One of the main concerns when you get a piercing are healing bumps, a type of growth where the skin swells in response to trauma. Sometimes, the bump remains even after the initial swelling has gone away. These bumps can be keloids, which are thick scars caused by extra tissue growing on and around the site of an injury. If these keloids grow on or around your face, they can be embarrassing and have a significant effect on your self-confidence.
Scars normally become less obvious as time passes and the wound heals. However, keloids persist long after the original injury and can be large and irregular in size. Keloids come in a range of colors, varying from pink to red and even dark brown. They look shiny and are often firm and rubbery in texture.
They take months to appear and grow, so having no keloids right after an injury is not a sign that it is safe. Keloids are harmless, but they can be itchy or painful. In some cases, they affect your ability to move, especially if they grow on an area like the face. They grow because the body exaggerates the healing response that leads to scars, creating an overgrowth of granulation tissue in, around and over the wound site. Keloids do not get better with time and there is no guaranteed way to remove them.
Piercing keloids can actually grow bigger than the wound itself. If the keloid cannot be treated, you might have to abandon the piercing as aggravating it can cause the keloid to grow.
Before we get into how to manage keloids, we need to understand what causes them and what effects they have—so let’s get started.
What Causes Piercing Keloids?
Your body treats all wounds and injuries the same, even if you want them. Piercings are considered an injury that your body tries to heal. It develops fibrous scar tissue to cover the wound, but sometimes too much scar tissue is made and it spreads further than the actual injury.
As wounds heal, fibrous scar tissue starts to replace old skin tissue. Sometimes your body makes too much scar tissue or sends the wrong type of collagen to heal the wound, leading to keloids. This extra tissue starts to spread out from the original wound, causing a bump or small mass that becomes larger than the original piercing.
Will Piercing Keloids Have Any Effect on My Piercing?
Keloid scars are considered a benign tumor. They are mostly harmless, but some people feel pain and itchiness on and around the scar. If the piercing is underneath your clothes, the keloid can rub and catch on clothing and the friction can be irritating.
Keloids can grow to be quite thick, which can affect your range of movement if they grow on your face. If they grow on a nose, lip or eyebrow piercing, you will be able to feel them when you make facial expressions. Keloid growths can also become infected and develop pus. If it feels tender or painful when touched, you might have an infection and should seek treatment.
Developing piercing keloids is already upsetting and stressful because your piercing is not healing well, but piercing keloids on the face and head can have an extra effect on self-esteem and self-image. They can grow to be quite prominent and visible and they are difficult to cover up, which can make you feel self-conscious, embarrassed and unattractive.
How Do I Prevent Piercing Keloids?
Before getting a piercing, check with your family to find out whether you have a family history of keloids. If you do, it might be a good idea to talk to a dermatologist about doing a test in a less obvious area before your piercing. If you have had keloids in the past, you might need to reconsider getting a piercing.
People between 10 to 30 years of age are more susceptible to keloids, possibly due to puberty and general physical growth. If you are looking to get a piercing and have a family history of keloids, try to get your piercing done in early childhood or after adulthood. People with darker skin or a family history of keloids are also at risk.
Selecting a licensed professional piercer who sterilizes their equipment and uses the correct piercing techniques will also help with preventing piercing keloids. Ear piercing guns are difficult to keep clean compared to piercing needles, which are hollow and sharp to create a clean hole.
Once you have a piercing, you should take care of it and keep it clean to reduce the chance of scarring. Maintaining the cleanliness of a wound prevents infection and irritation. Your doctor or piercer will have advice on how to keep your piercing clean. Soaking the piercing site in saline or a gentle solution of warm water and non-iodized sea salt can help to get rid of bacteria. A dermatologist or doctor may be able to provide a silicone patch or gel to keep the piercing site hydrated and moisturized, which can help reduce redness and collagen deposits used by the body to heal the wound.
Non-metal earring backs and pressure earrings can also help with preventing keloids after piercings. Some people are allergic to nickel and chrome – using a non-metal earring back or materials like titanium, surgical steel, stainless steel, pure gold or pure silver will lessen the risk of developing contact dermatitis and irritation. A pressure earring is used as part of compression therapy, where it increases the amount of enzymes that work to break down collagen. It also reduces the amount of oxygen and blood that flows to the wound, getting rid of collagen-producing cells.
As with most wounds, you should not touch or pick at a piercing as it can spread bacteria and cause damage and irritation. Aggravating the wound will increase your chances of developing a keloid. If you absolutely have to touch your piercing, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry with a paper towel before doing so.
What Are My Treatment Options for Piercing Keloids?
Generally, keloids are difficult to treat and there is no sure fire way to treat them. The most important way to prevent and treat keloids is to keep the wound site clean so that there is no irritation that results in increased collagen growth. Keloids can take a while to disappear and they can also reappear after successful removal, so be prepared to have to wait and try different methods of treatment.
Some home remedies may help to reduce and flatten keloid scars. A warm chamomile compress has anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that may be able to help your wound heal without growing a keloid scar. To do so, make chamomile tea and apply the tea bag to the piercing site for up to 10 minutes. After the compress is done, you should rinse the wound and pat dry with a paper towel. Tea tree oil can also be applied to the scar for its antifungal, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties.
Pressure earrings and silicone patches or gels are useful to treat keloids as well as preventing them. They might be uncomfortable, but by applying even pressure across all of the pierced area after piercing, they can prevent keloids from emerging in the first place, and help to shrink them after they’ve started to grow.
A doctor can also surgically remove a keloid with a scalpel, but this new wound will also have a chance of developing a keloid. After surgery, your doctor may recommend radiation treatment to make the keloid smaller. Doctors normally suggest treatment combinations that work together to remove a keloid and stop it from forming again after removal.
Besides surgical options, medication can be injected into a keloid scar to manage symptoms and appearance. These injections are done every month or so for a period of time until the keloid is smaller and softer. Before or after injections, your doctor may advise that you do cryotherapy to freeze the keloid, or laser treatment to fade its color and reduce its size. Your doctor can also tie surgical thread around the base of a large keloid to cut off blood circulation and make it fall off. This procedure is called a ligature, and it will have to be done multiple times over the course of a few months before a keloid scar will fall off.
Creams and Lotions
Applying creams or lotions can also help – retinoid creams can reduce the size and appearance of a keloid scar. They can also reduce itching in the scar. Skin products that contain lanolin or petrolatum, like petroleum jelly and some lotions can improve a keloid scar’s appearance. These creams should be used regularly and cover the entire scar to help moisturize the skin at the wound area. Your doctor should be able to prescribe post-surgery creams that help with wound healing.
If piercing keloids are a concern for you, consulting a doctor and a licensed professional piercer is an important step in prevention and treatment. Taking the necessary steps to manage your risk of piercing keloids will help with any issues that pop up further down the line. It is better to be safe than sorry, and preparing well for a major aesthetic change is best practice to guard against what could become a costly, long-lasting problem.