If you feel a bump on a piercing, there's no need to panic. Even if you're meticulous about your care and serious about the healing process, a piercing bump can rear its head. "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 pro piercer J. Colby Smith.
Still, the bump needs to be properly treated. To do that, you have to 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. Read on to learn exactly how to care for a piercing bump straight from the experts.
What Is a Piercing Bump?
Piercing bumps "can be the body's immune system responding to the wound from the piercing, causing some localized inflammation which, in turn, causes the bump," explains board-certified family nurse practitioner Alexandra Moench, DNP of Schweiger Dermatology Group. She notes while this process is sometimes benign, "in some cases, the underlying cause may be something other than inflammation and may need medical intervention to resolve." Some specific types and causes of piercing bumps include:
- Granulomas: "The body's immune system can wall off a foreign body (the piercing) or infection with inflammatory cells, forming a granuloma," says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD. Granulomas are usually benign.
- Keloids: "A keloid is a kind of raised scar," explains King. "Keloids can be challenging to treat, but there are treatment options that can make them smaller."
- Allergic reaction or infection: "In some cases, piercing bumps may be related to a cyst or an allergy," says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. Adds King: "If treated, these will resolve over time, but the piercing may need to be removed to treat them."
- Tissue damage: "Damaged tissue can become inflamed and swollen, creating a bump," says King.
- Genetics: Forming any piercing bump might just come down to the (un)luck of the draw. "Importantly, it can be hard to predict if a bump will occur, and there may be a genetic component to it as well," says Garshick.
Treating and Preventing Piercing Bumps
Identify and Remove the Irritant
The bad news: Many things can lead to the formation of a piercing bump. As such, it's important to investigate what actions and aspects of your day-to-day routine could be irritating.
"It can be helpful to eliminate any potentially irritating or aggravating factors, including excess trauma or pressure on the piercing," says Garshick. For example: "If the piercing is on the ear, avoid using headphones or other objects that may occlude the area."
Pro piercer Johnny Pearce tells us common irritants include bumping, snagging, or sleeping on new piercings; airplane travel and cabin pressure; touching the piercing with dirty hands; skincare and beauty products; and jewelry.
But the good news? Remove the irritant, and the rest will follow.
Check Your Jewelry
Smith recommends checking that your jewelry is a proper fit and allows enough room for swelling. You'll also want to investigate your materials: Are your studs, hoops, or CBRs (captive bead rings) made of surgical stainless steel, surgical titanium, niobium, or Tygon (a surgical plastic)? "Some people can develop an allergy to certain types of metals commonly found in piercings, such as nickel, so it may be important to avoid certain types of metals, particularly if you have sensitive skin," says Garshick.
If you're unsure about the state of your jewelry, visit your local trusted professional piercing studio. They can help you pick a more suitable piece of jewelry and may even 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.
Keep Your Piercing Clean
Cleaning your piercing daily with a mild antibacterial soap can be the key to eliminating abscesses or cysts. "It is important to clean the area regularly with a gentle cleanser, like Dove's Irritation Care Body Wash ($7) or Andalou Naturals' 1000 Roses Gentle Cleansing Foam ($13), to minimize the potential for infection," says Garshick.
Additionally, King recommends salt solutions. These may work to draw out impurities, clean infected areas, and loosen dead skin cells and dried pus. Another popular solution for cleaning 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. This can also help to remove discharge from your piercings.
"At the end of the day, [piercing bumps] come from irritation," says Smith. "The body does not like the foreign object, so 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."
Try Home Remedies
Salt soaks usually treat pesky piercing irritations, but certain bumps may call for an herbal compress, like a chamomile tea bag soaked in hot water. Smith recommends applying a hot compress with a chamomile tea bag to the bump nightly. The heat helps draw out some of the irritation while chamomile helps reduce inflammation, he explains.
If that's not working, he suggests moving on to apple cider vinegar. Tape a small piece of cotton soaked in apple cider vinegar to the bump overnight. This will turn the bump white, then purple, then black, and, eventually, it will fall off like a scab in a few days.
Consider Compression Therapy
"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. Note: You'll definitely want to leave this route to the pros and pay a visit to your piercer.
Massage With Oil
Hypertrophic scarring, the most common piercing bump, is caused by increased collagen due to trauma in and around the piercing site. It usually occurs in a cartilage piercing (upper ear or nose). If this sounds like what you're dealing with, 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 with rosehip seed oil, which is perfect for various skin types and gives you added hydration benefits to soften the scar tissue over time.
Try an Ointment and Some Ibuprofen
"While piercing bumps can be hard to prevent, they can be treated or addressed with different topical creams or ointments, such as Vaseline Healing Ointment ($4) or antibiotic ointments such as a prescription called mupirocin ointment, or topical steroid creams to reduce the inflammation," says Garshick. Moench also recommends NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.
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 Smith. Adds Garshick: "In-office treatments, such as cortisone injections, can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation associated with healing or scar tissue."
See a Doctor
Of course, sometimes, you just have to make an appointment with your dermatologist or GP. "If a piercing bump is persistent despite over-the-counter remedies, becomes painful, or is associated with worsening redness or systemic symptoms such as fever, it is important to check with a doctor," says Garshick.
How long does it take for a piercing bump to go away?
While it can vary depending on many factors (like the piercing location and cleanliness of the studio), most piercing bumps will start to diminish after a few days.
Why does my piercing bump keep coming back?
If your piercing bump keeps playing peek-a-boo with you, it may be due to infections or scarring. Be sure to use quality jewelry and keep your piercing clean even if there isn't a current bump. Follow up with a piercing expert to help pinpoint what the problem may be.
Is my piercing infected?
Signs of infection include pain, throbbing, and pus, explains King. If you're displaying any of these, "the area should be evaluated by a doctor," she says.
Should I take out my piercing if it's infected?
Unless advised by a doctor, be sure to leave your jewelry in if you suspect an infection. Removing the piercing can cause the infected wound to close could lead to scarring. Consult with a doctor before making any moves.
Granuloma: locations, types, causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic.
Ogawa R. Keloid and Hypertrophic Scars Are the Result of Chronic Inflammation in the Reticular Dermis. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar 10;18(3):606. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030606.