At first a piercing heals like normal. Blood clots the wound and swelling occurs.
Swelling is important because it cleans the wound and signals to the body that healing cells are needed in the area. It is important not to treat swelling unless the piercing is in an area where it could be dangerous.
Unlike normal wounds, granulation tissue forms first instead of normal tissue. Granulation tissue is very delicate as it forms quickly – it is an ’emergency patch’ placed by your body to protect itself from the outside.
If granulation tissue is damaged new tissue cannot grow, as it relies on granulation tissue for all its nutrients and for moving new cells into the wound itself (from the inside outwards).
Healing in this way is particularly slow in cartilage piercings because cartilage does not have its own direct blood vessels, making it harder for healing cells to get to the piercing.
Your piercing heals like this because the edges of the wound are too far away to be pulled together like normal so the piercing stays open as it heals. The process takes a long time and is why regular cleaning is important.
Throughout healing a light yellow, white or clear discharge is produced which is called serous fluid (nicknamed lymph). It is essentially just used up bits of healing cells and is not pus so it is nothing to worry about.
With proper care the body forms normal tissue on top of the granulation tissue. The tunnel that the body forms around the jewellery is called a fistula.
Your body forms a fistula as a defence. It cannot remove the jewellery (which it feels shouldn’t be there) so instead builds a ‘wall’ around it to keep the jewellery out.
Fistulas themselves take a while to form and have three important stages.
Stage one: At two weeks you will have a weak initial fistula which is very prone to damage. As the fistula gets stronger the piercing may feel healed before the recommended healing time. This is only because the body is working on strengthening the hole and supporting the jewellery rather than patching up the wound so you won’t actually be fully healed!
Stage two: When your piercing has healed the fistula will be fully formed but not at full strength. This means frequent jewellery changes and poor jewellery may upset it. It will also be prone to closing up if the jewellery is left out too long.
Stage Three: 6 months after your full healing time your fistula should be at full strength. It will now be safe to stretch the piercing or leave it out for a short amount of time.
Effects of Jewellery.
To your body a piercing is essentially like a splinter and the jewellery is in the way of it closing the wound properly, so at first your body will actually be trying to push out the jewellery. It is important, therefore, to not make the piercing seem threatening to the body and jewellery plays a large role in this.
Jewellery that contains poor materials constantly ‘attacks’ the body by irritating the wound, not making your body want to heal around it.
Jewellery that moves around too much (rings or too long bars) causes the same problem but it adds to it by dragging dirt and other nasties into the wound too.
Jewellery that does not sit properly or rests awkwardly also causes the irritation problem due to pressure being placed unevenly on the piercing. This can lead to more serious issues such as migration, ear collapse or gum damage.
Jewellery that is too small can cause extra swelling and pressure, which is irritating and doesn’t allow the healing process to start properly. This swelling may cause the jewellery to sink into the skin and get stuck, sometimes causing infection.
Effects of Cleaning.
Cleaning the piercing incorrectly can also cause the body to feel like it is under attack and not want to heal properly.
Your body actually needs a certain level of bacteria to heal with. Using harsh chemicals and antiseptic agents removes this, making your body have to try twice as hard to heal.
Certain chemicals also damage the delicate new tissue in a piercing which, if done regularly, can cause harder, thicker scar tissue to form.
Not soaking the piercing and only cleaning around the outside also poses a problem as this only moves dirt and bacteria around the wound rather than washing it away. It’s also very difficult to properly clean the inside of the piercing hole using this method as the jewellery is in the way.