Getting a new piercing is an exciting experience, but it doesn’t end when you leave the piercer’s chair. Instead, the most important part begins: the aftercare. With piercings, it’s recommended to clean the fresh site a few times per day to keep it clean, fresh, and clear of any build-up. It’s typically recommended by piercers to use a sterile salt water spray or saline solution to clean it, as it flushes it out, draws out discharge, and stimulates circulation of the open wound. But is all sea salt spray created equal?
Why Use Sea Salt Spray?
Sterile salt water sprays or saline solutions are typically suggested for use in cleaning a new piercing due to not being as harsh as other cleaning agents. Products like hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine (also called Betadine) or other strong soaps can actually dry out skin and destroy newly formed tissue, essentially reversing any healing that should be occurring. It’s also important to avoid creams and ointments, no matter how thick, because they cut off the air circulation needed for healing and may contain unsafe ingredients for long-term use. On top of that, products that contain benzalkonium chloride (BZK) and benzethonium chloride (BZT)—like ear piercing solutions and bactine—should also be avoided, as they’re irritating and not intended for long-term use.
Simply put, "saline solution draws out discharge and helps stimulate circulation without killing the good bacteria," says Audri Siple of Get Stabbed Piercing.
Considering the sheer number of products to avoid, it’s no wonder piercers and dermatologists mostly recommend sterile saline solutions to heal new body and face piercings.
Should You Buy It Or DIY It?
If you’re planning on getting a piercing soon and want to save some money, you may be thinking about making your own saline solution instead of buying it. However, it’s not as simple as throwing some salt into water and mixing it up; there are a number of warnings to head, as well as a specific mixture that must be used in order to create an effective solution.
It’s highly recommended that you stick to the pre-packaged saline solutions if possible, as they come already sterilized; DIY solutions are easily contaminated. Using a mixture that’s not fully sterile could cause infection—or worse—as it could actually grow bacteria rather than destroy it. And they have to be exactly measured out as well, as a solution that’s too salty or not salty enough will either do nothing for your piercing or actively harm it.
Siple says that it's "frowned upon" to use DIY solutions. "This is because many clients do not use the appropriate measurements or distilled water. Many clients think adding more salt is better and use tap water. This can dry out/irritate the piercing, causing problems."
Plus, making homemade saline solution requires you to mix up a new batch every time you want to clean your new piercing. Because you’d be washing it two to three times a day, that means you’d have to spend some time beforehand mixing up the solution and making sure the measurements are exact. You may think a solution to this would be to make one big batch, but creating it and letting it sit (even covered) means that it will no longer be sterile, rendering it essentially useless.
When it comes to whether to buy pre-packaged saline solution or not, you can assume that solution from the store will always be the best option. Because it’s ready-to-use, you don’t have to worry about taking extra time twice or thrice a day to make it. Plus, you never have to worry that the ratio of salt to water is wrong; you can be certain it’s the perfect mixture to heal your piercing. Make sure you look for a solution that has no preservatives and is labeled as an “iso-tonic saline” or “0.9% sterile solution.” Avoid saline solutions that are meant to be used for nasal irrigation and contact lens solution, as they contain preservatives that could irritate your piercing.
How to Make Sea Salt Spray
If you go the DIY route, proceed with caution and be sure to do everything in your ability to keep the solution as sterile as possible: wash your hands before beginning, clean the container you’re using, and opt for disposable materials if possible. Then, make sure you use the exact, correct measurements for the solution. To do so, dissolve 1/4 a teaspoon of non-iodized sea salt into one cup of warm distilled water (you could also use bottled, but distilled is considered the most sterile). Pay attention to the measurements carefully; a solution that’s too salty could irritate and hurt the fresh piercing, while one with too little salt will basically do nothing.
How to Use Sea Salt Spray
There are two possible ways to use sea salt spray: spray it on your piercing, or soak your piercing in it. If you want to spray it on, you can either apply it directly to the new wound or spray it on a cotton swab or cotton ball and then rub that gently over your piercing. For those making their own solution but wanting to use this method, you should put your solution in a refillable spray bottle for each use. If you choose to do this, however, make sure that you thoroughly clean the spray bottle before and after each use to ensure it’s as sterile as possible.
If you choose to soak your piercing in the saline solution, the process is as simple as it sounds. First, fill a small container with enough solution for you to fully submerge the piercing site. Be sure to account for displacement of the liquid; use a container that will allow you to insert the site in fully without overflowing. Once it’s fully submerged, let the piercing soak for between two to three minutes. When time is up, remove the piercing site from the solution and gently pat dry with a paper towel. Again, if you’re using homemade solution, be sure to thoroughly clean the container before and after (or use a disposable one) to keep it as sterile as you can. If you’re worried about fully submerging your piercing, you can also apply it to a cotton ball or cotton swab and use that to gently clean the site.
Regardless of the method, be sure to clean your fresh piercing two to three times per day until it has fully healed (this varies depending on the type of piercing and body placement). According to Siple, the Association of Professional Piercers also recommends "to use a sterile saline solution after washing their hands" to keep everything as sterile as possible. Be sure to check with your piercer about any other aftercare rules they suggest as well. Even if you read every article online, they will always know best.