Piercing Care and Precautions
Body piercings take time to heal, even with
Depending on the site of the piercing, expected times for
normal healing may vary and special care is required.
Here are a few things that are important to know, even before
you decide to have body piercing:
- Body piercing should be done ONLY with a new, sterile needle,
rather than a piercing gun, to reduce risk of exposure to the
HIV/AIDS virus and Hepatitis B virus which are both bloodborne
pathogens. Piercing guns cannot be sterilized completely.
All piercings require special care, and some require more care than
others. For example, a piercing through the upper rim
(helix) of the ear goes through cartilage and takes an average of
2-3 months to heal. It must be cleaned 2-3 times daily during that
time. Tongue piercings should be cleansed at least a dozen times per day with
antiseptic mouthwash for 6-8 weeks. Navel piercings should be cleaned twice
daily for at least 9 months and daily in the shower thereafter.
Cleansing Solutions for Piercing Care
The piercing salon may sell an ear care antiseptic for you to use
for cleansing. The active ingredient is usually benzalkonium
chloride, which is the same active ingredient which is in Bactine.
Harsh full-strength solutions such as peroxide or bactine not only kill
germs but can also destroy new healing
tissue, so be sure that you dilute these solutions with 3 parts
water to 1 part antiseptic solution. Alcohol is usually not
recommended for cleansing new piercings because it is too harsh and
can destroy new healing tissue.
CAUTION: DO NOT USE HIBICLENS FOR CLEANING ANY PIERCINGS ABOVE
THE SHOULDERS. IT MAY CAUSE DEAFNESS OR BLINDNESS.
Prevention of Infection
There are several precautions you can take to prevent infection
of the pierced area and encourage healing.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching
the pierced area or jewelry to keep bacteria from your hands away
from the piercing site. Keeping the pierced area clean is the most
important way to prevent infection.
- Cleanse the piercing site with appropriate solution as
frequently as recommended for that particular site, and for the full
length of time recommended for healing. (See third paragraph.)
- Keep pierced area free of chemicals such as perfume, hair spray
or hair gel. After showering, rinse the pierced area with clear
water to remove soap or shampoo residue.
Do not hold a public telephone against a newly pierced ear.
Clean your telephone frequently with a disinfectant.
Following ear or facial piercing, be sure your pillowcase is clean and
- A gauze pad or cotton swab can be used
to clean crusts from around the jewelry. Use a new swab for each
piercing site. Jewelry should be rotated once or twice while applying
solution during each cleaning.
- Earrings should not be removed or changed for at least a month,
and should be worn continually for the first 4 to 6 months. Other
piercing sites may require more specific care.
What To Do If an Infection Develops
If signs of infection (increased redness, tenderness, heat, swelling)
occur in a piercing that is through cartilage, seek medical treatment
with antibiotics immediately. An infection of a piercing in cartilage
may form a permanent swollen lump (keloid) on the ear.
Mild infections of the ear lobe (soft tissue) may be treated with proper
cleansing and the local use of antibiotic ointment daily for one to two
weeks. Jewelry should be left in to allow drainage of exudate. If no
improvement, medical evaluation and treatment is recommended.
If you have a nasal piercing and signs of infection (increased redness,
tenderness, heat, swelling) occur, you must seek medical care
immediately. Infection of nasal piercings can spread to the brain and
cause serious complications.
This information sheet was composed by Carol J. Mulvihill, RN-C, BSN
and Carla Peterman, Work-Study student (Pre-Pharmacy
major), for the Student Health Service of the University of Pittsburgh at
Bradford, May 1997.
Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article
for non-commercial uses only, provided the source and author/s are
References utilized in development of this information sheet include:
- Information posted to the SHS (Student Health Service) listserv by Kim
Nolte, MPH, CHES, Head of
Health Education, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118-5698, Nov. 2,
BlackStar's Care Page on Piercing Care at
Piercing Pagoda's web page on Ear Piercing at
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