Sometimes the body may reject a piercing, which can cause discomfort and scarring. Spotting a piercing rejection early can reduce scarring and damage to the skin.

Whenever the skin is broken, there is a risk of infection, scarring, allergies, or other skin problems.

In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of piercing rejection, and how to stop it from happening.

Anti-eyebrow piercing. Image credit: Ralf Roletschek, (2008, August 11).Share on Pinterest
The body may try to reject a piercing because it is a foreign object.
Image credit: Ralf Roletschek, (2008, August 11).

Sometimes, the body’s immune response sees the jewelry as a foreign object and rejects it.

Piercing rejection can cause discomfort and scarring.

The following can help reduce the risk of piercing rejection:

  • choosing a qualified and experienced piercer
  • using proper jewelry
  • practicing proper piercing aftercare

Anyone who has piercings should keep a careful eye on them while they heal. Catching a piercing rejection early can reduce scarring or damage to the skin.

A piercing rejection usually happens gradually. Symptoms tend to appear several days or weeks before the body finally pushes the jewelry out of the skin in a process called migration.

Signs that a piercing is migrating and possibly being rejected include:

  • more of the jewelry becoming visible on the outside of the piercing
  • the piercing remaining sore, red, irritated, or dry after the first few days
  • the jewelry becoming visible under the skin
  • the piercing hole appearing to be getting larger
  • the jewelry looking like it is hanging differently
  • the jewelry moving more freely than it should
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Surface piercings, such as nape piercings, are at risk of rejection, which can lead to scarring.

Any piercing has the potential to be rejected. Rejection depends on the person’s immune system and how well the piercing heals. But, the body tends to reject some types of piercings more often than others.

Surface piercings are the most common types of piercing to be rejected by the body. Surface piercings travel along an area of skin, rather than going directly through a body part. The jewelry punctures only a small amount of the skin’s surface.

Examples of surface piercings include eyebrows, neck, hip, and wrist.

Surface piercings may be prone to rejection just because it is easier for the body to push the jewelry out of a small amount of skin.

Non-surface piercings include the earlobe, ear cartilage, lip, or tongue. These types of piercings go all the way through the body tissue — in one side and out the other.

Non-surface piercings may be rejected less often because there is more tissue to hold them in place, making it more difficult for the body to push them out.

Sometimes, a piercing rejection occurs without an apparent cause. However, the following steps may make a piercing rejection less likely to happen.

Choose the right piercer

It is essential to select a piercer who is familiar with the body’s anatomy, the healing process, and where best to place a piercing. Before getting a piercing, talk to the piercer about:

  • The type of piercing. Ask about the specific kind of piercing desired and their experience with it. Their expertise with specific piercing locations. Ask to see photos of piercings they have done in the past. These should show a variety of piercings that look well-suited to individual body types.
  • Their sterilization and safety measures. The Association of Professional Piercers state that every piercer should use an autoclave for sterilizing equipment. Good hygiene can help lower the risk of infection and trouble with healing, both of which can lead to piercing rejection.
  • Other sanitary and health measures. Ask about single-use needles, gloves, and the cleaning of hands and rooms between each customer.

Also, consider reading online reviews or talking to previous customers. Choosing an experienced, skilled, and hygienic piercer is crucial.

Choose the right jewelry

A qualified piercer should recommend a size and type of jewelry best suited to the indivdual’s body and the location of the piercing.

Using a thicker piece of jewelry might reduce the risk of rejection.

Using materials such as niobium and titanium offer the lowest risk of irritation and allergies. This can also help speed up the healing process and prevent complications. Research the specific piercing beforehand and the best jewelry size and material for it.

Follow aftercare instructions

Keeping a piercing clean is vital for healing and preventing infection. Do not use harsh cleansers such as peroxide, antibacterial soaps, or alcohol, as they can irritate the skin and delay healing.

Ideally, clean the area with a sterile saline solution or a product recommended by a professional piercer.

Take care not to bump piercings, especially while they heal. An injury to the area could cause irritation, rejection, or migration. Ask the piercer about what precautions to take to protect the piercing during contact sports.

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Having a professional remove jewelry when it seems to be moving towards the surface may prevent rejection.

If the piercing appears to be migrating toward the surface, take the following steps:

  • Remove the jewelry and contact the piercer. Keeping the jewelry in increases the chances of scarring. A large scar can prevent a person having a new piercing in the same location after it heals.
  • Ask the piercer about using a different piece of jewelry. Thicker-gauge jewelry or a different shape or material may help the piercing heal and settle into place better.
  • Do not try to treat the rejection at home with bandages or coverings. This may slow healing and has not been shown to help keep piercings in place.

Most people who experience a piercing rejection will recover without any lasting health issues. However, there may be scarring, which can range from mild to severe.

Scarring can make it difficult or impossible to get a new piercing in the same location. It may also be a cosmetic concern. People who are prone to raised or keloid scars are generally advised to avoid piercings.

Antibiotics may be needed if an infection occurs. Anyone who suspects a piercing infection should discuss it with a doctor.

Signs of infection include the following at the piercing location:

  • redness
  • hot to the touch
  • swelling
  • discharge

With proper antibiotic treatment, most piercing infections heal without long-term problems.

After a piercing rejection, people should think about what may have caused it. Did they follow proper aftercare instructions? Did the piercer use appropriate equipment, technique, and jewelry?

If the piercing was done correctly and the person looked after it properly, the rejection may just be bad luck. A person can sometimes have one rejection then have no problems with future piercings. People should consider the risk of another piercing rejection before getting pierced again.