What is (And What Isn't) a Keloid

woman playing with earring


If you notice a bump forming on or around a new piercing, you have good reason to be concerned. Small or large as they may be, piercing growths are never "normal," although they do occur fairly often. Most people assume right away that their growth is a keloid, but the majority actually aren't.

What Is a Keloid?

Keloids are a type of raised scar that occur when the skin has healed after a wound. Extra scar tissue grows after the injury, forming a smooth, hard raised area. 

Keloids can range in all sizes from small to large, but they're generally not painful, and contain no substance except scar tissue. They grow because the body over-defends itself as a result of physical trauma.

If you are prone to keloiding, piercings are strongly urged against. Tattoos can also lead to keloiding, although piercings and surgical modifications seem to be the most likely culprits. There's no real limit as to where keloids can form, as they can also grow on the tongue and other mucus membranes. The only way to truly prevent keloiding is to not get the tattoo or piercing in the first place. If you decide to chance it, just be aware that you may end up with excessive scarring and/or keloids.

If the area around your piercing hurts, seeps, oozes pus and/or bleeds, it's not a keloid; it's probably either an infection or a sebaceous cyst. Irritants like oil, sweat, dirt, perfume, hairspray and lots of other things can aggravate a piercing and cause an infection. This irritation will create a growth filled with all kinds of nasty stuff, and it'll be painful to touch. Unfortunately, it also won't respond very well to normal cleansing, although it's important to keep it clean so it doesn't get worse. The upside to this kind of bump is that it's easily treatable at home by performing proper piercing aftercare. If it doesn't clear up in a few days, though, you should see your doctor.

Sebaceous cysts, while not malignant, will usually be little more than an annoyance and will sometimes go away on their own. Normally, they're painless, but they can rupture or get infected. They are easy for your doctor to diagnose, but they usually have to be removed surgically; the entire sebaceous gland has to be removed or else the cyst may recur. If you think you have a sebacious cyst, the best thing for you to do is see your doctor and follow their recommendation—and despite all urges, don't touch it.

In general, to prevent any and all issues, you're going to want to listen to your piercer's instructions. Sea salt soaks, which any responsible piercer will tell you to do, draw out any pus and blood, which will release the pressure and aid healing. They tend to be soothing, even.

Don't clean your piercing too often as it will irritate the piercing further.

It is recommended to cleanse twice a day with a piercer-recommended saline solution like H2Ocean ($12) and then use a non-scented, antimicrobial, dye-free soap like Naked Soap ($12). Sticking to that simple process will increase your chances of healing the infection without causing further irritation.

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