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Piercing Pimples and Bumps

The healing experience and time of a body piercing tends to be predictable. In our studio, we average most initial healing times to be around three months, most of the time, for most piercings, and for most people. There are of course always exceptions and special circumstances…

One of the most common things a piercing client might struggle with are little bumps, often times referred to as piercing pimples. While bumps, irritations, and other problems can appear at anytime on any piercing, we see these see these with some regularity on nostrils and ear cartilage piercings. There are many reasons for different anomalies and one of the most common is a combination of pressure and friction caused by jewelry.

The biggest culprit we see is rings, especially in nostrils. It’s a popular look, but wearing a ring in a nostril piercing requires some patience and as we always say in the studio, realistic expectations. There’s three easy to understand factors we want to point out.

Curvature
Everyone can understand that a ring is round. But we have to consider the natural shape of a piercing channel is straight. Piercing needles, even when curved, only create a perfectly straight incision through the body. When we install jewelry that’s round it forces the fresh wound to arc. That’s a form of pressure where the entrance and exit points of the piercing are being compressed together. You can read more about this here.

Look closely, this angle shows the ring in her nose actually had a small amount of space that should have allowed the ring to move naturally. Nonetheless, she had problems and the ring was removed.

Because it takes time some time, maybe months for the inside channel of a piercing to heal and stabilize, we generally suggest waiting three months before switching nostril jewelry to a ring. Even at that point the piercing needs to at least appear to be healthy. The constant pressure caused by a ring’s contour can only slow and complicate the healing period. Also, consider this, the tighter a ring is, the more radical the curvature is. A larger ring has less of a curve so the effect of this type of pressure is less. Unfortunately, many clients walking in hoping to wear a ring in their nose anticipate a very snug ring that may not fit so well for long term wear.

Also, compared to most “studs” we might be putting in piercings, especially nostrils, rings are likely to weigh more. The weight of the jewelry is also a source of pressure. So, the larger the jewelry, the more weight. All that weight is supported by the lowest surface of the piercing. This must be considered no matter which style of jewelry we wear in our piercings.

Friction
Another source of piercing bumps is movement of the jewelry. You’ve been to New Flower Studio in Long Beach before you might have heard us say, “the body moves, so the jewelry moves too.” No matter what piercing you have, it’s gonna move along with the natural movement of the body. We believe (contrary to what ear piercing gun places might say) that friction is inherently bad for wound-care, unless of course you want a slower healing wound with a higher chance of scarring. The intentional moving, spinning, rotating, and twisting of jewelry in your new piercing, even ear lobes, can only make the probability of problems higher.

What does this have to do with rings? A ring moves easier in a piercing. Depending on the angle of the piercing it may swing back and forth however slightly, swing up and down. Imaging the way a ring sits in an ear lobe or cartilage piercing vs a nostril. A ring that fits so snug that it can’t move is too tight. Imagine wearing shoes that don’t allow you to wiggle your toes, you can’t wait to remove them at the end of the day. If your body jewelry can’t move freely as the body moves, it can only lead to problems like piercing pimples. A ring will also roll through the piercing on it’s own axis, opposite to the swinging motion. Again, while excess friction isn’t good for a piercing, the ring being large enough to move is critical.

An unexpected consequence to this movement is the point of closure in the ring, if there isn’t a feature like a bead, may rotate into the body. This is actually pretty common because so many people prefer to wear continuous rings that have no beads to stop the small gap from entering the piercing channel. Sometimes this gap gets stuck inside the piercing and tissue grows into the space. Other times the edges of the wire rotate back and forth keeping the inside of the piercing irritated and uncomfortable. While a small bead on a ring isn’t always an attractive look, it’s very functional and practical for a piercing that’s still healing.

The image above shows a piece of jewelry we recently removed from the nostril piercing in the previous pictures. Notice the gap in the ring. This is necessary so jewelry can be installed and removed, but it can be a real problem when it rotates into the body and gets stuck. You can also see the portion of the jewelry that was inside the body has started to break down. This is an indicator or low quality jewelry that can often times result in inflammation.

Gauge
As long as there’s been professional body piercers, the term “cheese cutter effect” has been used. It’s a simple concept that anyone can understand. When cutting a block of cheese, you use a device that’s basically a thin wire. Body jewelry can have a similar effect on a piercing, especially a fresh one. But this cheese cutter effect can even happen on healed piercings over a long span of time. The best example of this is someone who’s worn large hoop earrings or other heavy jewelry that might sway as the head moves. As the years go by the bottom point of ear piercings gets lower and lower on the ear leaving behind an elongated hole much larger than the original piercing from maybe decades before.

The thinner jewelry is in our piercings the more we need to expect this negative side effect. Round (or curved) jewelry only makes this worse. And again, the smaller the diameter the more pressure is applied to the piercing, contributing even more to the likelihood of piercing bumps and other scars.

The moral of the story here is that piercings are not completely unpredictable. People and their piercings will have tolerances, what doesn’t work so well for one person may be fine for another. But for each of us, there is a limit to how thin and tight a ring can work long term in our piercing. If you’ve got a piercing with a ring and you start to have problems, it may just be too soon, or maybe the diameter is too small, or maybe it’s too small of a gauge. Maybe a better fitting ring will help. Maybe replacing the ring with a stud will do the trick. In a worst case scenario, removing the jewelry completely and letting the body start to heal without anything in the channel is the most immediate way of getting rid of these annoying piercing bumps. Getting the help of an experienced piercer is the best way of troubleshooting your unhappy piercing.

Gold rings inside two well healed nostril piercings.
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John Johnson
John Johnson is a professional body piercer at New Flower Studio in Long Beach, CA. He's also a Red Cross instructor and authorized OSHA trainer. He manages the online curriculum for the Association of Professional Piercers and is a member of ASTM International.