When you distill it, getting a piercing is essentially inflicting a controlled wound to your body. With any wound, you run the risk of scarring.
Luckily, preventative measures can be taken to avoid permanent damage. Although genetic disposition will contribute to your likelihood of developing scarring, much of scar prevention happens in your aftercare practices.
Here’s all you need to know about common piercing scar types and the best ways to avoid them during healing.
Types of piercing scars
There are a myriad of things that can go wrong during healing, many of which can cause scarring. Not all scars are equal; some will require medical attention to remove and others will eventually fade on their own.
It’s important to know the type of scar that you’re facing so that you can conduct proper care, if possible. Here are three common piercing scars you might find.
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Hypertrophic scarring occurs when too much collagen is produced during the healing process. A hypertrophic scar appears as raised skin at the piercing site.
Typically, hypertrophic scars are smaller than 4mm in height and are long and flat (rather than bulbous). The good news is that hypertrophic scars usually go away on their own. If you experience itching or burning of the scar, you might want to visit a medical professional; otherwise it’s simply a matter of waiting for it to go away.
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Atrophic scars look like a little pockmark in the skin. They occur when your body is unable to regenerate tissue beneath the skin. Atrophic scarring is common among those who have suffered from acne or chicken pox.
Often, atrophic scarring occurs in piercings that have migrated, been rejected, or piercings that have closed up after removing the jewelry. While you can take measures to reduce the appearance of these scars, such as undergoing a chemical peel or getting fillers, these types of scars are likely permanent. The good news is that they are usually quite small.
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A keloid is formed when the body produces too much collagen during healing. It manifests as a large bump (larger than 4mm) near or on the injured location. A keloid will be firm to the touch and is usually round in shape.
Keloids are largely a genetic issue, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you aren’t prone to keloids before getting pierced. If you do develop a keloid, it will most likely need to be surgically removed; they might decrease in size, but they won’t go away on their own.
The good news is that keloid scarring is much rarer than other scarring types. If you start to see a bump around your piercing, don’t panic; it’s likely a condition with an easier treatment.
How do I avoid scarring?
A scar can form for a number of reasons. Sometimes, poor aftercare practices are to blame. Other times, it’s simply a matter of genetics. Do yourself a favor and take great care of your piercing while it heals to give it its best chance.
Opt for high quality starter jewelry
You might be tempted to choose cheaper metals for your first jewelry; after all, you’re already paying for your piercing, and you don’t want to further stretch your wallet with an expensive jewelry piece. However, high quality starter jewelry is imperative.
Cheaper metals can cause adverse skin reactions. Even if you’ve never suffered from a metal allergy, these allergies can still appear, so it’s best to play it safe with hypoallergenic jewelry options, such as 14k gold or stainless steel.
Additionally, your body is more likely to reject cheaper metals. When your body rejects these metals, it pushes the jewelry out of the body—similar to when your body pushes out a splinter—often leaving a scar in the jewelry’s wake. Start your piercing out right with proper starter jewelry.
Keep harmful chemicals away from your piercing
Chemical irritation is a common cause of hypertrophic scarring. Chemicals in products such as facial cleansers, body wash, rubbing alcohol, and other common toiletry items irritates healing skin and causes scarring.
Even items like shampoo and conditioner can contain chemicals that will irritate the skin.
Keep any non-aftercare product away from your piercing. Invest in a piercing aftercare saline solution that features all-natural ingredients (it shouldn’t have more than sterile water and sodium chloride on its ingredients label). Even salt baths that you make at home can irritate healing skin if you get the ratios wrong, so it’s best to find an aftercare solution that you can trust.
Don’t move the jewelry
When you have a new piece of body jewelry in place, it will be tempting to play with it. However, moving the jewelry can cause damage to the surrounding skin, encouraging scarring.
Be mindful of your new jewelry, and don’t twist or touch it. If you get some crusties around the piercing site that you want to clean, simply soak the piercing in a saline solution and carefully dab the crusties away with a clean paper towel.
Make sure your jewelry is large enough
Your starter jewelry needs to be large enough to leave space for swelling. If the jewelry presses against the new piercing puncture, it risks becoming embedded in the skin, which could result in surgical measures to rectify.
Choose a barbell that gives plenty of room for your new piercing to breathe. In a couple of weeks, after the swelling period is complete, you can talk to your piercer about downsizing the jewelry, but until then, you’ll have to get used to a larger piece.
Choose a good piercer
Whether or not you scar is sometimes determined by the piercer you choose. You should opt for an experienced piercer with clean, sharp needles.
If your piercer comes out with a piercing gun, run away. Piercing guns use blunt force to push jewelry through the skin, which immediately causes trauma to the piercing area. Especially in the cartilage, piercing guns can contribute to scar formation, so always choose a piercer who uses a needle over a piercing gun.
Even if they use a needle, the piercer’s skill level will have an effect on your healing. You should choose a piercer who is confident and who can conduct the piercing in a smooth, sterile, and expert way so that you can start your piercing off right.
What do I do if I get a piercing scar?
Even if you do everything right, you’re still not in the clear; a piercing scar can occur even in the best of situations. Every body is different, and scars manifest themselves in unique ways, so before starting treatment, talk to a medical professional about which treatments they recommend. Here are some common treatments for scarring.
In some cases, scars can only be removed through surgery. If you develop keloids, this will most likely be your route to recovery. Surgical action is not ideal, and it could lead to other scarring issues, so it should only be pursued if there is no other option for healing.
Over-the-counter creams can help reduce the appearance of scarring. Be careful with these around the piercing site. Don’t use scar creams before your piercing has fully healed. Scar creams contain chemicals that can irritate healing skin and cause further scarring.
Make sure that you use a scar cream that’s safe for your piercing. Before trying any scar cream, be sure to consult a professional.
Rub the collagen down
In the case of hypertrophic scarring, where the skin appears raised, it’s possible to rub the scar to break down the collagen and reduce its appearance. However, you don’t want to rub the skin around a healing piercing. Moving the jewelry can cause further scarring issues. Wait until your piercing has healed, then gently rub the scar once a day to help flatten it.
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Many scars fade on their own. Even if they are permanent, they will eventually fade and become barely noticeable. The good thing about piercings is that most of them are small, so the vast majority of piercing scars are minor.
Piercing scars can appear on anyone, even if you do anything right. Before you get your piercing, it’s important to know the risks. At the end of the day, all you can do is make sure that you adhere to your aftercare regimen to greatly reduce the risk of permanent scarring.