Troubleshooting Your Piercings - Common Problems

Troubleshooting Your Piercings - Common Problems


Piercings can be tricky when problems arise. Even with great care sometimes your piercing just refuses to heal. Things happen. Whether it's getting pierced or putting in jewelry that’s the wrong gauge, or developing irritated piercing bumps, there are usually a few things that you can do to try to make things better. 


Keep in mind that when it comes to piercings it has a lot to do with your individual healing rate and how well you take care of the piercing. Some people are more prone to infections than others. It’s always recommended to talk to your piercer if you have any concerns or questions about your piercing. We also always recommend that you get checked by your piercer and a doctor if your piercing is infected and won't clear up. 

While I can only recommend things that have worked for myself in the past, hopefully this can help someone out when they aren’t quite sure what to do. 

My piercing won't heal. What should I do? 

Healing a piercing can be difficult and time consuming. Many piercings can take anywhere from 6 months to 12 months to heal! It’s important to consistently keep your piercing clean (although don’t overdo it either.) Over cleaning can also irritate your piercing as it can dry it out. 

We recommend you clean your piercing 2-3 times a day with a gentle saline solution. H2ocean spray is great for cleaning your piercing (and jewelry) but you can also make your own solution using non-iodized sea salt and warm (boiled and cooled) water. 

Once you have your cleaning routine down the most common problem with healing piercings is the jewelry. Usually this is due to the jewelry being the incorrect size. If the bar is too short it can constrict the piercing but if it’s too long it can easily get snagged on hair, towels etc. which further irritates the piercing. 


What size should I get? 

We recommend you talk to your piercer if you are concerned that your original piercing jewelry is the wrong size. They’ll be able to check to see what size is best for the rest of your healing process and let you know what they recommend. When you get pierced they will usually use an extra long bar to account for swelling. This can sometimes actually irritate the piercing more long term if it moves around too much or gets caught on things easily.


You can also ask if they recommend you try healing with a different style of jewelry - for example, most flat back jewelry can be too constricting for a standard cartilage piercing while healing. A curved barbell or a horseshoe might be a better option because it can easily move and can more easily be cleaned behind. You can also check out our more thorough guide to sizes here.

It’s also much better to have your piercer switch out your initial jewelry rather than do it yourself at home. Think of your piercing as an open wound - if you aren’t careful while healing it can easily get bacteria trapped in it which can lead to an infection. A good piercer is trained to keep everything nice and sanitary so you don’t have any additional problems. 


Another problem may be the material of jewelry that is used. A lot of times you won’t even know if you’re allergic to a particular material unless you’ve had an experience wearing it before. 316L Surgical Steel is the most common material for fresh piercings. It's easily cleaned, doesn't tarnish and tolerated well by most people. However, if you do have any severe sensitivities, surgical steel does contain a very small amount of nickel. Some of our customers prefer to only wear Titanium. Titanium is 50% lighter than surgical steel and contains no nickel so it's perfect for healing piercings. Although it’s likely a bit more pricey than surgical steel, the benefits outweigh the cost. 

A lot of customers ask how do you know when your piercing is healed? Trust me, you’ll know. A healed piercing will not get irritated as easily as a healing piercing. You’ll notice your piercing won't be getting crusted like it did while healing and it shouldn’t be sore to the touch at all. Once your piercing is fully healed you can switch out the jewelry as often as you like! 

I tried to change my piercing and the ball won't come off. What do I do?

Sometimes when you're originally pierced the piercer will tighten the ball as much as possible to avoid it falling out. This is a good idea in theory but it can make the piercing next to impossible to remove when the time comes.

We recommend you try unscrewing the ball wearing rubber gloves. This should help you get a better grip on the ball to loosen it. Alternatively you can also ask a friend to help you - sometimes it helps to have someone help you especially if the piercing is in a difficult area to change. 

If you're unable to remove the ball with help of rubber gloves, you can always go back to your piercer and get them to switch out the jewelry for you.

What do I do if I got pierced at the wrong gauge? 

It’s important to know what gauge you were pierced at. The truth is that a lot of people don’t know. It’s understandable that when you first get a piercing most people don’t even know what a gauge is. The gauge refers to the thickness of the piercing. 

Unfortunately because it’s not common knowledge to check what size you’re pierced at, a lot of customers are actually pierced at an incorrect size for the piercing that they want to wear. This is really common with helix/cartilage piercings. Many cartilage piercings, especially when pierced with a gun, are pierced at a 20ga (the most common earring size.) Unfortunately most of the common helix piercings that you’ll see are 16ga - 2 sizes thicker than a standard stud earring. However, if you were pierced with a hollow needle at a tattoo parlor piercing shop you are likely pierced at a 16ga.

When you’re pierced at the wrong gauge you have a few options:

  • Stick with the size you were pierced at and find jewelry in that size that you like 
  • Stretch out your piercing slowly to accommodate the size of the jewelry that you want
  • Go back to your piercer or go to another piercer to get it re-pierced (keep in mind, the piercing will have to be taken out and healed before you get another one)

At pierced universe we carry a large selection of different gauge sizes. Piercings are also great in the sense that, if it fits, you can put it in. As long as an item is the right gauge size for what you’re pierced at then you should be able to wear it. For example, a good tip for anyone pierced with regular sized earrings in their cartilage, nose rings are commonly the same thickness as a standard earring. We carry a large variety of 20ga(0.8mm) nose hoops that are perfect for 20ga cartilage jewelry. Want a dainty diamond studded hoop? Check out our pave nose hoops! 

As for studs, a common style is the flat back labret. These are mainly carried in 16ga(1.2mm) but we also have our threadless styles that are available in 16ga to 20ga! These come in a lot of cute styles with gems, flowers and shapes (trilliums, stars, hearts etc.) that are perfect for cartilage, nose and ear piercings. You can check out more info about treadless here!

If you do decide that you want to wear 16ga jewelry again it’s also fairly easy to stretch up to a thicker size. You can check out our blog post on stretched ears for a more detailed description. You would first need to stretch to an 18ga(1mm) and then a month or so later when it’s healed you can stretch to the 16ga(1.2mm) size. 

Irritated piercings & infected piercing bumps: 

Piercing bumps are often caused by infection or piercing irritation. This can happen from having jewelry that is too tight, trapping in lymph and bacteria. If you notice your piercing has a bump, is irritated and sore you likely have a little pocket of infection forming above your piercing. Don’t panic, with regular cleaning most of the time these bumps do go away. You do need to make sure that you deal with it quickly and don’t ignore it. 


Sea salt soaks are super helpful for this. You can use the same solution that you use to clean your piercings but make sure that it’s a bit warm. The heat helps to draw out the bacteria and any potential infection from your piercing. Simply use a cotton ball and soak it in the solution, or alternatively, for ear lobe piercings/piercings that can be soaked you can use a small shot glass. Once your cotton ball is saturated you can apply it to your piercing, leaving it on the piercing to soak for about 5-10 minutes. This helps the mixture really soak into your skin and get absorbed. You can do this twice a day for a couple days. You should notice within the first day or two if your piercing is getting better. 


Keep in mind everyone's body is different. Some people heal better with different cleaning methods such as antibacterial soap (like what you would use on a new tattoo) or tea tree oil. Your piercer should always be ready to help you figure out what the best method for healing your piercing is. Be sure to always avoid drying alcohols or peroxides. These usually will do more harm to the piercing than good since they're such harsh disinfectants.


If the bump refuses to go away with cleaning it might be a good idea to change the jewelry. Sometimes simply switching to a hoop can give the piercing the space it needs to breathe. You could also have a sensitivity to the material that you were pierced with. We always recommend titanium for healing piercings. (You can check out why we think it's the best material here.)