If you feel a bump on a piercing, there's no need to panic. Piercing bumps, while annoying, can show up in the healing process even with meticulous care and are common fare for the professionals. "It’s important to understand before you get a piercing that it takes a level of patience and dedication to earn your piercing wings," says J. Colby Smith. Still, you need to make sure you're properly treating your bump. To do that, it's important to first identify the type of bump you're dealing with, where it is located on your body, and how it got there in the first place. After that, simple remedies, time, and patience will help you cure any unsightly swelling.
What Is a Piercing Bump?
A piercing bump is “unstable scar tissue" or an irritation bump that commonly occurs in more dense tissue like the cartilage on your ear or nose, according to Johnny Pearce. It can be one of three things: a hypertrophic scar that has formed inside of the piercing, an abscess of infectious fluid trapped under or behind the piercing, or a cyst caused by an obstruction of dead skin cells or hair.
And while most piercing bumps are usually temporary and cosmetic, and likely to clear up with extra TLC and time, says Josh Harris, as a general rule, most growths (cysts, abscess’, keloids, tumors, etc.) are categorized as special issues that require assistance from a medical professional. "It’s important for your piercer to know where to draw the line between minor problems that can be resolved naturally at the studio and when to redirect you to a medical professional," states Pearce. To find out more about piercings bumps, from their causes to how to treat them, we consulted Pearce and the piercing experts at 108 Studios.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to discover eight expert-approved remedies for managing unsightly, albeit common, piercing bumps.
Identify and Remove the Irritant
There is a variety of scenarios that lead to the formation of a bump. The secret is taking a moment to think about your day to day routine, we want to narrow down what actions are causing the irritation. Try and identify the moments in which you regularly interfere with your piercing.
The most common causes are, bumping, snagging, or sleeping on new (two to six months old) piercings. Other factors include: misfitted jewelry, the shape of jewelry, airplane travel—a dramatic change in elevation and cabin pressure—poor jewelry quality, touching the piercing with dirty hands, and changes in humidity can all aggravate new piercings. Plus, headphones, skincare/beauty products, and too many puppy dog kisses can also cause an issue, Pearce says. Remove the irritant, and the rest will follow.
Check Your Jewelry
After you've identified a problem area, the next step is to check if the jewelry is a proper fit and allows enough room for swelling, says Colby Smith. Also, make sure your jewelry is up to par. Are your studs, hoops, or CBRs (captive bead rings) made of surgical stainless steel, surgical titanium, niobium, or Tygon (a surgical plastic)?
If you're not sure, visit your local trusted professional piercing studio. They will help you select a quality item in the perfect gauge for healing your piercing. Someone there may change it out for you, too, so there's no reason to do it yourself. Once it's in, leave it there until your bump is completely healed. Rotate it occasionally if possible but only after healing.
Give It Time
When you get a piercing, part of your body's job is to help heal the wounds, which tends to work best when left to its own devices. This is why the experts don't always recommend using any outside products on your piercing. Instead of applying potentially harmful products to the piercing site, reach for a sterile saline spray, as it safely removes debris, discharge, and buildup without causing trauma to the piercing. (FYI: Keep in mind that sterile saline spray is not at all the same thing as adding sea salt to water at home.)
Once your piercing is completely healed, you then can then feel free to change your jewelry from anywhere between three to six months, says Harris. Still, make sure to select high-quality jewelry purchased only from a professional shop and let someone there put it in. "We start longer to allow room for swelling once the swelling has reduced and your body has accepted the jewelry we can carefully switch to something shorter," he explains. Another cause of piercing bumps could come from changing jewelry too soon so, "The longer you wait for the piercing to heal up the better your chances are of not getting the bump," adds Harris.
Keep Your Piercing Clean
Cleaning your piercing daily with a mild antibacterial soap is the key to eliminating abscesses or cysts, but sometimes they need a little extra help. That's where salt soaks come in. Sea salt soaks work to draw out the impurities, clearing bacterial infection and loosening dead skin cells and dried pus. Another popular solution used to clean new piercings is H2Ocean's piercing aftercare line.
Mix 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt with water, and soak your piercing blister three times a day until it is completely gone.
"At the end of the day, [piercing bumps] come from irritation. The body does not like the foreign object, we need to gently convince the body to heal around it rather than fight it. I find most people don’t take great care of their piercings until there is a problem, then they care a lot. My advice is to be proactive from the start. Keep it clean and be careful with it," says Colby Smith.
Try Home Remedies
Salt soaks usually do the trick when it comes to treating pesky irritations, but certain bumps may call for an herbal compress, like a chamomile tea bag soaked in hot water. Colby Smith recommends applying a hot compress with a chamomile tea bag, nightly. The heat helps draw some of the irritation out and chamomile helps reduce inflammation, he explains.
If that's not working he suggests moving on to apple cider vinegar. Tape a small ACV-soaked piece of cotton to the bump overnight. This will turn the bump white, then purple, then black, and eventually fall off like a scab in a few days, says Colby Smith.
Apple cider vinegar is fermented apple juice formed when yeast mixes with the sugar of the juice. It contains acetic acid, which has antibacterial and keratolytic properties. It also contains malic acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant.
Consider Compression Therapy
Some irritation bumps can be easily remedied by transitioning from cheaper jewelry to an implant-grade material or by replacing the jewelry size and style to one that’s more appropriate.
"We’ve also been successfully treating irritation bumps using what I call, 'compression therapy,' which utilizes the gentle but constant compression of a larger titanium disk on the bump, encouraging it to dissipate even more quickly," Pearce says. Regardless of the specific course of action you choose, it all starts with making an appointment at your local APP Piercing Studio.
Massage With Oil
Hypertrophic scarring, "the technical term for the little bump we see most commonly," comments Harris, is caused by an increase in collagen due to trauma in and around the piercing site. It usually occurs in a cartilage piercing (upper ear or nose) and must be tended to immediately—before it becomes a more permanent keloid scar. First, consult a professional and have them size down your jewelry gauge to avoid undue pressure on the wound. Then, perform a daily, gentle oil massage to soften the scar tissue over time.
Collagen refers to a family of proteins that are the primary structural component of connective tissues such as skin, ligaments, and cartilage. Topical collagen creams are said to improve fine lines and wrinkles by replacing lost collagen, though its main benefit is moisturizing the skin.
Get a Shot of Cortisone
If the infection persists, "Take a trip to the dermatologist for a shot of cortisone (I recommend this a lot to my actor or model clients as they need a quick fix before they get in front of the camera)," says Colby Smith. The sooner you treat any pervading issue, the easier it is to reduce, Harris says, noting most bumps come and go for about six months, and then we don’t see them much more after that.
"Piercings are foreign objects in our body and every time we get pierced we try to trick our body into thinking this piece of metal belongs there," says Adrian Castillo. "There are preventative measures but sometimes the body does what it wants to do and typically these little hiccups go away." But if at-home remedies don't take, the best thing you can do is "remove the jewelry knowing we tried everything possible and your body said 'nope,'" notes Colby Smith. The next step after that would be to consult your doctor.