A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Piercing care: Watch out for keloids

Adolescent girl putting in her earrings - Taking care of piercings

Piercings tend to be red and sensitive for the first few days. If tenderness doesn’t improve or redness worsens, the piercing may be infected.

When teenage years draw near, many kids begin asking parents for piercings.

Dr. Lawrence Scherrer, a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist, says parents should pick their battles. Perhaps after talking through possible consequences and dangers, you allow your teen one piercing while they’re under your roof and require all others wait.

“Ask your teen to imagine herself out in the world at college or trying to get a job. Is it worth the potential scar down the road? Make sure your teen is aware of the dangers,” Scherrer said.

Keloids and scarring

Unusual areas are most likely to cause scarring or keloids. For example, the upper ear tends to react more than the lower.

“Keloids are scars that grow beyond the original border,” Scherrer said. “As a keloid, the small hole that starts as a piercing can grow as large as a marble.”

Keloids are relatively easy to care for if caught early.

“We use steroid injections to reduce redness and itching and to decrease size of keloid,” Scherrer said.

Other keloids may require more extensive treatment. Some are frozen, a method known as cryotherapy, others are removed with pressure therapy, and those that do not respond to these treatments can be cared for with surgery and skin grafts.

Additional risks

In worst case scenarios, a teen may crack a tooth (tongue ring) or end up with a drooped eyelid (eyebrow piercing).

“It’s not like these problems happen to everyone, but it’s important to be aware of the possibilities,” Scherrer said.

Watch for infection and keloids

Piercings tend to be red and sensitive for the first few days. If tenderness doesn’t improve or redness worsens, the piercing may be infected.

If it looks irritated, that’s one thing. If it looks angry, that’s another. Increased redness, tenderness and swelling are signs of infection,” Scherrer said.

Normal healing may scab dull yellow or brown.

Bright yellow or honey crusting is sign of infection.

When your swelling becomes firmer, typically over the course of a couple weeks, a keloid is developing. Take out your piercing and see your doctor.

The best way to predict trouble with piercings is whether you’ve had trouble in the past.

Avoid infection with proper cleaning

Many tattoo parlors and piercing shops recommend salt water for cleaning piercings.

Scherrer suggests soap and water.

If the piercing area gets crusty, try peroxide.

And, to keep the area moist, use small amounts of Vaseline.

“Don’t touch the area of your piercing or play with and manipulate the jewelry,” Scherrer said. “Your skin cells are working to grow and usually do so effectively and healthily when you let them be.”

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