Piercings are a form of expression, but after each new piercing—whether in your ear, nose, or elsewhere—it's crucial to prioritize cleaning. Ear piercings, in particular, are often so quick and simple that it's common for people to overlook the importance of regular cleaning and care. But we're here to let you know why it's important to clean your piercings regularly.
A piercing is a small wound that takes time to heal. During this phase, you'll want to keep your piercing clean to encourage healing and reduce the risk of infection. Depending on the type of piercing, healing time could fall anywhere between a couple of months and a full year.
We consulted with Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City, and Hadley King, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, to discuss everything you need to know about how to clean an earring hole and other types of piercings. Read on to learn more.
Meet the Expert
- Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, who is a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City
- Hadley King, MD, who is a dermatologist in New York City
Why Is It Important to Clean Your Piercing?
With everything you have going on, it can sometimes be hard to prioritize seemingly simple tasks like cleaning a piercing. But cleaning your piercing regularly is important, especially if the piercing was made in the past two months. Think of cleaning a piercing like how you think of brushing your teeth. Setting aside time to clean a piercing can sometimes feel annoying, but it takes barely any time and carries important benefits.
If you don't clean the area around your piercing, this can put you at a higher risk for developing complications like irritation, infection, scarring, and the formation of a granuloma (a small lump that forms in response to infection or inflammation), King explains.But these aren't the only reasons to clean a piercing. Regularly cleaning a fresh piercing may also speed up healing time, Frank says.
What Are Signs You Need to Clean Your Piercing?
"Piercings need to be cleaned regularly, regardless of specific signs," King explains. "Of course, evidence of debris, crusting, dirt, and makeup all are clear signs that the area needs to be cleaned, but with regular cleaning, you shouldn't get to this point."
Frank says that tenderness, pain, itching, and dried blood around the piercing site are additional signs that let you know your piercing needs to be cleaned. If you think your piercing is infected, seeing a doctor for expert advice is a good idea.
How Often Should You Clean Your Piercing?
Physicians suggest cleaning your piercing two or three times a day while the piercing is in its healing stages. How long will that healing phase last? Piercings in your ear lobe can take around two months to heal, while cartilage piercings may take up to a year. "This means that cartilage piercings remain vulnerable to infection for up to a year—making the risk of becoming infected higher," King says.
This means you'll want to clean an ear lobe piercing twice or thrice daily for at least two months. And you'll want to clean a cartilage piercing two or three times a day for up to a year.
What Can Happen If You Don't Clean Your Piercing
If you don't clean your piercing regularly, you could develop complications like infection, scarring, and inflammation, our experts explain. Additionally, the piercing could potentially take longer to heal.
Keep in mind that some types of piercings are more likely to become infected than others. "Cartilage piercings have a high risk for infection along with the belly button, nipples and genitals," Frank says. "It is important to go to a reputable piercer who uses only stainless steel and thoroughly cleans the area prior to piercing."
How to Clean Your Piercing
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Use a Q-tip, gauze pad, or cotton swab to apply saline solution to the piercing.
- Gently clean the area, removing any crust or dried blood.
- Dry the area by gently dabbing with a clean towel or tissue.
- Apply an ointment like Vaseline Original Healing Petroleum Jelly (this helps seal in growth factors that assist in wound healing, King says).
A few more helpful tips from our experts:
- Try to avoid touching the area around your piercing with your hands.
- Don't clean your earring or piercing in a public bathroom or other public setting—there's a higher risk of infection if you do so.
- As an alternative to saline, you can also clean your piercing with a gentle cleanser (King recommends Simple Skincare's Kind to Skin Moisturizing Facial Wash) and water. This can be a great option while you're in the shower or while washing your face.
- Aim for at least two gentle cleanings each day. One can be with a gentle cleanser and water, and the other can be with saline solution, King says.
Cleansing Agents to Avoid
When cleaning a piercing, dermatologists suggest you avoid using hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or anything drying. "It can cause cracks in the skin, delay healing and actually introduce infection," Frank says.
You should also steer clear of harsh cleansers or acids, King says. Along with hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, this includes products like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and other alpha and beta hydroxy acids. "These ingredients can kill the new epithelial cells migrating into the wound, and this can slow healing," King explains.
Cleaning a piercing is crucial to avoid infection, irritation, inflammation, and scarring. It's good practice to clean a piercing two or three times each day while the piercing heals. For one of these cleanings, apply saline solution to the piercing with a Q-Tip or gauze. A gentle cleanser and water should do the trick for the other cleaning. Avoid harsh products like hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and acids, as these can actually slow healing.