The Magic of Salt

November 7, 2009
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Crystallized Salt Under Microscope

Is salt our new magic potion?

If you’re the Winchester brothers, you protect all the windows and doors from demons and witches with lines of salt.  If you are superstitious, you throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to ward off evil spirits  after spilling the precious substance.  If you’re an Internet junkie, you may have received an email purporting to be tips on preventing the swine flu from a doctor in India, which among other things, recommends that one swab the mucous linings of the nose with salt water, and gargle with warm salt water:

3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don’t trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above,
clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.

And if you’re a piercee, a nice warm sea salt soak can do wonders for your piercings. Sea Salt Soaks (sometimes abbreviated by piercees as SSS) are part of the standard aftercare recommendations for most piercings.  I’ve written about salt in various places in this blog, most notably in the aftercare posts, like Chicken Soup for Your Piercings and Aftercare in Detail:The Salt of Life. But is salt really a cure-all, or is it just another superstition?

salt 41MM087P13L._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SS75_According to Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (quoting Jungian pycschologist Ernest Jones):

“In all ages salt has been invested with a significance far exceeding that inherent in its natural properties, interesting and important as these are.  Homer calls it a devine substance, Plato describes it as especially dear to the Gods, and we . . . note the importance attached to it in religious ceremonies, covenants, and magical charms.”

Salt is an essential nutrient for human bodies; therefore we attach great importance to it.  It’s associated with loyalty and friendship, truth and wisdom.  It may have been a key factor in domesticating animals like cattle, it was one of the first international trade commodities, and the entire world used it for preserving food before refrigeration.

Salt does have mild antiseptic properties, but what it really does for wound care, like piercings, is dessicate the wound; i.e., dries it out. In fact, a “super-solution” is sometimes prescribed for troubleshooting pesky hypergranulated piercings, as John Lopez recommended to a piercee with a problem growth near her triangle piercing:

Sounds like a classic hyper-granulation to me. Thats and explosion of capillary rich connective tissue. I’d suggest you dry that puppy out…hard. Not the surrounding tissue, just the growth. Because the piercing is genital it’s hard to do, but you’ll need to do something, right? Here’s what I’d suggest: Mix a strong salt water solution, 2 teaspoons into a cup of water. That’s EIGHT (8) times stronger than normal. Apply this directly to the growth NOTthe general area. You can use a cotton tipped applicator for this. Do it several times per day for a few minutes at a time.

Piercees take great stock in using sea salt (not iodized salt, and preferably pure salt with no additives) on our piercings.  But our medical doctors are skeptical. The email quoted above turned out not to be from the purported author (always check Snopes.com for that kind of stuff, preferably before passing it on!), and the reaction to the suggestions from the medical establishment was dismissive.  “I don’t know of any evidence basis for gargling preventing influenza,” Randy Taplitz, clinical director of infectious diseases at USCD Medical Center (from the Snopes page).  I also read where the gargling thing is a holdover from the 1918 flu outbreak, which I find interesting, because my mother always made me gargle with salt water when sick.  However,   The Mayo Clinic says that salt water gargles can temporarily relieve sore throat discomfort, and that saline sprays are beneficial for colds.  You can check out the real H1N1 tips page from the Center for Disease Control here.

Even though the email was fake and the doctors are skeptical, I don’t think it would hurt to follow them.  Based on my experience, salt water solution can be beneficial in healing.  I can tell you when I had a nasty green spot on a healing surgical incision, the only thing that made it go away, was a sea salt soak.  Cleared it right up, but my doctor was like, WTF?  I’m not a doctor, or a chemical researcher, so I can’t provide a definitive answer, but I woke up with a sore throat this morning, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m just gonna go gargle . . .

Top pic is from Williamgja’s Photostream on Flickr.  Salt book pic is from Amazon. com.

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Body Piercing Aftercare: an herbal soak

January 20, 2009

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In addition to soaking with salt, I often use herbs as a supplement to my aftercare routine, so I’m going to share with you one way I do it. This is not standard aftercare, which I talked about here.  Please note that I’m not an herbalist, and don’t pretend that this way is for everyone.    This is a recipe taught to me by one of my first piercers, and is not used much by others, but it works for me.

Lavender is a powerful antiseptic, and the idea is to use this to soak your piercing, just like sea salt soaks.  Here’s a nice page on the healing power of lavender.

I usually do this in the very beginning, as a healing aid, then switch to salt soaks later when the crusties start to show up.   This herbal soak is relaxing, aromatic, and is particularly excellent for genital piercings.   Don’t drink it! It’s not for oral piercings.

Start with washing your hands thoroughly, and make sure all your surfaces and utensils are as clean as possible.

Body Piercing Herbal Soak

  • 2 parts lavender
  • 1 part arnica
  • 1 part red clover

How much is a “part”?  About a handful–maybe 1/4 cup.   Crush the herbs a bit, and put them in a glass bowl, and pour boiling water over this to make a infusion. Cover and let it steep for a few hours, then strain.

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After straining, refrigerate unused portions for 1-2 days. When you’re ready to use it, just pour a little in a cup and nuke it:  maybe 30-40 seconds.  Soak your piercing for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day. Unlike with salt soaks, there is no need to rinse afterward.

Lavender and arnica:

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I usually buy my herbs at my local health food grocery store.  Lately, they’ve only been stocking the lavender, so I used that for my last piercing.  Here’s a picture of the lavender and some arnica pills.  I tried crushing some arnica pills and putting them into the infusion, but that didn’t work out too well.  I think I’ll order some herbs from the San Francisco Herb Company for next time.

Next post will be about some other herbal treatments for piercings.


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.


Body Piercing Aftercare in Detail-Pt. 1

January 15, 2009

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Good health + good hygiene + sea salt soaks + time. That’s pretty much it when it comes to caring for your body piercings.

Gone are the days when vigorous washing with harsh chemicals was recommended.  Trial and error have proved that gentleness, the simplest of care, and Leaving It The Hell Alone are best, assuming there are no issues with jewelry placement, allergies, etc.   I’m going to do a series which explains aftercare in detail, including posts on soap and salt.     If you’ve forgotten the aftercare your piercer (was supposed) to give you, here’s the least you need to know.

Step 1: Your body does the healing, so be healthy!  Support your immune system and whole body, which is trying to heal a wound and build new skin, by resting, eating nutritiously, taking vitamins, and avoiding excess drugs, alcohol, and especially for oral piercings, smoking.

Step 2: Protect your piercing.  By  “protect” I mean protecting it from the environment, from germs, and from trauma.  Keep it covered and out of the way if possible, don’t let clothes rub or put pressure on it, and be aware of your surroundings and things like babies, towels, and seat belts.  Protect your piercing from germs, by being scrupulous about your personal hygiene and the cleanliness of your piercing. Which leads me to the following step:

Step 3: Try a little hydrotherapy.  Hot soaks with sea salt and/or herbs, hot and cold wet compresses, and simply letting water run over it in the shower will do wonders for your piercing.  (Here’s how to do sea salt soaks.)

Step 4: Apply time and patience.  See Step #1 above.  Don’t panic!  Piercings typically go through ups and downs during the healing process.  If you have an issue with your piercing, seek expert help for troubleshooting.  Your issue may go away with a simple change of jewelry.

See how easy it is?   I’m going to discuss bare bones aftercare, and also a few extras that I do, like herbs and oil.

Keep in mind that views on proper aftercare procedure vary, and this is just my opinion.  Your piercer is your first resource when it comes to piercing advice, and you should listen to your body, trust your instincts, and work out what is best for you.

Do you like my mermaid? She’s supposed to represent cleansing, hydrotherapy and sea salt soaks.  And in color, just for my friend, Bob!


First things first

November 6, 2008

Body piercing–the least you need to know:

  • DON’T get pierced with a piercing stud gun!
  • DON’T pierce yourself!
  • DO to to a reputable professional body piercer in a clean shop.
  • DO buy quality jewelry of an appropriate size and shape for your body.
  • DO keep your hands, body, and piercing clean.
  • DO try sea salt soaks for your aftercare.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  For something so simple, there seems to be endless potential for chaos.