Human skin. It provides several functions. It allows us to communicate through touch, regulates our body temperature, acts as a protective barrier against UV rays and harmful allergens, and in the 21st century it’s also a living work of art. Our skin can do everything from telling our brain what we’re touching, to synthesizing vitamin D from the sun into compounds that help the rest of us function. And when we get body piercings, our skin does the most amazing trick yet: it heals.
Most of us know that when we get a body piercing, the piercer is using a hollow needle, but what you might not actually realize is just how awesome that process really is. A piercing needle actually removes the skin between one side of a piercing and the other, literally creating a hole. Then, when jewelry is inserted, our amazing maverick skin actually heals the edges around it, making an entirely new shape that different pieces of jewelry can be taken in and out of. In this way, human skin or “epidermis” can be thought of almost as a naturally occurring silly putty, effortlessly taking the shape of whatever it’s stretched over or around. Pretty neat.
The way the skin heals itself is even more interesting. When a piercing is performed, there are three basic healing phases that the skin goes through, just like when a child skins their knee. First, there’s the inflammatory phase, which usually takes just a few days. This is when the piercing is a little swollen and tender, and bleeding or bruising might happen. Next is the proliferation phase, normally two to six weeks. During this time period the skin begins to reconstruct all of its damaged parts, like when a scrape is scabbed over and heals from the inside out. Then finally, there’s a remodeling phase. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to be complete depending on the amount of skin or cartilage pierced, but during the final step of healing, piercings are painless, and the skin feels stronger. Amazingly, most of the actual piercing itself is now new skin. It just needs to thicken and build up its strength and elasticity.
Remember watching horror movies as a kid and seeing zombies or bad guys magically re-grow an arm after it’s been chopped off? Well, by growing entirely new cells and shaping them according to a pattern, that’s basically what our skin does every time we get a piercing. Amazing, right? So next time you get a piercing or a tattoo, just remember, you may not have super-human powers, but your skin does.