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From navel to nipple (and beyond), a new—or first!—body piercing is pretty exciting. But of course, aftercare should not be an afterthought. Your piercer should send you home with some instructions, and most likely, they involve gently cleaning the piercing with mild, non-antibacterial soap and warm water every day. (That's what one of our fave celebrity piercers, Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric, suggests).
For extra care, a warm sea salt soak may also be beneficial. Sea salt has long been revered for its potential cleansing, and healing properties, which is no wonder sea salt for piercings has become a recommended method of caring for your new jewels. To learn all about sea salt soaks, we tapped piercing experts Cozmo Faris and Blue Galiano.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to learn exactly what sea salt soak piercings are all about.
How to Care for a New Piercing
Cleaning your piercing should be relatively easy—you can do it right in your daily shower. Keep it simple and gentle with something like Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented Pure Castile-Soap ($18). A small amount is all that's needed to cleanse the area. Faris also recommends using a saline solution for piercings twice a day, followed by allowing the piercing to air dry. "I suggest a sterile gentle mist saline wound wash because it makes more efficient use of the product," he says. "There are several brand names producing it, but any product labeled sterile wound wash and lacking additives should do the trick."
Typically, healing a piercing is more about not doing things versus specific do's. As Galiano points out, you should avoid using hot water on your piercing, as it can cause inflammation, swelling, and pain. Instead, use warm water. "Letting the warm water in the shower run over the skin will help loosen uncomfortable crusties and gently clean them," he notes.
The location of your new piercing matters when it comes to aftercare. Faris says to avoid high-waisted pants while healing a navel piercing, avoid biting or playing with a tongue piercing, and avoid wearing earbuds while healing a tragus piercing.
Why Use a Sea Salt Soak
A sea salt soak is effective at softening up and gently removing debris that can accumulate, says Faris. It may also relieve inflammation, rinse the area, and flush out the wound as the piercing heals. While you'll still need to adhere to your piercers protocol, a sea salt soak can keep your wound clean and therefore speed up the recovery process.
How to Do a Sea Salt Soak
Can't get your hands on fancy solutions? A DIY sea salt soak is very easy to make.
First of all, always start with clean hands to care for your piercing; wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. In a small bowl, combine a pinch of non-iodized fine-grain sea salt (about 1/8 teaspoon) and about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of very warm water. Soak the piercing in the mixture for five minutes. Galiano says to do a sea salt soak twice a day for the duration of the healing process, which differs depending on the piercing.
Do Sea Salt Soaks Work for Every Type of Piercing?
Short answer? Yes. "Your body is what's healing the piercing—the recommended soaks are simply keeping the area clear of debris, so your body has an easier job working its magic," explains Faris. For an area that could be hard to submerge (such as a facial piercing or ear piercing), opt for a gentle mist spray. For belly button piercings, you can do a hot compress by simply soaking a clean towel or paper towel in the solution. Then hold the compress against the piercing for five to 10 minutes. (As it cools, you can soak the compress again in the warm water and reapply. You can also saturate the area for about five seconds, then allow it to air dry, says Faris.
What to Avoid
Proper care is crucial to preventing infection and ensuring a speedy recovery. Here are a few don'ts to always keep in mind.
- Do not use harsh cleansers, antibacterials, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide to clean your piercing, as these may be irritating and can dry it out. (Moisture is essential for proper healing).
- Do not use table salt, kosher salt, Epsom salts, or iodized sea salts. Non-iodized fine-grain sea salt is best for avoiding additives, as well as its ability to dissolve into a solution.
- Do not make the solution too salty, as that can be irritating to the piercing and the skin. To test it, put a dab on your finger and taste it with the tip of your tongue; it should be no saltier than a potato chip.
- Do not do a sea salt soak more than twice a day.
- Do not play with your piercing. This increases the likelihood of bacteria getting introduced into the area, which could lead to infection.
- Do not think swimming in the ocean is the same as a salt soak. Even though the sea is salty, it can still harbor bacteria that may infect your piercing.
The average healing time for body piercings varies from person to person; they can take at least three to six months to heal, and sometimes up to a full year. Even when the piercing appears healed on the outside, it can still take time for the tissue to heal on the inside. Reach out to your piercer if you need to remove the jewelry or if you feel it's time to change it out.
Be sure to consult a medical professional if you experience any complications, such as infection or unusual odors or secretions. As long as you stay consistent with cleansing and sea salt soaks, you should be able to keep your piercing healthy and looking awesome.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Proper wound care: how to minimize a scar.