Allergic reaction, infection and rejection are three completely different skin healing issues that are commonly mis-diagnosed. We’ll be looking at the symptoms, causes and solutions for each of these and why they are frequently mistaken for each other.
Allergic reactions are the most common reason for a piercing not healing as quickly as it should and in some cases not healing at all. Nickel is the most common metal that people are allergic to and can be found in many everyday items, such as coins, zips, mobile phones and the frames of your glasses. Nickel is found in Surgical Steel, among other metals, sometimes as high as 10% making it completely inappropriate for piercing jewellery. If you have ever had a bracelet or necklace bring up a rash like red pimply, itchy skin, it’s mostly likely a Nickel allergy. If that’s what Nickel can do to the outside of your skin from temporary wear, imagine what it does to the inside of your skin when worn permanently!
For this reason, we only use Titanium for all piercing jewellery at our studio and we advise that when you go on to buy your own jewellery after your piercing has healed to only buy Titanium. You can still get lots of pretty bars, rings and labrets with gemstones in Titanium. You can also get coloured jewellery called PVD Titanium where the colour of the metal itself is different.
If you’ve had your piercing more than 4 weeks and it is red, itchy, swollen or lumpy, and you aren’t sure what the metal of the jewellery is, the first thing to try is replacing it with something you know is definitely Titanium and there should always be a clear 2mm gap on the bar each side of the piercing whilst healing.
Infections in body piercings are rarer than allergic reactions and are usually caused by not following the aftercare advice given or poor personal hygiene. As with any open wound or damage to the skin, all piercings must be cleaned until they are fully healed. Bacteria is everywhere; in the air, on our clothes and especially on our hands from everything we touch. Not all bacteria is bad, but bacteria getting into any open wound on your skin can lead to infection. This is why all piercings must be cleaned twice a day with a mild salt water solution, made fresh every time. We advise against using any bottled solutions or sprays as over time you won’t know what else may have got into the container or around the spray nozzle of the bottle. Water on it’s own may remove dirt, dead skin or clothing fibres from around the area but it will not kill bacteria. Salt in water creates a hyper-tonic solution which destroys bacteria through the process of osmosis. SCIENCE!
All our aftercare sheets were written up by Public Health England and can be found here.
Infections can be identified by yellow/green discharge and sometimes a bad smell. Piercings can weep a clear/white fluid whilst healing; this is normal and is not a sign of infection. Piercings will ache and be tender for a couple of weeks, but if you have any pain after that it could also be a sign of infection (unless you’ve just knocked your piercing!)
If you suspect infection, you should always get it checked out by your GP. If they confirm an infection is present they will most likely prescribe you a 7-day course of anti-biotics. Salt water will not cure your infection as it is preventative, not curative.
Do not remove the jewellery. Doing so can trap the infection inside your skin.
Rejection is a possibility for any body piercing and some have a higher rate of rejection than others. For example Surface piercing have the highest rate of rejection and Tongue piercings have the lowest. Your body will do it’s best to remove all foreign objects from your skin; splinters, shrapnel and even piercings. While body piercings may be commonplace in current society, they are still an invasive form of modification and not a ‘natural’ part of our anatomy. The symptoms of rejection can appear very similar to allergic reactions but there are some notable differences. The area around the piercing will be red and sore and will have dry, flaky, peeling skin. As your body tries to push the jewellery out, it will kill off the surface layers of skin allowing the jewellery to rise out. The most common reason for this is if the jewellery is the incorrect shape and/or size for the area of skin. Bars that are too tight or too curved frequently reject. It can also be caused by an excessive amount of metal in any one area For example Surface bars 16mm and longer are very likely to reject whereas 10mm and shorter are accepted by the body much easier as they are less invasive.
If you know that your body jewellery is Titanium to have ruled out the possibility of an allergic reaction, then trying jewellery of a different shape (still Titanium) is your best hope. Small gauge, slightly loose jewellery will give you the best chance of halting the rejection. That said, if your body doesn’t want it there, it will find a way to push it out whatever jewellery you have in.
To summarise, these three healing issues have very similar symptoms so it’s important to recognise the differences detailed above. If you have any doubt about this you are welcome to contact me for any advice. As previously stated, if you do suspect an actual infection please always consult your GP. We can combat the other two issues at our studio with replacement Titanium jewellery of different shapes and sizes, but infection can only be treated by your GP.
~ Jenova Rain