When you get a new piercing, you’re welcoming a foreign object into your body. Sometimes, your body isn’t as welcoming as you are, and it wants to push the foreign object out.
In the early stages of rejection, your piercing will begin to migrate toward the surface of your skin. Eventually, your body will push the piercing to the surface, and your skin will crack open to let it out.
Piercing rejection isn’t nearly as common as some other piercing complications, like infections, keloids, and dermatitis. When rejection does happen, it’s usually in a flat area of the body. Rejection is more common in the following types of piercings:
- belly button
- surface piercings
Read on to learn about the symptoms of piercing rejection and how you can treat it.
Your body is all about self-defense. It spends every minute of the day protecting you from an incalculable number of hazards: airborne diseases, bacteria on your skin, fungi, germs, and more.
When you injure yourself, your body’s immune system kicks into gear, helping you heal as quickly as possible.
The symptoms of piercing rejection are actually signs that your body is working to protect itself from what it perceives to be a threatening invader: your jewelry.
If your body is rejecting a piercing, you may experience the following symptoms:
- The jewelry has noticeably moved from its original place.
- The amount of tissue between the entrance and exit holes gets thinner (there should be at least a quarter inch of tissue between holes).
- The entrance and exit holes increase in size.
- The jewelry starts to hang or droop differently.
- The skin between the entrance and exit holes is:
- red or inflamed
- calloused-looking or unusually hard
- nearly transparent (you might see the jewelry through your skin)
Rejection usually happens in the weeks and months following a new piercing, but it can also happen years, even decades, later.
If you bump your old piercing in an odd way or have an infection that kicks your immune system into overdrive, you might suddenly see signs of migration and rejection.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body and the only one that comes into contact with the outside world. It holds in all your bodily fluids and keeps out harmful microbes that cause infections.
When your skin is injured, it goes through a complex process of healing that begins with inflammation and ends with the formation of scar tissue.
Your body will only build up scar tissue around a piece of jewelry if that process is easier than pushing out the jewelry entirely. In the case of surface piercings, the body is often tempted to push out the jewelry rather than wall it off with scar tissue.
Part of wound healing involves contraction, which means your skin is pulling itself back together. This is what allows holes to close up when jewelry is removed.
There’s no specific cause that leads to piercing rejection. It happens due to a combination of factors, including:
- Genetics. Some people heal differently than others.
- The skin surface. Flat surfaces are more prone to rejection.
- The tautness of skin. Piercing into tight skin around the belly button or chest puts more pressure on the piercing to hold the skin together (like a staple).
- The size and shape of the jewelry. Ill-fitting jewelry is often the initial cause of migration.
- The material of the jewelry. Some materials, such as titanium, may be better for those with sensitive skin and can reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction or rejection. Your piercer can recommend the right jewelry for you and the location of your piercing.
- Weight changes. Pregnancy and obesity cause the skin to stretch, which may put pressure on the piercing.
- Physical or emotional stress. A healthy, strong immune system is important for the healing process — and too much stress can negatively affect it.
It can be frustrating when your body rejects a piercing, but there’s no danger other than scarring (unless there’s a severe infection). The best thing to do is prevent the jewelry from pushing itself through the skin’s surface.
If the jewelry cracks open your skin’s surface, it’ll cause more damage, which means more scar tissue. Excessive scar tissue at the piercing site makes re-piercing difficult.
Here are a few tips for dealing with piercing migration and rejection:
- Take out the jewelry if you see it migrating toward the surface.
- Try a new piece of jewelry in a different size, gauge, shape, or material.
- Speak with a qualified piercer for advice.
- Opt for a nonirritating plastic ring or bar.
- Try a larger piece of jewelry if your ring won’t lie flat or your barbell looks like it’s getting swallowed up.
- Wait about a year before re-piercing.
- Apply a topical vitamin E oil to reduce the appearance of scars.
The most important thing you can do before getting a new piercing is to research the best piercers in your area. If you’re getting a surface piercing, make sure to talk to the piercer about their experience. It’s a good idea to ask about rejection rates for the area you’d like to pierce.
Keep in mind that piercings may leave visible scars.
Here are a few tips to reduce the likelihood of rejection:
- Getting a larger gauge, or width, may reduce your chance of rejection.
- Speak with your piercer about the depth of the piercing and the best size for jewelry to wear while you’re healing.
- Follow all aftercare instructions. Keep the site very clean and soak it in a saltwater compress.
- Stay healthy, eat well, and avoid stress.
Piercings are a way to express yourself and adorn your body, but they do come with risks. Migration and rejection are some complications that can result from a new piercing.
If you suspect something is wrong, take out your jewelry and talk with your piercer. A new piece of jewelry is often enough to stop migration and prevent rejection.