Nipple Piercings and the Long Haul

September 6, 2009

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As I said in the last post, nipple piercings are great all around body piercings.  (Note:  this is “part 2”– see previous post for more general info.) True to the old piercing adage, “If It Protrudes, Pierce It,” they stick out, are conveniently located for admiration and play, enhance sensuality and sensation–what’s not to like? But:

  • Nipples are slow and fussy healers. They take a long time to heal, and are prone to flare ups and crusties,even years after being pierced.

Nipples, navels, and cartilage piercings are probably the ones that take longest to heal.  Out of these, nipple piercings  seem to be the ones that really act up for the longest time.  Nipples are constantly changing shape; swelling, erecting, and relaxing with changes in temperature and arousal. This puts stress on a fresh wound with a foreign object in it.   Nipples reflect what is going on in the body and react to hormones, menstrual cycles, and health.  So perhaps it’s no wonder that the healing process can seem to go on forever.

With nipple piercings, you may experience:

–Healing to take a year or more; with the third stage of healing (toughening) to take a few more years.  (Review the stages of healing here.)

–Crusties possibly throughout the life of your piercing, apparently healed or not.  (“Crusties” are dried lymph and dead skill cells exuded by a healing piercing, which dry sharp and crusty on your jewelry.)

–Regular flare ups with menstrual cycles; and flare ups related to stress or illness.

–Frustration because they shouldn’t be played with during healing; or even relationship problems.  (Whose boobs are they?)  Healing nipple piercings should not come into contact with bodily fluids, lest they become infected.  Review how to have safer sex with piercings here.

The Bling Problem

Here’s another tip:  Nipple piercings don’t really like jewelry changes. The flesh tube in a nipple seems to be especially delicate in comparison with some other piercings, and reacts negatively to rough handling, excessive movement, and removal and insertion of jewelry.  Externally threaded jewelry (which has sharp threads being pushed through the piercing) is never a good idea in nipples.  Furthermore, jewelry tends to sit tightly in the flesh tube, which can shrink rapidly upon removal.  If you are planning to change your own jewelry, an appropriate taper and lube are advised.

I cannot tell you how many sob stories I have heard about nipples rejecting, migrating, or simply being too sore and fussy for comfort.  It’s really a shame, because healed nipple piercings are a treasure.  An abandoned nipple piercing is a sad, sad thing! In my opinion, most of these problems can be traced to improper jewelry considerations:  Wrong size, wrong material, or simply changing too often or too soon.

I hear stories about guys who take jewelry out of their fresh nipple piercings daily for soccer practice, and then they wonder why they won’t heal.  I recently saw a post about  pretty new nipple jewelry, with a picture of some very small diameter rings with gems.  Pretty indeed, but these were only 6-week old piercings, the diameter of the ring looked too small to me for comfort, and the jewelry itself did not look like good quality.  I predict an unhappy experience for this lady who may have sacrificed her lovely piercings to impatience.  Therefore:

Clouds #1 tip for happy nipple piercings is:

Make sure you have a well-fitting, premium quality piece of body jewelry in your new nipple piercing, preferably a straight titanium barbell, and leave it there for at least a year!

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Although I wear premium stainless steel barbells in mine, many of my friends report that switching to titanium has eliminated crusties and helped calm their piercings down overall.   By well-fitting, I mean that a ring’s diameter should be large enough for the part that passes through the nipple to be almost straight; or that a barbell should fit with just a little bit clearance on either side of the nipple, and the balls should not be pushed into the flesh tunnel or otherwise create a problem.  Sometimes adjustments need to be made after being pierced, so a visit back to your piercer may be in order.  As always in piercing, one size does NOT fit all, so a good piercer can order individual bars or balls to suit your anatomy.  But once you have a nice piece in there, leave it alone!

Patience with this piercing is critical.  This does present a problem for those of us eyeing those cool nipple shields or  pretty dangly/sparkly  nipple jewelry.  As always we are tempted, but we must resist!  Do not change jewelry for at least one year, and maybe more if you continue to experience unhappy nipples.  Realize that most of this type of jewelry is not meant for long-term wear, only “special occasion” wear.  And refer to the above “nipples don’t like jewelry changes.”

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Some more details to consider:

Male nipples are smaller, and may take less time to heal than female nipples. Male nipples are usually pierced into the areola.

–There are a lot of variables in size and shape, particularly in female breasts (for which there are a lot of thankful people out there); but this needs to be considered.  There’s no reason that really big breasts or big nipples; or conversely, really small nipples can’t be pierced, as long as, as Elayne Angel says, they are pliable and can be pinched up.

–You can breastfeed with pierced nipples, although for safety’s sake, usually the jewelry must be removed. You must also remove all jewelry for a mammogram.

Sea salt soaks can be a boon to pissy nipples–long flesh tunnels can trap hair, dead skin, and other debris that can be drawn out with salt soaks.  Frequent crusties must be soaked and cleaned off–frequently!

–One of the more serious consequences of a piercing gone wrong is an infection in the tissue of the female breast.  If you suspect an infection which is not responding to soaks or lasts more than a week or two, see a medical professional immediately.

–Although not as prominent as you may think, the jewelry can show through clothing, especially with thin, light colored clothing and large jewelry.  If this is a concern, minimize the profile of your jewelry as much as you can without compromising fit or healing (e.g., choose smaller balls),  pad your clothing with layers or padded bras/inserts, and break up the effect by wearing dark clothing/patterns.  And if your boss is staring at your nipples at work, you need to get a new job anyway!

–Nipple piercings may not be compatible with active sports or some lifestyles.  We  piercees couldn’t much help the guy who had to wear body armor for work, for example.  Some women swear by tight-fitting sports bras for support during the healing period (although I prefer no bras and no pressure on the piercing).

–Pierced nipples can “develop,” that is, grow larger in response to being pierced.  Not only does the insertion of the jewelry raise the profile, but the nipple can actually grow.  Although it’s not true that pierced nipples are always erect, they can become more prominent permanently, but how much is impossible to predict.  This seems to be a concern especially for men.

–For technical details on placement and sizing of jewelry, consult a good piercer or the The Piercing Bible, by Elayne Angel, as always (and all this stuff is in there anyway, so where’s your copy?)

So, is all this worth it?

Oh, Yes!  Yes,  yes!,  . . . well, you get the idea.  A well healed, perfectly placed nipple piercing is a thing of beauty, a joy to touch, and a source of potentially life-long pleasure. Pierced in a suitably sturdy gauge and well-toughened, they can withstand a good deal of rough play.  It is discrete and a perfect piercing for older or professional piercees.  It is well worth the extra care and patience to heal!

If you are interested, my 8-month old  nipple piercing (described here) is still in the second stage of healing, I think.  Although it is doing well, it is still sore occasionally, and benefits from intermittent soaking. My vertical nipple piercing, which is about (thinks) 5 years old has never given me any problem, has toughened up nicely, and has made my nipple very happy!

What are  you waiting for? Find a good piercer and do it!

fin

The copper nipple pictured above is from Ctd 2005’s photostream at Flickr.

Stock jewelry pics are from Steel Navel, with permission.

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Some thoughts on healing

April 14, 2009

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The human body is an amazing instrument.  Maybe we don’t have the marvelous healing abilities of cats, but we do pretty well.  (There wasn’t much I could do in the hospital except watch Animal Planet.)  But as I lie here recovering from surgery, the recurrent aftercare phrase, “listen to your body” is rearing its trite head.

I can’t claim any specialized knowledge, but the things I am doing now are the same things I would do to heal a piercing–supporting my health, paying attention to hygiene, and waiting. Washing the wound with antimicrobial soap, trying to eat wisely, take vitamins, get rest . . . and, yeah, listening to my body.

It’s talking pretty loudly!  Telling me — (okay, yelling at me) to stop! when I overdo it, to take pain medication when I need it, and to apply a liberal dose of time.  Just like healing a piercing, I’m letting my body’s healing system do its work.

I like this quote from Dr. Andrew Weil, my favorite alternative health guru:

I maintain that the final common cause of all cures is the healing system, whether or not treatment is applied.  When treatments work, they do so by activating innate healing mechanisms.  Treatment–including drugs and surgery–can facilitate healing and remove obstacles to it, but treatment is not hte same as healing.  The best treatment is the least–the least invasive, least drastic, least expensive–that activates spontaneous healing.

From Eight Weeks to Optimum Health.  So, in terms of healing a piercing, it’s perhaps less what you “do” to the wound, and more what you don’t do.  Give your body a chance.  In terms of healing this great big gash in my middle . . .

We’ll see.

Healing aura pic from Jurvetson’s Photostream at Flickr.

fin


Let’s hear it for the girls

February 6, 2009

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Piercings and Your Period

For any woman contemplating genital or nipple piercings, the best time to get pierced is after your period.  Try not to get pierced right before or during; you may be extra sensitive, the tissue swollen and tender.  Some women may even find that they are more sensitive to pain in other areas of the body at that time, so unless you really want more pain, time it right.

Also, the menstrual cycle can affect your piercings, causing them to act up.  For example, many women with healing nipple piercings are mystified why their piercings keep acting up, getting sore, tender, and oozing every few weeks, until they realize the the flare-ups sync with their cycle.

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Is it all right to use pads instead of tampons with a healing genital piercing?

I was asked about this by a woman who could not use tampons.  I don’t have a definitive answer, but my common sense says it should be fine, if not ideal.  Modern pads wick away the moisture from the surface, so as long as a piercee is scrupulous about cleaning, say showering every 12 hours, I see no problem for a healing piercing.

Thanks to Luca Donnini’s photostream at Flickr for the amazing photo.  Link NSFW.


Aftercare in Detail – Pt. 2: Cloud’s Routine

January 18, 2009

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Your body does the healing.  It’s your job, as a new piercee, to support your body in its efforts.

A basic aftercare routine is to soak your piercings in a mild saltwater solution (or rinse, for oral piercings) and to keep the area clean by washing with soap.

A word about “standard” aftercare. The APP has promulgated standard aftercare which you can read here for body piercings and here for oral piercings.  But your body may not be “standard,” or your piercer may have other ideas for aftercare.  The key is to use your common sense and be aware of how your own body reacts.

CLOUD’S AFTERCARE ROUTINE FOR BODY PIERCINGS

Rather than repeating the party line, I’m going to go over my own aftercare routine, which I’ve developed over the years based on piercers’ suggestions and trial and error.  (Note: this is for body piercings only, not oral piercings.)

For the first couple of weeks (or however long I can stand it), I soak with salt or herbs, and shower with soap, twice a day, or every 12 hours.  I also use oil as a healing aid. Here’s how:

1.      I clean and prepare. First, I make sure everything is clean and I have all my supplies (salt, herbs, oil).  I make sure the surfaces in my kitchen or bathroom have been cleaned and disinfected, and that I have paper towels, clean sheets and pillowcases, and clean towels.

2.      I wash my hands.  I wash my hands before touching my piercing or doing anything aftercare related.  And I mean WASH! With hot water! and soap! and friction!– not just a quick rinse under the faucet.

3.      I prepare my herbs. In the beginning, I like to soak with herbs, rather than, or in addition to, salt water solution, for the antibacterial, anti-bruising, and healing effects.  Since the herbal mixture takes several hours to steep, I make my herbal infusion, using lavender, or a mixture of lavender, arnica, and red clover (more details on this here).

4.     I soak. I tend to do more salt soaks a little later in the healing process, when the crusties show up, because the action of the salt water draws out the material inside the piercing.  If I want to do a sea salt soak, I mix my sea salt solution.  I heat my salt solution (or herbs) in the microwave until it’s as hot as my skin can stand. Then I soak, for 5-10 minutes.  Using a cup, I bring the cup to my piercing and (hopefully) make a vacuum seal.  This works great for things like nipples and navels.  For things like ears and genitals, I use a bowl on the floor.  On a towel!  I describe doing sea salt soaks in detail here:  Like Chicken Soup for Your Piercings!

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5.     I shower. Showering is an important part of daily piercing aftercare.  Even if you don’t do sea salt (or herbal) soaks, just letting hot water over your piercing is going to help keep it clean and remove the crusties.  Since it’s important to rinse any salt off, if I do sea salt soaks I shower afterwards.  (If I do herbal soaks, I usually soak after the shower because there’s no need to rinse off).

–Turn the water on hot and let the steam build up.  I take my time and let the steam and water soften my skin, the piercing and any crusties still on there.  I let the water run over my piercing for a while.  This is a good argument for getting pierced in winter when a long, hot, steamy shower will feel great.

I use Provon antimicrobial soap.   First, I wash my entire body with it, head to toe.  There are a lot of microorganisms that live on your skin, and they can migrate, or travel, so the idea here is to cleanse your skin both of ordinary surface dirt and to kill any bad germies so they don’t get to your piercing.  I use a tiny bit at a time, working up lather, and rinse well.

–Then, and only then, after a long steam and soak, and after cleansing the rest of my body, do I wash my piercing.  Again, I take a tiny bit of Provon, and lather it up, and place it gently on and around the piercing.  I let it sit there for 30 seconds, then rinse off.

It is not necessary to rotate your jewelry, scrub it, move it back and forth vigorously to get soap in there, or any of that!  I might choose to gently manipulate the piercing during this soaping and rinsing stage, when the skin is soft and pliable, and the jewelry is lubricated, if I think it needs it, for positioning purposes, or for cleaning any remaining crusties.  But only move your jewelry if it wants to go, and never force it!  Overcleaning and rough treatment will harm your piercing!

6.    I dry off. I dry off with paper towels.  (Okay, I use a clean towel for most of my body, and paper towels for the area around my piercing.)  Not only do towels harbor germs, but those terry loops can catch painfully on the jewelry.  Ouch!  It’s important to dry your piercings thoroughly.

7.   I apply oil. For the final touch, I apply a little bit of oil (emu, almond, jojoba, etc.) on and around the piercing exit holes.  (NOT in the piercing holes.)  This helps keep the skin from drying out and gives a little “ease” to the jewelry, and helps keep crusties from sticking so bad on the jewelry, too.  More on oil later.

Then, I wait. Again, keeping in mind the general principles I discussed in Part 1, you want to protect your piercing, keep it clean, and give your body time to heal.  Disclaimer:  This is only one person’s opinion and routine.  Remember, your piercer is your first resource for piercing advice.

Thanks to Krikit’s photostream and Flickr.


Tough love: The stages of healing

January 10, 2009

Just how long is the healing period for a piercing, anyway?

Well, you often hear ranges for specific piercings, say, 6-9 months for a navel piercing, or 4-6 weeks for a tongue piercing.  But these numbers really mean very little–different piercers or websites will have different figures; and they don’t tell the whole story, anyway.   Understanding how your piercing heals will help you customize your aftercare and know when it’s healed enough to change the jewelry.

Remember that piercings heal from the outside in: that is, new skin cells form at the outside of the flesh tunnel, where the piercing holes are, and slowly creep down the tunnel until it’s covered. A piercing is healed when it’s not red, sore, bleeding, or exuding lymph, and has generally calmed down after the recommended healing time. Piercing holes should have a smooth, donut-hole-like rim.

There are three stages of healing a body piercing:  The relatively short “open wound” stage; the longer secondary healing stage; and finally, the healed piercing.

Stage 1

Stage 1

Stage 1: For the first week, or few weeks depending upon the piercing, your piercing is a fresh wound, so treat it as such.  Bleeding, redness, soreness, and discharge are all common.  It may itch at this stage, or it may just be sore.  Be extra careful to guard against infection at this stage.   Regular soaking and showering are suggested.

Stage 2

Stage 2

Stage 2: This is where the main healing takes place, and represents a time period of anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on your piercing, your health, and other variables.  (Sorry for the crappy drawing–I hope that’s clear.)

It’s also the stage at which “crusties” tend to occur.  Your healing wound (i.e., your piercing) will exude and expel dead skin cells and lymph cells or plasma.  If left in place, it will dry to a whitish, crusty, or crystalline substance on your jewelry, where it may attract bacteria or get dragged through your piercing.   Sea salt soaks are the best thing to draw out this exudate and keep your piercing free of foreign matter.  Itching and soreness are common, especially at first, and flare-ups or irritation are also likely as it continues to heal.  Still, you should see overall improvement until it looks healed by the end of the period, and it’s possible to change the jewelry at this point if you’re gentle.

But stop! Just because it looks healed from the outside, does that mean it’s really healed all the way?

Stage 3

Stage 3

Probably not–remember, skin cells may still be forming on the inside, where you can’t see them.  Even when your flesh tunnel is covered with new skin cells, or epithelials, they are still new and weak, easily damaged with jewelry changes (especially with externally threaded jewelry) or rough treatment.

Stage 3: There’s a final stage, the toughening stage, which often gets short shrift in the initial concern (okay, fine:  paranoia) over our piercings.  This is the stage where the skin cells become smooth and tough,the inside of the channel is sealed, the jewelry moves easily through the piercing (usually), and changes of jewelry don’t bother it (usually).  This takes time!

If you want to use your piercings for rough body play, hang weights from them, wear nipple shields or dangly jewelry–wait until they are fully healed and toughened up.  And I’m talking possibly a year or two, maybe, depending on the body part.

Be gentle with them and give them the time they need with your jewelry in place.  Go sloooowly with stretches! The rule of thumb that I’ve heard is to wait three times as long as the initial healing period between each stretch.  Let your piercing toughen up between so there are no rips or tears.

Some piercings will continue to get crusty through their lives and still be well-healed (notably, nipples); others may just exude sebum, a smelly skin wax.  All piercings, when healed, still need regular cleaning with soap and water as part of a piercee’s routine.

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It looks so innocent . . .

January 4, 2009

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floating there; as if suspended.   But that’s an illusion, it’s not suspended, it’s anchored. That’s a bezel-set faux opal imbedded there in my flesh.

And truly–I hardly know it’s there.  It’s been an absolute angel so far at two weeks, with an occasional slight irritation or ache at the most.    It’s  high enough so that it really doesn’t catch on anything or move much.


Healing Update

December 28, 2008

One week later . . .

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The chest anchor (aka microdermal, cleavage single point piercing) is being very calm.  I hardly know it’s there. It’s crusting some, but not too bad–yet.   It’s kind of an odd place for a piece of jewelry, and I’m kind of getting used to it.  I’m still not sure whether I need to hide it for work, or just ignore it or pretend it’s a stick on gem or something.

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The nipple piercing, on the other hand–

BAR TOO SHORT!

I’ll have to return to ABQ to see Noah as soon as possible to get it changed out.  The balls are sinking in to the nipple, which is not good.  (In Noah’s words, “bummer.”) I was keeping an eye on it, because I thought it might just be swelling, but–it’s definitely too short.

Sometimes there’s a bit of trial and error involved in getting the right fit for jewelry, and you never know how your body will react, either.  So I’m concentrating on keeping it clean and happy until I can get it changed out.