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When you get a piercing, you’re deliberately creating an opening in your skin on part of your body. So, just as you’d care for an accidental wound to prevent an infection from developing, you must take care of a piercing too.

One way to help your new piercing stay healthy is to soak it in a sea salt or saline mixture. Doing this can keep your wound clean and promote healing.

Some piercing experts tell their customers to consider a sea salt soak to help your piercing heal. But you have to know how to do it correctly, or you might risk infection.

Read on to learn more about how to do a sea salt soak for your new piercing, as well as what to avoid, and what the benefits might be.

When you hear or read the word “soak,” you might wonder how you’re supposed to immerse certain body parts to soak in the sea salt solution.

You can probably picture yourself submerged in a bathtub, so you can soak your navel or a genital piercing, but what about a facial piercing? It might seem a little unlikely (or impossible) to try to soak your nose or your eyebrow.

But you don’t have to stick your head in a basin of salty water. Think: warm compress.

You can soak a sterile bandage or dressing in sea salt solution and drape your piercing, thereby soaking it in the salty water. You can even do this for piercings in other areas — in case you’re not game for a soak in the tub.

Making a sea salt solution

But you might also want to make your own. Before you get started, buy some sea salt, a minimally processed salt that’s obtained from the evaporation of seawater and contains some trace minerals like potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Many people keep it on hand for a relaxing sea salt bath. According to a 2012 research review, sea salt baths have been known to help relieve stress and even help ease the pain associated with rheumatic conditions.

Here’s how to prepare a sea salt solution for cleaning or soaking your piercing:

  • Pour 1 cup of warm water into a cup or bowl. Use distilled or bottled water.
  • Add 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon of the sea salt, and allow it to dissolve. That might not seem like much salt, but a stronger solution is more likely to irritate your piercing, according to the Association of Professional Piercers.
  • Dip squares of clean gauze or dressing into the sea salt solution and allow them to saturate.
  • Apply them to your piercing.

Afterwards, you might want to rinse the area briefly to remove any lingering residue.

Just as a cut or wound might be vulnerable, piercings are also vulnerable to infection while they heal. There are mistakes you can make that might not sound that harmful, but they actually might lead to an infection.

Here’s what you want to avoid doing:

  • Forgetting to wash your hands beforehand. Anytime you touch a new piercing, clean it, or soak it, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water beforehand.
  • Soaking for too long. The word “soak” might also imply a long period of time, but don’t fall into that trap. A 5-minute soak is more appropriate.
  • Swimming in the ocean. Yes, the ocean is salt water, but it’s not sterile, and it could introduce a myriad of various germs to your piercing. In fact, the Wound Care Society warns that salt water contains numerous other particles that could worsen a wound or open your skin. If you’re planning to swim in the ocean (or any body of water, including a hot tub or swimming pool), cover your piercing with a waterproof bandage until it completely heals.
  • Ignoring any warning signs. If you notice some redness, discoloration, swelling, or a pus-like discharge, these could be the symptoms of a skin infection developing. You should talk with a doctor as soon as you notice any of these concerns.

The Wound Care Society suggests that using a saline solution can be a good way to clean a new wound and promote healing.

You actually might not even need the saline, though. One 2013 study found that wounds irrigated with tap water had similar rates of infections to those cleaned with sterile saline.

One method of cleaning your piercing you should avoid, however, is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide can damage your healthy cells around a wound and inhibit healing.

After spending time and money to get a new piercing, you’re probably pretty invested in keeping it. Start out right by taking good care of it.

Using a saline solution or sea salt solution to keep it clean can be one way to keep your piercing site free from infection as it heals.

Before starting the process, make sure you understand how to do it right, as improper cleaning can lead to infection.