Hypertrophic piercing bumps and keloid scars can look similar. However, there are various ways to differentiate them.
Skin changes can occur at the site of piercings but are not always a cause for concern. For example,
This article explains what piercing bumps and keloids are and how to tell the difference between the two. It also discusses the treatment options for both, as well as the other conditions that may cause skin issues after getting a piercing.
Piercing bumps occur when the body’s immune system responds to the wound and initiates the healing response. This response leads to inflammation, which is what causes a bump.
A person may notice bleeding, bruising, and some swelling at the site of the piercing in the first few weeks after getting it. These symptoms are all typical. Other symptoms that are not typically a cause for concern may include:
- some whitish fluid coming from the site of the wound
- crusting around the piercing jewelry
A keloid is a raised scar that occurs as a result of trauma or injury to the skin. Sometimes, this type of scar may appear after a piercing.
A keloid forms due to an overgrowth of fibrous tissue. In response to injury, cells in the skin — called fibroblasts —
Keloids can take 3–12 months to develop after the original injury. They start as raised scars that can be pink, red, purple, or brown and typically become darker over time. The appearance can depend on the location of the keloid, as well as the person’s skin tone.
Earlobe keloid scars are likely to be round or oval. They can continue to grow over time — either quickly or slowly — and can become very large.
The texture of keloids can differ. They can feel soft and doughy or hard and rubbery. Other symptoms that a person with a keloid scar may experience include:
Initially, keloids and piercing bumps can look similar. However, over time, differences will emerge.
The following table shows some of the key differences between these skin changes:
|Around the piercing site
|Around the piercing site but can extend beyond it
|Soon after a piercing
|3–12 months after piercing
|Varies, but after forming, it does not grow bigger
|May start small and grow bigger over weeks, months, or years
|Pink or flesh-colored
|Varies, but it can become darker over time
Piercing bumps are part of the body’s natural response to injury, and they do not typically require treatment. However, people can take steps to keep the area clean, prevent infection, and allow the piercing to heal. These include:
- keeping piercing jewelry in, without changing or removing it, for at least 6 weeks
- washing the hands before touching the piercing
- washing the piercing with a saline solution or gentle soap and water once a day
- patting the area dry with a clean cotton pad after bathing or showering and avoiding using a towel, which can introduce bacteria
The general guidance is to avoid using rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on the piercing area as it can slow healing.
Various treatment options are available for keloids. The appropriate treatment option can depend on several factors, including the type and size of the keloid. Treatment options include:
- Corticosteroids: This type of medication can help shrink the keloid. The AAD notes that people require about four injections on average, having one every 3–4 weeks. They also say that 50–80% of keloids shrink after corticosteroid injection.
- Surgery: A specialist can surgically remove the keloid. However, keloids can return, even after surgical removal.
- Laser treatment: Laser treatment
can helpflatten the keloid scar and make it fade.
- Cryotherapy: This treatment is appropriate for use on small keloids. During cryotherapy, a doctor freezes the keloid to soften it and reduce its size. Cryotherapy is not suitable for people with darker skin, due to the possibility of skin pigmentation changes.
The AAD recommends that people who know that they may be prone to keloids avoid getting piercings.
Bumps at the site of a piercing can sometimes be a sign of another condition or health issue. Some other possible causes include:
Infections in new piercings are quite common, and they can occur if the needle was not sterile or a person is unable to keep the piercing completely clean. The symptoms of an infected piercing include:
- swelling and puffiness
- yellow pus coming out of the piercing
- nausea and vomiting
Contact dermatitis is a type of skin rash that occurs when something that touches the skin irritates it. The rash may develop as a result of an allergy, friction, or exposure to something corrosive or toxic.
In piercings, possible causes of contact dermatitis include:
- the metal in the jewelry
- the metal in the needle or piercing gun
- the products that the piercer uses to clean the area
The symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
- fluid-filled blisters
- a burning or stinging sensation
Nickel is responsible for most jewelry allergies. Nickel is present in less expensive jewelry, but gold or silver jewelry may contain small amounts of it, so these can also cause a reaction.
The best way to combat a jewelry allergy is to replace the metal with a hypoallergenic one, such as titanium, stainless steel, or 18- or 24-karat gold.
If a person believes that they have a keloid, they should speak with a doctor or dermatologist. Without treatment, the keloid may continue to grow.
A person should also seek the advice of a healthcare professional if they are experiencing symptoms of an infection.
The following are some questions people frequently ask about piercing bumps and keloids.
How long does a piercing bump last?
Piercing bumps can last up to a few weeks, but may go away quicker for some people.
Do keloid bumps from piercings go away?
Keloid bumps may stop growing eventually. However, they will not go away without treatment.
Piercing bumps and keloids are different skin conditions that can occur following a piercing. Piercing bumps tend to appear more quickly and do not grow in size, while keloids take time to form and can continue to grow.
A healthcare professional or dermatologist can advise on the best way to treat keloids. Anyone who believes that they may have a keloid or another condition that may be causing a lump should speak with a healthcare professional.