For the most part, piercings have few drawbacks and serve as a fun way to express oneself and experiment with body modification. That being said, migration and rejection are the exceptions and can be issues that are both frustrating and frightening. What's more, the two words are often mistaken for one another—which doesn't help matters—so we're here to help with that. Read on for a complete guide to piercing migration and rejection.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Jessie Cheung is a board-certified dermatologist based in Illinois and owner of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness.
Rejection vs. Migration: What’s the Difference?
Put simply: Rejection occurs when you place a foreign object in your body (e.g., piercing jewelry) and for one reason or another, your body considers the foreign object to be a threat to your health. While rejection can happen anywhere, some areas of the body are more prone to rejection than others. "Some anatomical sites are more prone to rejection—flat, tight surfaces don't allow for deeper piercings and are subject to greater pressure," explains Dr. Cheung. Thus, in order to protect itself, your body slowly fights the object by pushing it and healing the skin behind it, which eventually forces the piercing back out through the skin.
On the flip side, when your piercing is migrating, it's attempting to move from its original spot to a new one, and in some cases, can result in a full-blown rejection. "As your body's immune system reacts to the foreign material in your skin, it is common to have some swelling and redness," she says. It's definitely something to look out for because if the jewelry is not removed in a timely manner, it can get completely rejected and may result in scarring from the puncture and put you at risk for infection.
Piercings Most Likely to Reject and Migrate
Piercings that only break through a small amount of surface skin—aptly named surface piercings—are most at risk for rejection and migration. This is because the less skin there is to help keep the piercing secure, the higher the chances are that your body will find a way to push it out. Of course, this totally depends on the person, as some people are simply more prone to rejection than others.
The most common surface piercings are belly button and brow piercings. However, the piercings most likely to reject are those that reside closer to the skin's surface, such as sternum, nape, and Madison piercings. A skilled and experienced piercer will know how to pierce through enough flesh for a secure hold without causing tissue or nerve damage, albeit even a perfectly placed piercing can still be rejected if your body doesn't want it there.
What Is a Madison Piercing?
A body piercing that goes through the skin at the front of the neck.
How to Tell If Your Piercing Is Migrating
Because migration is such a slow process that can take weeks or even months to play out, it can be tricky to tell for sure if your piercing is actually changing. A few symptoms to look out for are constant soreness and sensitivity, the skin over the piercing getting thin enough to see the jewelry through it, the jewelry hanging more loosely than it used to, and the hole around the piercing appearing larger.
"If your piercing is placed too superficially, or is under too much pressure, or just heals poorly, your immune system will reject the material and the prolonged inflammation will push the piercing and result in migration. This can start as a gradual widening of the hole, or stretching of the skin around the piercing," Dr. Cheung explains. You should go see a doctor ASAP to keep it from getting worse.
What to Do If Your Piercing Migrates
Unfortunately, once a piercing has begun to migrate, there isn't too much you can do to stop it. It's kind of like a relationship gone bad. What you can do, however, is prevent it from getting worse. "Once you notice migration, remove the piercing to avoid further damage to your skin. If you leave the piercing, you may develop unwanted build-up of scar tissue," she says.
Is Re-Piercing After Rejection Safe?
Some fear that if their body rejected one piercing, it might reject all of them, which is not a crazy theory but also not necessarily the case. "You can attempt to re-pierce in the same area, but make sure your artist either goes deeper, uses a larger gauge, or chooses a less reactive metal," advises Dr. Cheung. Above all, be sure that a professional does your piercing so you can trust it'll be done properly, and make sure to keep a close eye on it afterward.
If re-piercing, opt for a different kind of jewelry material, like niobium or titanium. Stainless steel is more likely to be rejected again.
Association of Professional Piercers. Safe piercing FAQ.
Association of Professional Piercers. Body piercing troubleshooting for you and your healthcare professional.
Association of Professional Piercers. Jewelry for initial piercings.