The Hotchpotch of Healing
Each human body is different than the next. Each piercer exhibits a unique piercing and healing style. Regardless, there are certain things we can all agree upon: if you eat tons of calories you'll gain weight; if a piercer tilts a needle too much you'll end up with a crooked piercing. The same is true with healing and aftercare. No matter how many unique variations may exist, there are certain methods that seem to always work well.
I first thought about writing this article after receiving my newest batch of emails beginning: "I have had my piercing for four weeks now and it still seems to be red and itchy..." I must receive 20-30 emails like this a day. And they all seem to point out the same culprit: "I have been cleaning my piercing with alcohol..." or "I use Neosporin twice a day..." Now I know some piercers will recommend Neosporin. And I know some claim to have had success using this ointment. But alcohol? Come on! There is no chance of skin healing properly if you constantly burn and dry out the top layer of fresh skin. Hence, the "red and itchy." And although some piercers swear by Neosporin, I have to believe that the percentage of unsuccessful users has to make one wonder whether it's worth recommending this stuff at all.
For those unaware, the debate over proper healing and aftercare can get very heated. Some people defend crazy ideas as if Jesus himself whispered the secret to them personally. But this is a free country and they should pronounce whatever they believe. However, I argue that the best strategy for dealing with this touchy subject is to minimize and simplify. The easier it is for a piercee to heal a piercing, the less chance they will have for complications. I have thousands of emails that attest to this.
For example, what is the point of using Neosporin? Although it might be a reasonable healing agent, it has proven to be a great way to harbor bacteria near a piercing, in turn, causing redness, itching, and sometimes infection. I don't care if you think you are a Neosporin Shaman, most of your unhappy customers are not complaining to you - they're scared of you! You are supposed to be the trusted guru and here you are getting them all red and itchy, possibly even infected. So they end up turning to another piercer in town or emailing a friend (maybe even me). And here they are, back to square one … maybe even a few feet in the hole.
Why all these problems? Because it's too complicated. If you want to heal a piercing with Neosporin (or any other ointment for that matter) you have to use just the right amount. Can't glob it on; can't use too little. Then you have to wash it off a certain amount of times a day to prevent the harboring of bacteria. Then you can't get too much on the inside of the piercing (especially if it isn't fresh out of the tube). Wow. Maybe you should stand on your head for 15 minutes before you apply it. Actually, I have a better idea, maybe you should cut out all the crap and minimize.
Every legitimate basic healing plan starts with one thing: antibacterial or antimicrobial (for those more advanced) soap -- with no fragrances, of course. If you are washing your piercing once or twice a day with antibacterial soap, you're well on your way to successful healing. The most important ingredient that must accompany this product is keeping your hands away from your piercing. Playing with your piercing is fun, but you'll have plenty of time to do that once it heals. So leave it alone in the beginning. Only handle your jewelry or put your hands near your piercing if you just finished scrubbing your hands with antibacterial soap. And if you want to be really safe, I recommend doing all this fun stuff in the shower.
If you have more patience than being able to clean your piercing with antibacterial soap, then the next best thing is sea salt. Shit, the ocean has been the best wound healing agent in the history of mankind. Doesn't it make sense to use some of it's powers to help land lovers out, as well? Not to mention, it's simple to use. Just dissolve a quarter tea spoon in a small cup of clean (preferably distilled) water and soak. Every time I reply to a "red and itchy" email, I always have the piercee downsize to antibacterial soap and sea salt. The result: extremely happy people offering many, many thank you's.
Let's be honest, unless you're super interested in biology or piercing, you're probably barely helping to heal your piercing. I know piercers who hardly tend to their piercings. So why recommend too many complicated aftercare methods? Everyone baths sooner or later. So why not encourage them to clean their piercing without having to go too far out of their normal routine. And performing a sea salt soak before or after bathing isn't too big a deal. But ointments and potions start to confuse people... Dear Damien, this dude bumped into my shirt and I accidentally touched my ointment laden piercing with it. What should I do?
For the sake of argument, some people believe that healing a piercing without anything is the way to go. I believe BME recently conducted a survey that proved "Nothing" to be a great way to heal a piercing. But I would argue that those people avoided touching their piercing and at least rinsed it well while bathing. Most people won't even do that. So I think antibacterial soap is a must. And there are some great minimalist guidelines on the Web. For the sake of brevity, I recommend the Association of Professional Piercers Healing and Aftercare Guidelines (http://www.safepiercing.org). These two sets of recommendations were compiled in the interest of making healing simple and thorough. There are other wonderful Tattoo and Piercing shops with excellent aftercare recommendations as well, but they all focus on the same basics.
I'm sure this article will generate some good responses. I'm sure we'll see Neosporin supporters degrading my assertions. But that's cool. I don't think Neosporin is evil - I just think a majority of piercees do not have the time or the know-how to use this stuff correctly. And I'm sure others will pop up recommending some 'Piercing Magic' crap. Don't believe it. If it has any alcohol in the ingredients it will most probably make you red and itchy. So if you want to avoid having to worry about or hide your beloved piercing, minimize and use common sense.