Body Piercing, Healing, Aftercare and the basics.
For the first installment I decided to cover the most basic of terms, piercing. Piercing is one of those English words that lives a double life as a noun and a verb. The verb is defines the act of being pierced and the noun describes actual body modification that is a piercing. What I would like to cover in this article is to define both uses and little about what happens during the heal process.
The act of body piercing can be defined as the puncturing of the skin with an entrance and exit holes that is kept open by the insertion of a foreign object. Notice I said entrance and exit holes because a piercing in fact, passes through the skin at two different points. The most common and what I like to call traditional piercings are pierced through areas of the body that protrude and have two well defined sides. The clearest example would be the lobe of the ear.
To accomplish this the piercer will inject a needle through the area followed by a piece of jewelry that has been selected based on size, type and material to produce the best out come. In doing this the piercer creates a situation where it is easier for the body to grow a tunnel of scar tissue around the jewelry than to push or migrate the jewelry out of the body. Now understand there is nothing natural or normal about doing this. Your DNA is not programmed for additional holes or cavities beyond those that you were born with. So by doing a piercing we are tricking the body into creating a new one which regardless of your beliefs is permanently altering your body. Even if removing the jewelry will always allow the body to reconnect the tissue and close the piercing, the tissue is no longer normal tissue. This is why even after the piercing has healed closed you will still feel a tube like structure in the area between the two holes.
Now here's where defining piercing as a noun gets a little messy because often the term is used to describe a healing piercing and a healed piercing which are two completely different structures. A healing piercing is nothing more than two open wounds with a foreign object passing through them. While a healed piercing is two punctures with a tunnel of skin encasing the foreign object and is a closed wound.
To clearly understand what happens during the transformation between healing and healed, we really need to cover main function of the body's largest organ, skin. That function is to defend the body from foreign object and pathogens. With the act of body piercing not only are we creating a pathway or breach in the wall of protection that the skin provides to the body but we are forcing the path to stay open with the foreign object aka jewelry that we have inserted in and through the punctures.
The body's first choice in method of closing the breach is to reject or migrate the foreign object to the surface and out of the body. This is the main reason that placement of the piercing and the size, shape and material of the jewelry is so important. The key is to place the jewelry into the body in a way that it is not easy for the body to simply reject the jewelry and close the wound. Also having the correct jewelry will not only reduce the body's ability to reject the jewelry but also make the production of a tunnel of tissue faster and easier.
I think it's important that I talk a little bit about jewelry here and why it is so important even in a healed piercing. When it comes to material it's important to choose a material that the body is more like to accept. The most common materials are Implant Grade Steel and Titanium for their durability, acceptance to high polish and the reduced likelihood of the allergic reactions. There are other materials that can be used but it is my experience that these two are the best choice for a fresh piercing. If you would like to learn more about Jewelry material please go to the site's Jewelry Metal and Material Page.
Style and size of jewelry is too often left up to the piercee and I have to make a point by say that it is source of a majority of problems of piercings preformed by other piercers I see come into the studio. I always ask if the piercer suggested a different style or size and I have to say either a majority of them stretch the truth or were never informed that there was a better choice. I have to admit that this is one of the more difficult parts of my work but if it means losing a sale or creating a bad situation, I've always felt that ethically I can afford to lose the sale.
The facts are this during the healing period the jewelry should be as simple as possible to avoid abuse and stress on the piercings. Jewelry shouldn't have added weight, sharp edges or things hanging off it that will increase the likelihood of the jewelry getting caught of clothing, bedding and etc... Stress on the piercing not only will prolong the healing and cause other problems but could also aid in the body's rejection of the jewelry.
When sizing the jewelry should be large than the piercing area to allow for swelling and the easy removal of discharge. Also when sizing the jewelry should be as flat as possible to allow a shorter tunnel between the two puncture wounds and thus a faster healing time. If the jewelry is round then the jewelry that inside the piercing should take up about a quarter of the over all circle. Jewelry that is too small or tight can also cause prolonged healing, scaring and aid in migration and rejection.
So the piercing is done, the jewelry that was used is correct but there is still the problem of the open wound. This is where your body goes to work and it does it in three stages.
- The first stage is accepting defeat when it decided that it can't reject the jewelry or that it would be easier just to grow new skin around the jewelry. During this period your body will send you a number of signs and hint that it wishes for you to remove the foreign object. Including a few of the same signs as it would if the area was infected. These include redness or discolorization on, near or around the piercing area, Swelling, heat where the area in well feel inflamed or feverous, itching, throbbing pain and of course tenderness to the touch. In most cases this will last anywhere from 10 to 14 days depending on the piercing and your health.
- Once the body decided that it can not expel the jewelry and you are not going to removed it, it will start growing tissue around the jewelry to form a tunnel starting at each hole till the two tunnels connect in the center. During this time the piercing is still an open wound and acceptable to infection. So precautions must be taken to reduce the infection and other problems. This involves daily cleanings, reducing contact with the piercing area and avoiding the possibility of introducing foreign matter and pathogens to the piercing area. Cross contamination prevention is a lot of doing what your mother should have already taught you. Wash your hands before you handle it, avoid oral contact or exchanging of bodily fluids, keep items that come in contact with the piercing like clothing and bedding clean, don't submerge the piercing in bodies of water you can not control and avoiding contact with unclean objects. Also you want to avoid introducing health and beauty and other harsh products into the piercing.
- Now there are a lot of conflicting views on how to clean a piercing or if the cleaning is even needed in the first place. It's my belief that the average human is not used to having an open wound on their body for anywhere from 8 to 52 weeks and somewhere along the way they will make a mistake. So cleaning the piercing with an anti-microbial or germicidal soap is a precaution against the mistakes that they are going to make.
- Also soaking the piercing and cleaning are important because the flushes the wound of foreign objects and clears crusting discharge from the piercing holes to prevent blockage of the piercing and the creation of often painful and hard to get rid of "bumps" and other problems.
- I don't know how to stress how health plays a big part in your body's healing of the piercing. Reducing stress, avoiding strains on your immune system such as bad diet, alcohol or recreational drug use and staying well rested will help your body to heal the piercing. You really need to consider that aftercare is first preventive but also it's your way of helping your body heal the piercing.
- At the end of the second stage of healing the body has produced a tunnel of tissue around the jewelry and closed the open wound but the tissue is very fragile and thin. During the third stage often called the toughening phase, you body will add to the thickness of the tunnel of tissue. At the end of the second stage the piercing holes will grow inward as the tissue in the center connects. You will also see a reduction or complete disappearance of the discharge. However when in doubt have a professional take a look.
Even during this Third phase the piercing is at a high risk of closing if the jewelry is removed and changing the jewelry can dislodge the tissue and reopen the wound. You may change the jewelry if you wish but it is always best to have your piercer change the jewelry for the first year or so. Also there is no reason to replace the jewelry unless as with tongue piercings and other oral piercing, where a larger piece was put in during the piercing and now the longer jewelry increases risks to damage to teeth, gums and bones in your mouth. Otherwise you could leave that jewelry in for the rest of your life if you wish. I'm a huge fan of the Captive bead ring not only because of it's duality but the fact that you there is about zero maintenance or up keep involve. The jewelry is secure and there are no threaded balls to worry about coming unscrewed. However in some areas of the body the high profile of the ring will only increase the risks of damage to the piercing even after healing and a curved or straight post style jewelry maybe a better option to unwanted stress on the piercing.
If there is a golden rule for piercing it is "If you like the piercing, leave jewelry in it." Remember earlier when I was talking about how a piercing is not natural to your body and not permanent. Any time you remove the jewelry regardless of the age of the piercing, thickness of the jewelry or how well it healed, your body will always begin reconnecting the tissue and then filling in the piercing tunnel. This is something you should always consider when deciding to get a piercing that is visible how it will effect employment. Removing the jewelry especially during any of the 3 stages of healing for any length of time will prolong healing and more than likely cause the piercing to close. Also consider that retainers are often just as visible as the jewelry would be and most employers will ask that there be no jewelry of any kind in the piercing. I have also saw this becoming increasingly the case with high school and college sport programs over unfounded fear of injuries being caused by the piercing to the athletes or others. The food industry has increasingly cracked down on the fear that the jewelry many contaminate food. Though I really believe that a majority of this is unfounded and has much more to do with creating uniformity, you should consider this before getting a facial or other visitable piercing.
Well, there's the long story of it all, in the future I plan on covering more subjects. If there is something in this article that you have a question about, don't feel I covered, or have a suggestion on topics I should cover in the future, please feel free to leave a comment, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sites contact page.