Piercing is popular among today’s teens. In California, piercing is allowed for minors with parental permission. It helps to know more about the types of piercings, how long they take to heal and how they can be done safely.
How is Piercing Done?
First, be sure to choose a reputable studio. To create a piercing, a hollow needle is passed through the body part and jewelry is inserted into the hole. Don’t get a piercing done with a piercing gun, which crushes the pierced tissues and can’t be properly sterilized.
How Do the Holes Heal?
Piercing holes heal by forming a layer of cells called epithelial cells. The epithelial cells form a tube-like layer of skin along the inside of the piercing to protect your body from the foreign object.
The healing process takes at least six to eight weeks. Most body piercings require at least six months to a year before the jewelry can be removed for any length of time without the risk of the hole closing.
Average healing times are:
- Earlobe — 6 to 8 weeks
- Ear cartilage — 4 months to 1 year
- Eyebrow — 6 to 8 weeks
- Nostril — 2 to 4 months
- Nasal septum — 6 to 8 weeks
- Nasal bridge — 8 to 10 weeks
- Tongue — 4 weeks
- Lip — 2 to 3 months
- Nipple — 3 to 6 months
- Navel — 4 months to 1 year
- Female genitalia — 4 to 10 weeks
- Male genitalia — 4 weeks to 6 months
- Cheek — 4 to 5 months
After the epithelial layer has formed, the piercing may tighten around the jewelry. The epithelial layer can easily be torn or dislodged, so don’t force the jewelry to rotate without first applying warm water.
Once the epithelial cell layer forms, it needs to toughen and strengthen for up to a year before the piercing will become more flexible and relaxed around the jewelry.
Caring for Your Piercing Site
Make sure that your piercing is done with a sterile object and that the jewelry inserted is also sterile, to prevent bacteria and foreign substances from entering the body.
All new piercings produce a sticky white or off-white discharge that dries into a crusty formation around the openings and on the jewelry. Here’s how to care for your new piercing:
- Don’t touch the new piercing unless you’re cleaning it. Always wash your hands with soap before cleaning the piercing.
- Clean the pierced area with antibacterial soap. Gently remove all crusty formations, and rinse off the soap.
Saltwater soaks are good to loosen up crusty formations. You can make salt water by dissolving 1/4 teaspoon salt in 1 cup clean water.
- Don’t use alcohol or peroxide to clean the area at any time. These will dry out your skin. Betadine will discolor gold jewelry.
- Use saline solution (available at any drugstore) to clean the inside entrance of nostril piercings.
- Don’t use antibiotic ointments on piercings.
- Always wear clean clothing and change your bedsheets every week during the healing period. Sweat and clothes rubbing against the piercing may irritate it.
- After ear or face piercings, avoid makeup and powders in that area during the healing process. Cover the pierced area with a tissue if applying hairspray.
- After body piercings, don’t wear tight clothes. For navel piercing, don’t wear large belts, stockings or bodysuits, and don’t sleep on your stomach. Good air circulation is important for healing.
- Be careful where you swim. Avoid public pools and hot tubs until the piercing has healed.
- For mouth care following tongue or lip piercing, choose an antibacterial mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol. Rinse your mouth after all meals and snacks. If you notice bad breath and an off-colored tongue, the mouthwash may have killed bacteria that live naturally in the mouth. If this happens, switch to saltwater rinses instead of mouthwash.
- Avoid kissing or oral sex while mouth piercings are healing.
Cleaning the piercing too much or too little can cause the openings of the piercing to become red, overly dry and cracked.
Signs of Infection
After a piercing, see your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Pain that doesn’t go away within a day or two.
- Increased pain, unusual pain or swelling in the piercing site.
- The area feels hot to the touch.
- Red lines starting from the piercing.
- Oozing, bleeding or pus from the piercing site.
Don’t remove your jewelry before you see your healthcare provider. If the jewelry is removed, the openings of the piercing may close and trap the infection, which can create an abscess (a pus-filled, painful area).
Sensitivity to Cleaning Products or Jewelry
Symptoms may include:
- Itching or burning when the piercing is cleaned.
- A rash surrounding the piercing.
To avoid infections or reactions from the jewelry, piercers recommend nontoxic metals such as surgical steel (316L or 316LVM), 14K or 18K yellow gold, 18K palladium white gold, niobium or titanium.
Oral Piercing and Dental Health
No matter where you put jewelry in a piercing, you could develop an infection or sensitivity. But mouth piercings have some specific, additional risks, according to the American Dental Association.
The mouth contains millions of bacteria. Oral piercing or tongue splitting can be dangerous because it’s impossible to sterilize the mouth completely. One study indicated that nearly 35 percent of people with an oral piercing in their tongue, lip or cheek experienced complications, including:
- Receding gums.
- Fractured or chipped teeth.
- Excess spit.
- Bad breath.
- Metallic taste in the mouth.
If you already have an oral piercing, try not to click it against your teeth. See your dentist regularly, brush your teeth twice daily and floss regularly.
These references are provided for your general information and education only and should not be relied upon for personal diagnosis or treatment. If you have questions, please contact your healthcare provider.
- Association of Professional Piercers (APP)
- The Body Art Book: A Complete, Illustrated Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Other Body Modification by Jean-Chris Miller (2004)
- Ink: The Not-Just-Skin-Deep Guide to Getting a Tattoo by Terisa Green (2005)
- Tattoos, Body Piercings, and Health by Leanne Currie-McGhee (2013)
PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these references, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of their information. PAMF has no control over the privacy practices of external websites; be sure to read and understand any website’s privacy policies.
Last Reviewed: August 2019