After years of contemplating whether or not the trendy body jewelry was right for you, you finally took the plunge and got a nipple piercing. But you've noticed a few red flags since then: The area around the piercing is unusually warm, swollen, and secreting a discolored discharge. You start to swonder, Is this an infection?
The good news is that piercing infections aren't all that common; it's more likely to be an allergic reaction. Even so, people with nipple piercings are more likely to contract a piercing-related infection than someone with a hole in their cartilage or nose. So, before you panic, we asked the pros — Brian Keith Thompson, celebrity piercer and owner of Body Electric, and dermatologist Matthew Lin, MD — for their best advice.
Ahead, they tell us the symptoms to look out for, the treatments that'll work best, and exactly WTF to do with your jewelry after you notice something wrong. Of course, nothing you'll read online is as helpful as seeking a medical opinion from your physician in person. If you're really worried, give your doctor a call, book an appointment, and then read below.
What are the symptoms of a nipple piercing infection?
The telltale signs of an infection aren't as complicated — or gruesome — as you might think. Dr. Lin tells us that early signs may be subtle, but will likely include redness, warmth, swelling, discharge, and sensitivity around the piercing. In more severe cases, swelling may develop in the lymph nodes in the armpit and you may begin to feel feverish. If the infection progresses without treatment, you may notice more green or brown discharge. White fluid or crust, on the other hand, is normal — it's called lymph fluid and it's a sign that your body is healing.
What could cause a nipple to become infected?
Your skin is constantly protecting you from infection, so when the skin is pierced and a hole is created, the barrier is compromised and bacteria is more likely to get in. The worst thing you can do for a new piercing is slack on the after-care routine. Keep in mind that the regimen for a nipple piercing is slightly different from that of a nose or ear: Cassi Lopez, head piercer at New York Adorned, suggests her clients focus on cleansing the nipples with water in the shower twice a day. Just let the water run over the piercing for about two minutes before getting out and carefully drying the area. Definitely avoid using cloth towels for this step — in and out of the shower — to prevent pulling or further irritation.
Should I remove my piercing jewelry if it looks infected?
According to Dr. Lin, mild infections do not require the jewelry to be removed, provided they're treated immediately. However, if the jewelry is only making the infected spot more uncomfortable, it's fine to have it removed. While you don't need a piercer to remove your jewelry for you, a pro can help out if it's too uncomfortable for you to do yourself. Yes, if the hole isn't fully healed, you may have to get the nipple pierced again — but once the infection is cleared, Thompson says, you can always go back to your piercer for a do-over.
If the jewelry is the source of the infection, then yes, you should take it out — but not permanently. Dr. Lin suggests briefly removing the jewelry to clean it with an antiseptic solution, like chlorhexidine gluconate.
What are the best treatments for a nipple piercing infection?
"The skin infection is usually caused by staphylococcus aureus," says Dr. Lin. "A mild infection can be treated by cleaning the area three times a day with an antiseptic solution and then applying a topical antibiotic ointment." If your physician finds that the infection is severe, they might prescribe an antibiotic.
How long does it take for a nipple piercing infection to heal?
Dr. Lin says that it can take anywhere from one week to several for an infected nipple piercing to heal — depending on its severity, of course. Considering the fact that it could take up to a whole year for a nipple piercing to heal, period, we suggest babying that body jewelry like it's a new house plant from Ikea.