One of the most common complaints in the body modification industry are piercing bumps, and we can all agree they're frustrating to deal with!
Often when people notice a lump around their piercing they assume it's infected. They make a trip to the doctor where the first thing they're told is to remove the jewelry. Always contact us before doing this! Bumps do not equal infection and are probably treatable without making that visit to the clinic and sacrificing your piercing.
Throughout this article we'll discuss the different types of piercing bumps and also outline the characteristics of actual infections so you can take the proper course of action when dealing with your irritated piercing.
There are a few types of lumps that can form around a new piercing, the most common being:
When you get a new piercing you're essentially receiving a professional wound. What makes piercings different from regular cuts and scrapes is that there is a piece of metal holding that hole open which greatly prolongs the healing process.
Your body doesn't see it as a pretty piece of jewelry - all it knows is that a foreign object is stuck in your skin and needs to be flushed out. Cue inflammation response and white blood cell production.
Pus (white blood cells), blood, and discharge known as lymph fluid is sent to the area to try to get rid of the offending object causing swelling, redness, pain, and that little lump we're all so familiar with. You might even see a whitehead resembling a pimple around or close to your piercing.
Try not to touch or pop it as this will add to the irritation and may make it worse. If you burst it by accident you may see blood, pus, and clear fluid leak out but don't be alarmed - again, this is a normal bodily reaction and not an infection.
At Perfect Image we have several different methods for treating piercing pimples. My personal favorite is Dettol. This is a strong antiseptic that you can find for about $10 at your favorite drug store. It's a little too harsh to use by itself though - you need to dilute it with water so it won't irritate your skin.
Take an empty water bottle and put an inch or two of Dettol in it. Fill the rest up with sterilized water (boiled or distilled is fine) and you'll get an opaque solution that looks like milk. Two or three times a day, give your bump a swab with a fresh q-tip or cotton ball. This will solidify the fluid around your piercing and reduce the swelling. Consistency is key with this treatment; you must keep applying the Dettol every day for at least two weeks for it to work.
Pro Tip: use Dettol after a hot shower. That way your skin is more absorbent and will speed up the pimple healing process.
Another method to get rid of those irritating lumps are our No Pull Discs. These are bioplast discs put on either side of your piercing jewelry to gently compress the pimple and encourage it to shrink. We can install these for you for less than $10 and remove them when your bump is gone.
If that lump is being particularly stubborn even after using the above treatments, another option you can try is brand name aspirin. Take a pill and crush it up. Add a few drops of water to create a paste and apply to the bump. Wait 15-20 minutes and then rinse off. Repeat once for at least two weeks and the lump should begin decreasing in size.
Similar to piercing pimples, blood blisters are very common. They show up for the same reasons as well; sleeping on your fresh piercing, catching it on something, or knocking it around and can appear on both cartilage and fleshy areas such as the lip and belly button.
Identification is easy. It will look like a blood filled bump around your piercing and can appear on one or both sides. They can also be sore and painful but again, are definitely not infections.
Treatment is a little easier with blood blisters as you can usually just wait them out. After a couple of weeks they should go away on their own and seldom require help, so just keep up your aftercare regimen as normal and try to avoid touching it or sleeping on it. If it keeps sticking around, give the Dettol treatment a shot.
Hypertrophic scars differ from piercing pimples and blood blisters in a few ways; they are still a byproduct of trauma to the skin but are not filled with any kind of fluid.
Essentially an overproduction of collagen, which is a fibrous protein used in scar formation, these lumps are known as pathological scars and occur when a piercing is inflamed, aggravated, or in an area that is constantly in motion such as the lip or belly.
Hypertrophic scars are easy enough to recognize - they will look like raised bumps close to the piercing site, usually the same color as your skin, and may be painful and itchy.
Development usually occurs a few months after the initial piercing and remains localized, meaning that it does not spread to the surrounding tissues. Hypertrophic scars are defined as 'weakly inflamed' as they lack significant amounts of collagen and blood vessels, but can still form a sizeable lump around the piercing site.
Treatment of hypertrophic scars can be tricky but they're not as difficult to get rid of as keloids. Sometimes they will go away on their own and not even need assistance whereas other scars can be problematic and require more intensive solutions. Read through the information on keloids below for more treatment options.
Dermatologists have suggested that hypertrophic scars and keloids are symptoms of the same skin ailment, with the only difference being the intensity of inflammation.
Unlike hypertrophic scars however, this overproduction of tissue can grow far beyond the injured area, creating a benign tumor otherwise known as a keloid. As keloids are more stubborn than their hypertrophic sisters, they are considered 'strongly inflamed' pathological scars where thick bundles of collagen and blood vessels are present.
Identification of keloid scars is based on a few different characteristics. They will range in color from flesh-hued to deep red and can be painful, itchy, and hard to the touch. Larger keloids can expand far past the initial piercing site, sometimes forming multiple scars on a single injury.
Growth is largely determined by the tension the jewelry exerts on it including pressure applied while sleeping, using too small/too tight rings or bars, or constantly playing with it. With a fresh piercing, switching the jewelry either too soon or too frequently can create multiple injuries to the site which greatly increases the risk of scar development. This is possible with either hypertrophic or keloid scars but can greatly aggravate keloids and cause them to grow larger.
Roughly ten percent of the population will develop a keloid during their lifetime, whether from a body piercing or other superficial injury. Read on to see if you're prone to this type of scarring.
There are several factors that determine who gets keloids and hypertrophic scars, and adolescence is at the top. There is an association between pubescent hormones and pathological scar formation, as the hormones androgen and estrogen exacerbate inflammation which encourages collagen growth and worsens already existing scars.
Hereditary influence might play a part as well. The passing down of biological information through genes might keep pathological scars in the family, so if your parents have ever had them, chances are so will you.
Clinical evidence also suggests that individuals with more pigment in their skin such as those from African-American or Hispanic descent are 15 times more likely to develop these scars, keloids especially.
Unlike piercing pimples and blisters, the treatment of pathological scars is a little finicky as no cure is currently known. The inflammation can be brought down with a few methods however, so hope is not lost! Here are some that have shown results:
Heavy moisturizing lotions and creams, with medicated versions available with a prescription;
Compression treatments similar to the discs applied for piercing pimples;
Cortisone steroid therapy including ointment, tape, and injections;
Silicone gel or sheeting;
Cryotherapy similar to freezing a wart;
Surgical removal (although the chances of the keloid growing back is high)
While true infections are far less common than piercing bumps, they can still happen and it's important to understand prevention and treatment.
Some clear indications of infection are:
Swelling (but not necessarily a 'bump')
Infection occurs when bacteria is allowed to enter the piercing site and any piercing is fair game if proper aftercare is not utilized.
Touching the piercing with dirty hands, swimming in bacteria-rich waters like oceans, lakes, pools, etc, and too short/tight of jewelry are all notorious for causing infections to develop. Wearing unclean clothes, sleeping with unwashed sheets or pillowcases, and switching out unsterilized jewelry are factors as well.
For treatment of minor infections keep the jewelry in and clean with a saltwater rinse 2-3 times a day. Don't use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or medical ointments as this can further irritate the piercing.
Consult a physician if you develop a fever, improvement doesn't occur within 48 hours of home treatment, or if the redness and inflammation spreads beyond the pierced area. Antibiotics are needed at this point and seeking medical attention is imperative.
In the world of piercings, you're probably going to run into the dreaded bump sooner or later. For the most part they are easily remedied and while they may be annoying, are no real cause for concern. You might not even get one when you get pierced!
If you do start developing symptoms such as soreness, swelling, or excessive discharge, drop by the shop and we'll take a look. It's probably just irritation and not worth the trip to the doctor's office, but it's a good idea for one of our piercers to take a look just in case.
1. Ogawa, Rei. "Keloid and Hypertrophic Scars Are the Result of Chronic Inflammation in the Reticular Dermis." NCBI.gov. March 10, 2017.
2. Multiple contributing authors. "Predictive Analysis of Mechanistic Triggers and Mitigation Strategies for Pathological Scarring in Skin Wounds." Jimmunol.org. The American Association of Immunologists, Inc. 2017.
3. Cafasso, Jacqueline. "Treatments for Hypertrophic Scars." Healthline.com. Healthline Media, August 8, 2017.
4. Berry, Jennifer. "How Do You Get Rid of Keloids?" Medicalnewstoday.com, reviewed 3 November 2017.