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Keloids are overgrowths of scar tissue that form at the site of skin injury. They’re a common side effect of piercings and some people are more prone to keloids than others.

They’re harmless, but can be annoying and occasionally painful.

Keloids are more common with ear piercings, but they do happen with other piercings, including belly button piercings.

Keloids are basically raised scars that feel hard and rubbery. They usually appear at the site of the injury — in this case, a piercing — and can extend well beyond. They look:

  • shiny
  • smooth
  • round

Their colors can be:

  • pink
  • purple
  • brownish

“People often confuse keloids with other raised scars and bumps that can form following a piercing, like a hypertrophic scar or an abscess, but they’re not the same,” explains board certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD.

“Hypertrophic scars won’t extend beyond the treated area, but can be very thick and sensitive. Keloids, by definition, extend beyond the treated area. An infection or abscess can look like a lump, but will be swollen, warm, sore, and may have yellow discharge,” says Cheung.

Experts aren’t entirely sure exactly why some skin grows excess fibrous tissue this way, but there’s usually an overproduction of collagen involved.

You’re more likely to develop a keloid if you:

  • have dark skin
  • are between ages 10 and 30
  • have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who gets keloids

Even without any of these risk factors, the location of a belly button piercing could increase your chances of a keloid, according to Cheung.

“Even if you’re not prone to keloids, the navel is one area that can [develop a] keloid, due to trauma and constant rubbing from clothing,” says Cheung.

For someone prone to keloid scarring, the only surefire way to prevent them is to avoid procedures that injure your skin, like tattoos and piercings.

The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) actually recommends that people with a history of scarring or keloids not get pierced.

You may be able to lower the chances of a keloid from a belly button piercing by following your piercer’s aftercare instructions. Cheung also recommends avoiding excess friction to the piercing.

Belly button piercings tend to take longer to heal and are prone to infection or injury because of the constant movement of the area and rubbing from jeans and other clothing.

Belly buttons are also little bacteria and lint traps as it is.

During the healing phase, which can take up to a year, keep the area clean and dry and avoid tight clothing that can irritate your skin and trap bacteria.

It’s also a good idea to protect your piercing with a bandage during high contact activities like sports and sex.

If you get a keloid on your belly button piercing, it’s there to stay unless you have it removed by a dermatologist. That said, you may be able to stop one in its tracks if you act quickly at the first symptom of a keloid.

Keep an eye on your piercing and call a dermatologist as soon as possible if you notice any scarring or thickening of skin. Quick intervention could help prevent the thickening from becoming a keloid.

“Your dermatologist may laser the scar to flatten it,” says Cheung, “or inject it with steroids or other medications if there are signs of tissue thickening.”

Other available treatments for keloids include:

  • Silicone dressings or gel. Applying a silicone sheet or gel to a keloid may help flatten it. Silicone is usually used along with compression.
  • Compression. Wearing a compression garment fitted by a dermatologist can help prevent a belly button piercing keloid from growing.
  • Cryotherapy. This freezes the keloid from the inside out without damaging your skin underneath. Cryotherapy can help make a keloid smaller and softer and is sometimes used together with steroid injections for better results.
  • Surgery. Surgical removal is the only way to get rid of a keloid completely, but it’s important to know that it will probably grow back at some point. To lower the chances of it coming back, your dermatologist may recommend using another treatment after surgery, like compression, radiation therapy, or injections.

Taking good care of your piercing and protecting it from irritation is the best you can do to lower your chances of getting a keloid on your belly button piercing, not to mention other complications like infection.

If a keloid does grow, it’s more of a cosmetic concern than a medical one and you don’t need to do anything about it if you don’t want to. If it bothers you, contact a dermatologist about available options.

You can find a board certified dermatologist in your area through the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.