Piercing Rejection: What It Is and How To Treat It

It's not uncommon for the body to reject a new piercing.

Tattooist piercing ear of customer in parlour

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Ears, tongue, eyebrows, belly button. There are several body parts that people get pierced.

Nearly 35% of people have some sort of piercing. And about 23% of people with piercings on body parts other than their earlobes reported experiencing complications.

In addition to infections, a common complication of piercings is piercing rejection. Here's what you should know about piercing rejection—including how to identify, treat, and prevent it. 

What Is Piercing Rejection, Exactly?

"Any time a foreign body, such as a piercing, is introduced into the skin, there will be inflammation," Angelo Landriscina, MD, board-certified dermatologist and site director for dermatology at Mount Sinai Doctors-Brooklyn Heights in New York, told Health. "In the case of piercing rejection, that inflammation actually starts to move the piercing toward the skin surface and can even cause it to perforate out of the skin." 

Generally, piercing rejection happens if the body sees the piercing as a foreign object and, therefore, must get rid of it.

Piercing rejection isn't well-documented in the published literature. However, according to Dr. Landriscina, the body rejects certain types of piercings more than others. 

For example, the body is more likely to reject surface piercings than others. Surface piercings will have a separate entry and exit point, like an eyebrow piercing, in the epidermis. The epidermis is the outer layer of your skin. Surface piercings may also have a base or "anchor" that sits below the skin surface.

Symptoms of Piercing Rejection

With piercing rejections, you may see the piercing migrate toward or above the skin's surface. 

If an infection occurs, you may have symptoms like:

  • Red, swollen, or tender skin
  • Skin that is warm to the touch
  • White, yellow, or brown fluid draining from the piercing site
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of malaise

Dr. Landriscina advised anyone possibly experiencing a piercing rejection to consult a healthcare provider. 

How To Treat Piercing Rejection

"If one of my patients was having a piercing rejected, I'd tell them to remove the piercing as soon as possible rather than letting it fall out on its own," said Dr. Landriscina. "Allowing the inflammation around the piercing to carry on can result in unsightly scarring."

Once a rejected piercing is entirely out of the skin, Dr. Landriscina advised keeping the area clean by washing it with regular soap and water once daily. Sometimes, you can insert a loop suture into the piercing to keep the hole from closing while you treat the area.

"Moisture is very important for helping the skin heal efficiently, so applying a thick ointment like petroleum jelly will be helpful," added Dr. Landriscina. "And covering the area with a plain bandage until the holes close is a good idea."

If an infection occurs, your healthcare provider may recommend applying a warm compress to the affected area. They may also prescribe topical antibiotics, like bacitracin or mupirocin. 

But treatments may vary depending on the type or location of the piercing. For example, if you have an infected oral piercing, your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral antibiotic, like amoxicillin.

Additionally, as of November 2022, there isn't any evidence showing that piercing rejection recurs in people who have had it once before.

"They can try again after the first piercing heals," noted Dr. Landriscina.

How To Prevent Piercing Rejection

It's not always obvious why the body rejects a piercing. But taking the following steps may help prevent it from happening:

  • Make sure the piercer uses an autoclave to sterilize equipment, the room is adequately sanitized, and the piercer wears gloves.
  • Choose jewelry made from hypoallergenic metals. Some evidence suggests that nickel is more likely to elicit an allergic reaction than other metals, like gold.
  • Avoid harsh cleansers. Instead, keep the pierced area clean by washing it with soap and water.

A Quick Review

Piercing rejection is a fairly common occurrence. But there are things you can do to minimize the chance of your piercings getting rejected. Keeping piercings clean, choosing hypoallergenic metals, and checking piercings regularly for any signs of infection are a few ways to help keep piercings looking great. 

And you can talk with a healthcare provider if you have questions about your piercings and how to keep them healthy.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Preslar D, Borger J. Body piercing infections. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  2. Uter W, Werfel T, White IR, Johansen JD. Contact Allergy: A Review of Current Problems from a Clinical PerspectiveInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(6):1108. doi:10.3390/ijerph15061108

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Caring for pierced ears.

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