If you feel a blister on a piercing, there's no need to panic. Piercing blisters are very common and occasionally show up in the healing process even with meticulous care. Before you begin your treatment, 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.
A piercing blister can show up for various reasons. Prior to coming up with your plan, figure out if your blister is an abscess, a follicular cyst, or hypertrophic scarring (a bump that forms on the backside of the piercing hole). "The technical term for the little bump we see most commonly is Hypertrophic Scar," Josh Harris at 108 Studio says. "It sounds a bit scarier then it really is. It's not permanent and very treatable."
Some piercers will refer to this dreaded bump as hypertrophic scar tissue but James Pearce at Nine Moons Piercing prefers the broad term “unstable scar tissue" though calling it what it really is can be easier: an irritation bump. It commonly occurs in more dense tissue, like the cartilage on your ear or nose. Just as the name implies, it is caused by irritation, he says, which is tricky because the irritation can be from anything.
What Is a Piercing Blister/Bump?
A piercing blister is a blister or pimple that contains pus. It is often caused by poor piercing technique, not properly caring for the piercing, or an allergic reaction to the jewelry. A piercing bump could 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.
Most piercing bumps are usually temporary and cosmetic, and Harris says they're likely to clear up with extra TLC and time, often leaving no trace it was ever there. "Keloids are more permanent and a client would already know if they are prone to keloids and avoid piercings and tattooing all-together," he says, noting, "Bumps are often mistaken for Keloids but they are not the same."
Abscesses, on the other hand, are painful lesions caused by a bacterial infection inside or around the piercing. However, while they sound daunting, they can be treated with the appropriate evaluation by a medical professional and, oftentimes, drainage. Similarly scary-sounding, a follicular cyst is actually just a clogged pore. This pus-filled bump can be caused by an ingrown hair or dead skin cells trapped inside a pore next to your piercing. Hypertrophic scarring, however, usually occurs in a cartilage piercing (upper ear or nose) and must be tended to immediately—before it becomes a more permanent keloid scar.
"Keloids and irritation bumps may appear similar at first glance however, they are not the same thing. That bubble your friend keeps calling a “keloid” probably isn’t actually a keloid, Pierce says. "Keloidosis is often a familial condition, one that isn’t quite as common as you’d think, and most of my clients who do keloid have previously seen evidence of this in other types of injuries. In the event that you do have an actual keloid, visiting your dermatologist would be the first step towards a solution," he says. "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." As a general rule, most growths (cysts, abscess’, keloids, tumors, etc.) are categorized as specialty issues that require assistance from a medical professional.
Lastly, hypertrophic scarring is caused by an increase in collagen due to trauma in and around the piercing site, and you shouldn't delay treatment if it happens to you. First, size down your jewelry's gauge (with professional guidance, of course) to avoid undue pressure on the wound. Then, perform a daily, gentle oil massage to soften the scar tissue over time. Rosehip seed oil, like The Ordinary's 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($10), is preferred.
"I always tell people it is more common than you think. 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." Adrian Castillo at 108 Piercing says. "There are preventative measures but sometimes the body does what it wants to do and typically these little hiccups go away."
Meet the Expert
These bumps, while annoying are common fare for the professionals, who mostly see and deal with hypertrophic issues related to piercings. "It’s important to understand before you get a piercing that it takes a level of patience and dedication to earn your piercing wings," Colby-Smith says, "No doubt about it, piercings can be annoying but If you have a good rapport with your piercer, you can easily pop in and make sure everything is cool. We see it all the time so our lack of stress should make you feel instantly better."
The sooner you treat any pervading issue, the easier it is to reduce, Harris says, noting most bumps come and go for about 6 months, and then we don’t see them much more after that.
Keep reading to learn how to manage any unsightly blisters because that new piercing does look super cool.
Give It Time
Once your piercing is completely healed, you then can then feel free to change your jewelry. Still, make sure to select high-quality jewelry purchased only from a professional shop and let someone there put it in.
"At the end of the day, it all comes 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." Colby Smith says.
Identify 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 (2-6 month 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. While it's a dangerous world for a new piercing, and the possibilities are endless, there is good news, he says: Even though it feels like this annoying bump is taking over your life, it is entirely temporary and we things will return to normal.
Check Your Jewelry
After you've identified a problem area, the next step is to 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.
"We usually recommend clients waiting somewhere between 3 to 6 months before changing out the jewelry. If you are wearing a stud we like to shorten the post at around 3 months, as the extra length can lead to a mishap or snag," Harris says. "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." 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," he says.
Start Light and Move Up
"I like to start out with something light and if that doesn't work move up to something a little stronger," Colby Smith says.
- What this means is, first check if the jewelry is a proper fit and allows enough room for swelling, etc.
- A step up from that would be a hot, hot compress with a chamomile tea bag, nightly. The heat helps draw some of the irritation out and chamomile helps reduce inflammation.
- If that's not working it's on to apple cider vinegar. Taping 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 (eww) in a few days.
- Next up 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).
- The last option is to simply remove the jewelry knowing we tried everything possible and your body said NOPE," Colby Smith says.
Just 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.
Mix 1/8 teaspoon of sea salt with water, and soak your piercing blister three times a day until it is completely gone.
Salt soaks usually do the trick, but certain blisters may call for an herbal compress, like a chamomile tea bag soaked in hot water. A popular solution used to clean new piercings is H2Ocean—its piercing aftercare line ranges from $6-$20.
"The internet is full of misinformation and harmful home remedies like using tea tree oil, sea-salt soaks and crushing aspirins into paste, proving that piercing aftercare is no exception," Pearce.
Try 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.
Leave it Alone
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 you have an irritation bump, It becomes a game of positive and negative interactions. Since irritation is the culprit, each time you touch that bump or snag that piercing, you’ll notice that the irritation bump will respond by growing even larger and staying visible for longer. However, once we’ve identified the source of the irritation and we remove that from the equation, we will begin to see that bump slowly begin to dissipate. It won’t happen overnight, but rest assured, it will go down with time and patience, Pearce says.