What does this really mean? It is a common question, but the answer can be so different depending on the reason you are asking....
Healing of a piercing takes place in so many ways, so what follows is a summary that may answer YOUR particular question based on YOUR definition:
Most people want to know how long it will be until:
It stops hurting - piercings are often only tender to touch, or if they are knocked, in the first couple of weeks. If your piercing "hurts" most of the time there might be something wrong, so it is a good idea to see your Piercer and have it looked at. As a piercing starts to age, it will be less tender and more able to withstand the day-to-day rigors of life.
I can change my jewellery - as a general rule jewellery should not be changed for the first 3 months. This gives the piercing a chance to develop a tunnel of healed tissue (the fistula), which will form the basis for further healing to take place. The exception to this rule is oral piercings where the bar length should be shortened, or if incorrect jewellery was used initially and is changed to a better piece. Be aware that any time externally threaded jewellery is moved through the piercing the fistula is disrupted.
It looks good - most piercings look pretty good from the outset.
- A small amount of redness is not uncommon, but this should subside within a couple of weeks.
- You may notice some dry matter at the entry or exit of your piercing. This is called "exudate" and is a byproduct of the healing process. It is important to soak this off with warm salt water BEFORE ever moving the jewellery through the piercing. You should never move dry jewellery through a relatively fresh piercing.
- Any localized swelling will usually go away after a couple of days and this can be assisted with clean, cold compresses.
- If you have any lumps or bumps appear beside your piercing - see your Piercer promptly.
I can leave my jewellery out - this is a tough one! As a general rule - if you want to keep the piercing open leave jewellery in it at all times for the first 12 months. A piercing is considered "young" for the first year of its healing, and you do run the risk of it closing quickly during this time. The word "quickly" to Piercers is measured by seconds and minutes, rather than hours or days. Usually the older a piercing is - the longer it will stay open without jewellery in it - usually. Visit your Piercer if you can't get jewellery back in as soon as possible - we may be able to help with specialized tools. If you have an event approaching where you will need to remove your jewellery, visit your Piercer to obtain a retainer that will keep the hole open for you whilst limiting visibility. These are also practical for medical procedures.
I can go swimming - if your piercing looks and feels good, then it is probably on its way to being healed. The biggest issue with swimming comes from exposing the wound to any bacteria that is present in the water. The more open the wound is the more likely it is that you can get an infection, and this is most likely within the first 2-3 weeks. This risk is increased by swimming in public pools, spas, rivers and lakes. The safest place to swim is at a surf beach where the water is always moving - this can actually be good for your piercing. If you are at all concerned it is best to apply a waterproof dressing (from your chemist/pharmacy or drugstore), and clean the piercing as soon as practical afterward.
I can exercise - sorry - no excuses to be found here! Exercise shouldn't be a problem, but use common sense - if it hurts, don't do that particular activity until your piercing is a little older. Wear cotton clothing, and clean your piercing afterward if you sweat.
I can have sex - safe-sex rules apply (as always), but the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection is greater with a fresh piercing. Like with swimming, an open wound is a direct passageway for bacteria to enter your body. This is relevant to all piercings - not just genital piercings. You should not expose your piercing to any body fluids that are not your own until it is well healed. Condoms and dental-dams are good barriers when used with water based lubricants. Condoms are usually strong enough to resist being torn by body jewellery, and a small amount of water-based lube used on the jewellery before applying a condom will prevent the condom from "snagging".
Whether you are in a "fluid-sharing" relationship or practicing safe-sex, the same rules apply - be in a position where you can control the pressure on your piercing so that you can move if you need to - and - if it hurts - don't do it! Your body will always give you the right feedback. Take it easy at first, and if you have any ongoing discomfort - see your Piercer.
It can't get infected - no hard rules here either I'm afraid folks. Always treat your piercing kindly, and limit exposure to bacteria - particularly if it is a little upset after being knocked around. If you are sick, it is not unusual for your piercing to feel a bit sore. Don't panic about this. Your body is a complete unit and piercings will be affected if you are sick, rundown, or not eating properly. Mild salt-water bathing will assist your piercing through this time.
I can stretch my piercing - the longer you can wait to do this - the easier it will be. Most healed, non-cartilage piercings, can technically be stretched one gauge after approximately 3 months. Talk with your Piercer about this BEFORE attempting to stretch a fresh piercing yourself.
I hope this answers some of your more common questions regarding healing piercings. Please don't do things like double your aftercare to make it heal faster, or use everything in the bathroom cupboard on it - it will not help and may make it worse. Remember that there are no stupid questions, so always feel free to ask our advice if something is concerning you about your piercing.