From nostril to navel (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, so it's no wonder sea salt for piercings has become a recommended method of caring for new jewels. To learn all about sea salt soaks, we tapped dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, and piercing experts Cozmo Faris and Blue Galiano.
Keep scrolling to learn exactly what sea salt soak piercings are all about.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She is a member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Review Board.
- Cozmo Faris is an Atlanta-based professional piercer with more than 12 years of experience. He is a member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Review Board.
- Blue Galiano is the general manager of Florida-based tattoo and piercing shop Inkaholik.
Caring for a New Piercing
Cleaning your piercing should be relatively easy. 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."
Nazarian concurs. "I recommend either sea salt soaks or sterile saline sprays," she says. "Both keep the skin free of bacteria, lessening the chance of infection, and are well tolerated to minimize irritation."
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. "Don’t use aggressive cleaning techniques," adds Nazarian. "Scrubbing or rubbing the area too intensely can cause microtears in the skin, and lengthen healing time."
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.
Benefits of Sea Salt Soaks
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.
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. "They’re gentle, cheap, and do a phenomenal job of minimizing bacteria and keeping the new piercing clean," adds Nazarian.
Can You DIY a Sea Salt Soak?
While it is possible to create your own sea salt mixture, Nazarian says that picking up a bottle from the store is the best way to ensure you're using the proper ratio of salt to water. "I typically recommend store-bought," she says. "It is possible to make your own salt soak at home but there is a little bit more room for user error. It’s vital that an appropriate amount of salt is used, typically about an eighth of a teaspoon for a half-cup of water, and that the salt dissolves in the water fully. When in doubt, purchased ready-made from the store."
How (and When) to Do a Sea Salt Soak
Galiano says to do a sea salt soak twice a day for the duration of the healing process, which differs depending on the piercing.
Always start with clean hands when caring for your piercing: Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you are DIY-ing your sea salt mixture, combine a pinch of non-iodized fine-grain sea salt (about 1/8 teaspoon) and about 1/2 cup of very warm water in a small bowl. Soak the piercing in the mixture for five minutes.
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.
However, "some areas are more difficult to soak, such as facial piercings," says Nazarian. For an area that could be hard to submerge, she suggests spray products. You can also do a hot compress by simply soaking a clean towel or paper towel in the solution, then holding 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.) Another option is saturating the area for about five seconds, then allowing 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: These ingredients may be irritating and could 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: Too much salt 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.
Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate can help reduce inflammation and help with skin detoxification.
How Long Does It Take Piercings to Heal?
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 signs of infection. These include "increasing pain, redness, and oozing or discharge," says Nazarian. "Anyone experiencing these signs should be encouraged to see a physician to start treatment immediately—both to attempt to preserve the piercing and to ensure good skin health."
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Proper wound care: how to minimize a scar.