Stretched piercings can suffer from a range of unique problems. This guide explores the common problems encountered by people stretching their piercings and recommends treatment suggestions and techniques to help you over-come them.
TL;DR – Too Much Information? For a shorter version try reading our quick reference guide here!
Trouble Stretching | Discharge | Lip Blowing | Allergic Reactions | Problem Jewellery | Stuck Jewellery
All of the advice listed on this page is non-medical and should be treated as a home remedy or basic first aid rather than diagnosis or prescription. If you are worried about your stretched piercing you should always seek medical advice.
Trouble going up to a new size. Some people reach a point where, despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to be able to stretch up to the next size. The most common cause of this problem is a build up of scar tissue in the piercing – which is less elastic than normal tissue.
Scar tissue is common in piercings that were done with a gun, have been badly knocked or caught, and those stretched too quickly. Some people are unlucky and may just have scar tissue left over from the natural healing process. There are several things you can do to move past this problem:
- Be patient. Although 8 weeks is a good guideline it may take 6 months or more for some people’s bodies to finish rearranging the collagen and elastin cells and relax into the new shape, as discussed in how stretched piercings form.
- Interact with the piercing. Take the jewellery in and out and play with it (using clean hands). By just leaving the piercing alone you don’t give your body the message that the tissue needs to be loose, instead it will tighten up around the jewellery in an attempt to return to its original form.
- Try tape rather than tapers.Taping up your jewellery is a much more gradual way of stretching and allows the tissue to stretch bit by bit rather than all at once. This can help you slowly build up to your next size fairly easily. Read more about this technique.
- Downsize. As downsizing gives the tissue a chance to relax and regain strength this can be a great way of overcoming stretching problems. Consider it similar to relaxing the stretch on an elastic band – the more you relax the band the wider and more easily it can stretch the next time.
- Massage. Daily massage with a natural oil or butter is a great way of improving the skin’s natural elasticity. If you are having trouble stretching you can increase your massages to two a day for additional help (any more is likely to just irritate the piercing). Suggested oils and butters can be found here.
Discharge. It is normal to see certain discharge with stretched piercings. It is most often light yellow or white in colour, feels a little waxy and may smell a little cheesy.
This usually just sebum which is a oil naturally produced by the body to hydrate and protect the skin. It collects more easily in larger piercings and so becomes more obvious. If the discharge is runny its likely to be serous fluid. Neither are a sign of infection.
- Regular salt water soaks or thorough cleaning in the shower are the best way to reduce this problem.
- If the discharge build ups are very frequent you may wish to try PTFE jewellery as it has very small pores which makes it much harder for discharge to stick and build up.
- Using a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice to clean your jewellery regularly will also remove any unwanted smells.
- You can also use tea tree, bergamot and sandalwood essential oils on the stretched piercing (ideally diluted 10 drops for every 30ml of vegetable / body oil or moisturiser) to reduce the production of the sebum and unpleasant smells.
Lip Blowing. Sometimes a lip that has a stretched lip piercing will ‘peek’ or ‘blow’ over the top of the jewellery.
- Unfortunately there is little that can be done for this problem as it usually means that the piercing itself needed to be placed lower down to prevent it from interacting with the lip tissue above.
- Regular massages may help to reduce the effect but downsizing to a size where the jewellery didn’t interact or letting the piercing close and getting re-pierced is the only true cure.
Allergic Reactions. Cheap materials like acrylic, silicone and Fimo often cause allergic reactions because they are full of chemicals. Surgical steel can also cause reactions in some people because it contains a metal known as nickel which is one of the main sources of metal allergy. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
The only way to solve this is to salt water soak the piercing to help ease the irritation and change the jewellery for something more suitable. If the piercing is very irritated using a hot chamomile tea bag (found in the fruit tea section of most supermarkets) as a compress which should help to alleviate any discomfort, itching and swelling.
Problem Jewellery. Certain cheap types of jewellery can cause problems with the piercing. Any of these problems can be cured by changing to better quality jewellery.
If any of the problems below occur do not pull out the jewellery. Instead salt water soak the piercing thoroughly until the jewellery naturally loosens away, lubricate the piercing with soap and then remove it.
- Silicone is quite tacky which causes the skin to pull tight over it when it is inserted to stretch with, this causes micro-tears to happen inside the piercing hole and scar tissue to form. This can even kill off some of the healthy tissue.
- Acrylic, PMMA (‘dental’ acrylic) and Fimo plastics can be easily scratched which cause a lot of irritation to the piercing hole resulting in swelling and discomfort. They also have a lot of open pores which allows body fluids to stick to the jewellery and the inside of the piercing. As well as causing irritation and infection risk this can cause the jewellery to become stuck to the piercing hole and accidentally tear it. Since there are more bodily fluids around during healing this makes these materials a particularly poor choice to heal around.
- Horn, Bone and Wooden jewellery are naturally porous and so allow body fluids to stick and dry, causing irritation or damage unless cleaned regularly and used in healed stretches. The natural porous nature does allow the area to ‘breathe’ so are good choices for long term, healed, wear.
Stuck Jewellery. If you use double flared jewellery and do not remove it regularly the piercing is likely to tighten around the thinner, internal, tube – not allowing enough give to get the ‘lip’ of the jewellery through the piercing.
- To remedy this you will need to try to loosen the fistula by playing with the jewellery and daily massaging.
- Taking a hot shower or salt water soak before trying to remove the jewellery may also help.
Jewellery can also become stuck if it is very porous and has caused dried body fluids to ‘stick’ the jewellery to the hole.
Many of these problems may need medical intervention to safely and adequately treat them. If you are worried you should always seek professional medical help as soon as possible and view this guide merely as a suggestion of home remedies or, at best, basic first aid advice.
Jewellery embedding in ears. Larger sizes of jewellery (12mm or 1/2″ +) worn at night can be a hazard to the ear – especially if it is laid on. Your head is the heaviest part of your body and by placing that much pressure onto the jewellery you can sometimes cause the jewellery to bend into the inside of the ear or the flared ends on flare-type jewellery to become pushed inside the hole and cause damage.
You should try to sleep without your jewellery in (if you are at sizes above 12mm or 1/2″). Some people may want to wear soft silicone jewellery at night, but this should be approached with care and only done when the stretch is healed due the problems mentioned above.
Pain and bleeding: Stretching a piercing should never hurt, particularly on the ear lobes. It may feel warm, tingly or tight (sometimes it may feel a little ‘sharp’ on septum piercings). If you are finding it painful you may need to stop and give your piercing more time to relax. You can also use the solutions mentioned above.
You should also never see blood when you stretch. The idea behind stretching is to encourage the hole to widen and remain whole – not to re-pierce it. Bleeding is a sign that the piercing has been re-opened and is now similar to a fresh piercing in places.
- If this has happened you will need to stop stretching and return to the size you were at before.
- Leave at least 12 weeks before stretching again so that the fistula has time to heal properly.
- Ideally (and especially if there was a fair amount of blood) you should consider leaving the piercing at this size for 6 months so that the fistula has time to return to full strength.
- You should also do daily saline soaks for the first two weeks to keep the wound clean.
- You should start daily massages at around 6-8 weeks.
- If you were at a larger size (14mm / 9/16″ +) you should consider downsizing to (at least) a size below your current size to reduce pressure on the healing tissue and encourage elasticity to return.
Infection. Infection with stretched piercings is rare and there are usually two causes: by having accidentally reopened the piercing or by having not cleaned the piercing regularly enough. Usually if you are just seeing discharge it is likely to be harmless.
- Irritation to the piercing from scratched jewellery or an allergic reaction can also cause swelling, soreness, redness and even a little heat which could be mistaken for an infection
- As long as you have stretched carefully and been taking care of your piercing, cleaning the piercing thoroughly and changing the jewellery or tape should be your first step, just in case it is simply irritation.
- If, after this, the symptoms haven’t gone away, or you have the signs of a piercing infection you should treat the piercing accordingly.
- If you think you have an infection and have been wearing wooden, horn or bone plugs you should consider discarding them as they cannot be re-sterilised and soaking them for a long time in a disinfectant is not entirely effective and will damage them beyond repair.
Hole Thinning. Thinning of a piercing hole is a very obvious loss of tissue at a certain point of the hole. It is most noticeable on lobes and usually effects the bottom of the hole, probably due to gravity causing the weight of the jewellery to rest here.
The thinner this weak spot gets the more likely it is that it will simply snap under the pressure of another stretch, or even an accidental pull, so it is important to treat thin parts when they are first noticed.
- The best way to treat this is to downsize, usually by 2 or 3 sizes. This allows the tissue to relax and reorganise its structure, strengthening weaker parts.
- During the downsize you should massage the piercing daily to increase blood flow and elasticity.
- Some piercings may need to be downsized and re-stretched several times to adequately thicken a thin area. This is much the same as stretching and relaxing an elastic band to let it go further without breaking.
- In rare cases there are some piercings which simply reach their size limit due to their placement and are unlikely to get any thicker. This can only be solved by letting the piercing heal up and getting re-pierced.
Blow Outs. Blow outs are an unsightly distortion of the piercing hole caused by stretching too quickly or with too much force. A blow out is typically a very large lump of red or purple coloured tissue that appears on one side of the piercing, often around the exit hole in a semi-circle (usually on the back of ear lobes).
It is caused by accidentally forcing the fistula (or ‘inside’ of the piercing) outside the piercing and is often permanent.
- A blow out can be treated by downsizing by at least 2 or 3 sizes.
- Using daily massage will also encourage blood flow and healing
- Putting your jewellery in ‘backwards’ through the side the blow out is on, can also encourage it to be reabsorbed.
- If, after several months, these measures have not helped or the blow out is quite large, it is likely to need surgery to be removed.
- Some body modification experts will offer scapelling procedures to remove excess tissue like this, also.
Torn / Snapped Piercings. This usually happens when too much force is used to stretch a weakened or thinning piercing and is most common on the ear lobes. It can also sometimes occur if a large stretch is caught or pulled. There is no way to fix a torn piercing other than plastic surgery or reconstruction through a body modification expert. This is usually expensive but often successful with neat, symmetrical, results.
It is hard to say with any certainty what size is the point of no return, for shrinking a piercing back to its normal size, as everyone is different. Generally speaking most people find that, if they have stretched correctly, 10mm is the largest they can go before they cannot shrink back. In thin tissue liked the genitals this may be smaller (around 6mm) and piercings that haven’t been stretched properly may not downsize more than a handful of sizes.
It is unlikely that, after stretching above 6mm, the piercing will ever entirely close or return to the very small hole it was originally. You are likely to get the hole to a small 2mm or 3mm, however. This is part of the reason why stretching should be considered a permanent modification.
- To shrink your piercing you will need to, simply, remove the jewellery and keep it out for a long time. This takes the pressure off the tissue and removes the ‘stability’ of the jewellery – allowing the fistula to soften and shrink naturally.
- Regularly massaging the piercing will help to keep everything supple and encourage tissue reshaping.
- Otherwise you should leave the piercing alone as much as possible as playing with the hole will encourage it to stretch instead of shrink.
- The time that the shrinking takes can vary. It tends to be much faster in places such as the lip, tongue and septum and slower in the lobes.
- Piercings may take as long as a year or more to shrink as far as they can go and jewellery should be kept out during the entire time.
- Many people are now resorting to filler injections, lobe closure procedures and plastic surgery to return their stretched lobes to normal. Some body modification experts are offering this service for their clients also.
Stretched Piercing Help
For further information, try reading our guide to piercing stretching. Alternatively you may find our bump guide on blow outs informative.
If you feel you have further questions about a stretched piercing please feel free to contact our clinic team who are experienced body piercers and can offer basic advice. Be aware that none of our team are trained medical professionals so if you are worried you should always seek advice from a nurse or doctor and not rely on us as any form of substitute.