleeding, swelling, and redness after getting a new piercing. However, if these symptoms do not improve after 5 to 7 days, it may be a sign of infection.

Treat your piercing like an open wound. Be sure to follow recommended hygiene measures to prevent your piercing from becoming infected. This document provides general recommendations, but aftercare instructions may vary from one piercing shop to another.

  • Keep the jewelry in place while the piercing is healing so it doesn't close up.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before handling the piercing, and avoid touching it unnecessarily.
  • Clean your new piercing 2 times a day and gently remove any buildup from the jewelry:
    • Use mild, fragrance-free soap and water or a sterile saline solution (e.g., hydraSense). Products marketed specifically for piercings have not been shown to be more effective.
  • Dry the area gently with a clean cloth, such as a disposable gauze pad.
  • For mouth piercings:
    • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash after meals and at bedtime.
    • Use ice or cold liquids to reduce pain and inflammation, especially in the early stages of healing.
    • Avoid irritants during healing, such as spicy foods, hot beverages, alcohol, and tobacco.
    • Ask your oral health care provider (e.g., dentist or dental hygienist) for advice about your piercing.

Healing times vary depending on the location of the piercing. It's recommended to continue aftercare until it is completely healed.

Healing times by piercing location

Piercing locationHealing time
Mouth (inside) and tongue3 to 8 weeks
Nipple6 to 12 months
Nostril (nose)2 to 8 months
Navel9 to 12 months
Ear (cartilage)2 to 4 months
Genitals6 to 12 months
Face (eyebrows, lips) and earlobes4 to 8 weeks

Precautions

To promote healing, it's best to avoid applying certain products to your fresh piercing:

  • Using alcohol and hydrogen peroxide to clean the piercing may actually slow healing.
  • Topical antibiotics and other topical medications (e.g., Polysporin, topical Benadryl) may worsen skin reactions and irritation. It's best to avoid them unless they're prescribed by your health care provider.

To prevent infection, avoid submerging your piercing in any body of water (lakes, rivers, the ocean, spas, pools, etc.) until it's fully healed.

In addition, it's recommended to take showers instead of baths while your piercing is still healing. This is because there's a lower risk of the piercing coming into contact with germs from the bathtub or other parts of your body. If you do take a bath, be sure to clean the bathtub thoroughly before use and rinse your piercing as soon as you get out.

Before you undergo surgery, X-rays, or other medical examinations, inform your care team that you have a piercing. In some cases, you may be asked to remove your jewelry.

You may have to wait a certain amount of time after getting a piercing before giving blood or plasma.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Signs of infection, such as:
    • Significant redness that gets worse or doesn't go away
    • Pus
    • Unusual pain
    • Fever and chills
  • Signs of an allergy, such as:
    • A rash
    • Itching
    • Trouble breathing (wheezing or chest pain)
    • Swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, or mouth
  • Any other worsening, persistent, or new symptoms
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