Because piercings are so common (and look so pretty), it’s easy to forget that they’re wounds that you have to treat like any other injury to your body. Improper care of a fresh piercing can have dire consequences—including infections that can be life-threatening. But don’t worry, we’re not going to leave you in the dark. From your earlobe to your tongue, find out how to clean a piercing below.
5 Tips for Overall Care
Before we get into cleaning specific sites, we need to address protocol for overall care. While each location dictates healing time and types of products to use, there are some general rules you should follow no matter the type of piercing you have:
Don’t touch your piercing with dirty hands. This may seem obvious, but you can easily get distracted and start fiddling with your piercing. Leave it alone when it’s still fresh to avoid any unnecessary swelling or irritation and wash your hands before you start cleaning it.
Never wipe, always dab. You don’t want to be too rough with a fresh piercing, so your best bet when drying the area is to dab instead of wiping. Opt for paper towels or single-use gauze when drying as well, since repeatedly used cloths and towels carry germs and may infect your piercing.
Don’t sleep on the pierced area. Whether it’s for a quick 15-minute nap or you’re going to bed for the night, whenever possible, do not sleep on a freshly pierced area. Sleeping or lying down on your piercing can trap moisture or bacteria.
Avoid contact with beauty products. From shampoo to body lotion, try your best to make sure your piercing doesn’t come in contact with any personal hygiene or beauty products. They contain ingredients that may irritate the wound and delay the healing process.
Stay away from pools, hot tubs, etc. You’ve had your trip to Cabo planned for a minute and we love that for you, but with a new piercing, it’s important to stay away from shared bodies of water, which are hubs for germs and contain chemicals that are not good for your piercing. You and your piña colada have to stay poolside, unfortunately.
How to clean an ear piercing
While ear piercings are the most common, they may feel funny when you first get them. Expect a little bit of stinging when the piercing is still fresh—you did just tear into your flesh after all—but for the most part, your new bling shouldn’t bother you. Bleeding, bruising and redness are also common symptoms to expect when you have a fresh piercing. As it heals, you might also notice some itching or crust (a.k.a scabs), which are also normal.
Though it’s widely believed that rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin are good for cleaning earlobe piercings, these three products may actually do more harm than good. According to Christina Sciblo, a former piercer at Piercing Pagoda who runs the YouTube channel The Piercing Outlet, alcohol and peroxide are a no no because they may cause your ear to dry out, become raw or scab up. Neosporin is specifically made to close wounds, which is the opposite of what you want to happen to your piercing. Instead, use an antibacterial soap such as Provon’s Antimicrobial Lotion Soap or H2Ocean, a saltwater piercing aftercare solution, to clean the area. (Make sure you choose one cleaning method and not both.)
To clean an ear piercing, first, make sure you wash your hands as mentioned before. Next, you want to gently push your earring forward to create room between your earlobe and the bar, so you get directly to the hole. Do the same for the back. If you’re cleaning with antimicrobial soap, you can either use a Q-tip to cleanse the area daily or create a mixture and put it in a spray bottle. Do this twice a day. Additionally, you also want to make sure that you’re gently rotating your earring daily, so it doesn’t get stuck.
How to clean a cartilage piercing
Next to ear piercings, cartilage piercings are some of the most popular ones around. Those upper ear, nose and septum piercings can easily bring a little edge to your look or be the perfect touch of daintiness and elegance. Pretty as they are, you have to be extra vigilant about cleaning cartilage piercings because they are riskier and take longer to heal (about eight to twelve weeks). Infections to your cartilage piercing can easily cause serious conditions such as necrosis and tissue death in your cartilage wall, per WebMD.
As with your ear piercing, you want to make sure you’re tending to your cartilage twice a day. Spray the area with a sterile saline wound wash like Arm & Hammer’s Saline Wound Wash. You can even spritz some on a piece of gauze and let your piercing soak. Unlike ear piercings, which should be rotated on occasion, steer clear of your cartilage piercings as much as possible because, again, they are a lot more sensitive. Those who have allergies or are prone to colds should consider getting a nose piercing of any sort when they’re least reactive because mucus can attract also staphylococcus bacteria, says WebMD.
How to clean a tongue piercing
Tongue piercings are not for the faint of heart, and honestly, kudos to anyone who gets them. The first concern, of course, is how you eat after you get the piercing. But don’t worry, you don’t have to get on any special soup diet while your piercing heals. You should, however, opt for colder foods and beverages, since they can help keep the swelling down and refrain from eating spicy food. Infinite Body Piercing also urges you to keep the alcoholic beverages at bay while your tongue heals.
To keep your tongue piercing clean, Infinite Body recommends you make a saltwater rinse by mixing ¼ teaspoon of sea salt (Morton’s All-Purpose Natural Sea Salt) with one cup of bottled or distilled water. Swish the solution in your mouth for 30 to 60 seconds after every meal. You can also use an alcohol-free mouth rinse such as Colgate Peroxyl Antiseptic Mouth Sore Rinse. You should also consider using a new, soft-bristled toothbrush when you first get the piercing, so you don’t introduce new bacteria into the fresh wound.
How to clean a belly button piercing
The 2000s have made a comeback, and some folks are fully embracing the movement by incorporating one of the era’s most popular trends: belly button piercings (low rise jeans not required). To clean a belly button piercing, Authority Tattoo says you must first dip a Q-tip into warm water, then gently dab the area to clean off any crust that may be forming as the piercing is healing. Next, create a sea salt solution by stirring ¼ teaspoon of sea salt into eight ounces of boiled water that has been cooled. Gently move the piercing as needed so you can get the top and bottom. Dab the area to get rid of any excess, and voila!
How to tell if your piercing is infected
As we mentioned before, when you get a piercing, you’re naturally supposed to experience some type of mild swelling, redness or itching. Think of your piercing as a scuffed knee, it’s going to cause some discomfort as it heals. However, if you don’t see the area getting any better after several weeks, be sure to go back to your piercer (or a doctor) and have them check it out. If you’re no longer comfortable with the person who pierced you, the American Association of Piercers has a running list of trusted piercers you can always turn to.
Signs and symptoms of infected piercings include:
aching or throbbing pain
abnormal yellowish or whitish discharge
So, while piercings can be a great way to accessorize, it’s important to be super vigilant about cleaning them and allowing them to heal properly to avoid any complications.
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