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Sometimes in life, we have to learn when to just let go. This is true of piercings, just like everything else. But don’t despair yet! Sometimes we get a piercing that refuses to heal, develops problems, or just doesn’t look right. Some fresh piercings may have to be removed due to innate problems that can’t be fixed but some piercings, with a little bit of help and patience, can be saved.

One of the most common questions about problem piercings is whether you’re looking at an irritation bump or a keloid. If it’s small and looks a bit like a pimple, with perhaps some crusties or itchiness, it’s an irritation bump. Irritation bumps are very common and happen for a variety of reasons. Did you accidentally snag your piercing on something? Are you wearing the correct style of jewelry for a new piercing? Are you touching or playing with the jewelry or, even worse, touching it with dirty hands? Are you making sure to properly dry it after each cleaning (twice a day with sterile saline!), using a hair dryer or fresh paper towel? If you’ve been snagged, aren’t cleaning and drying the piercing properly (or too often/not often enough), or are playing with the piercing, you may be causing your own problem. Piercing bumps will often go away on their own if left alone. However, if none of these options fit your situation – or if you know for a fact that you have the wrong jewelry in – a trip to the piercer is in order. This is where it gets tricky.

If you think the piercer may be part of the problem, you are NOT required to return to their shop for a consult. Some people may live in areas where there is only one APP piercer or would involve having to travel. However, it is often better to put in the time and effort than to return to the same piercer who you think may have done your piercing incorrectly. What needs to be checked is the style of jewelry, but also the angle of the piercing. If the piercing is done at an incorrect angle, the jewelry will press down slightly harder on one side which can frequently cause irritation bumps. You also want to be certain that the jewelry is not only the correct style but piercing-appropriate materials. Some materials are fine to wear once your piercing heals but should not be used to perform a piercing. A fresh set of eyes may also be helpful, and you may find that the piercer has a few tricks up their sleeve for healing irritation bumps.

If your piercing suddenly seems like you can see a lot more of the jewelry that before, if you can see the barbell through the skin, the jewelry appears to be moving, or there’s a red line on your skin along the length of the barbell, it may be time to remove it. Rejection is always a heartbreak. The body, in all its wonderous talents, can push foreign objects up and out of the skin as cellular turnover creates new skin underneath the object. Think of a time when you got a splinter stuck in your skin that you couldn’t remove. Within a few weeks, that splinter probably worked its way out of your skin on its own. This is the same idea. Sometimes piercings reject because they are in areas with a lot of motion, such as an eyebrow. Sometimes they get snagged on things, like a dermal on clothing, which can start the rejection process. Sometimes they may have been pierced too shallow. When the rejection process begins, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. This is when you need to accept the inevitable and remove the jewelry. Otherwise, it will continue to work its way out of the skin and leave behind a noticeable scar. If you remove it, you at least can avoid the worst of the scarring, as well as the trauma of having your jewelry fall or rip right through your skin.

If your new (or new-ish) piercing is looking a little rough, it’s always a bit sad and worrisome to think that you may have to remove it. But with a few changes and some TLC, that doesn’t have to be the case. Not all problem piercings are doomed to be removed. Sometimes we have to say goodbye… but a lot of problem piercings can be saved and live to rock another day!

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