Getting a new lip piercing can be an exciting experience, but the healing process brings its own challenges. It’s normal for a new piercing to be sore, swollen, and reddened at first. However, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between normal healing symptoms and signs of infection.
Here are quick answers to some common questions about lip piercing infection vs. healing:
- Signs of normal healing include mild redness, swelling, and tenderness around the piercing site. This usually peaks at 2-3 days and resolves within a few weeks.
- Signs of infection include increasing pain, swelling, redness, heat, yellow or green discharge, fever, and red streaks. Infection usually starts after the first few days.
- Oral piercings tend to heal within 6-8 weeks with proper aftercare. Lip piercings generally take 6-12 weeks to heal since the tissue is delicate.
- Leave jewelry in place and avoid playing with it while healing. Clean carefully with saline solution 2-3 times per day.
- See a doctor if signs of infection develop to get appropriate treatment with antibiotics or other medication.
Recognizing normal healing
It’s very common to have some pain, swelling, redness and tenderness around a new lip piercing as it starts to heal. This is the body’s normal inflammatory reaction to the wound. Here’s what to expect:
- Pain – The pierced area may be sore, tender, and sensitive for the first few days. Pain should gradually improve over 1-2 weeks.
- Swelling – Moderate swelling and inflammation reaches a peak 2-3 days after piercing, then gradually subsides over 1-2 weeks.
- Redness – Redness and a thick, crusty coating is normal in the first 3-10 days as the wound starts to seal.
- Bleeding – Small amounts of bleeding or plasma-like discharge can occur in the first few days.
- Tenderness – Expect the area to feel tender to touch for the first week or two.
These signs of normal healing should gradually improve day by day, not worsen. Call your piercer if symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks. Let them assess if it’s still within the range of normal healing or if complications are developing.
Watch out for signs of infection
While some discomfort is expected, worsening pain, swelling, redness and discharge can signal infection. Signs to watch out for include:
- Increasing pain, swelling and redness at the piercing site
- Red streaks or inflammation extending from the area
- Pus-like, yellow, green or foul-smelling discharge
- Fever, chills and flu-like symptoms
- Tender, swollen lymph nodes under the jaw or in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing or opening mouth due to swelling
- Bleeding that won’t stop
Infections usually start a few days after piercing, once bacteria have had time to build up. See a doctor promptly if any of these infection signs develop so that antibiotic treatment can be started.
Healing timelines for lip piercings
Healing times can vary based on the specific location and your body. Here are general timelines for common oral and lip piercings:
|Monroe (upper lip)
Lip and oral piercings tend to take longer to heal than ear piercings because the tissue is more vascular andmovement can delay healing. Have patience and allow 6-12 weeks for a lip piercing to fully close up.
Caring for a healing lip piercing
Proper aftercare is crucial during the healing period. Here are some tips for caring for your new lip piercing:
- Clean carefully – Gently clean piercing 2-3 times daily with saline spray or non-iodized sea salt solution. Rinse away crust buildup.
- Avoid irritants – Prevent damage and infection by avoiding makeup, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and harsh soaps near the piercing.
- Don’t touch – Try not to play with the piercing. Avoid oral contact or pulling at the jewelry.
- Rinse after eating – Rinse your mouth with water after eating to remove food debris.
- Take pills carefully – Swallow pills carefully and rinse mouth after to avoid irritation.
Continue cleaning the piercing 2-3 times daily throughout the entire healing period, even if it seems healed. This helps prevent infection in the opening which still remains for several months after piercing.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor or piercer right away if you notice any of these signs of infection:
- Increasing swelling, pain, heat or redness at the site
- Thick yellow/green discharge or pus
- Red streaks extending from the area
- Fever, chills, nausea or swollen lymph nodes
- Bleeding that won’t stop
- Difficulty swallowing or opening your mouth
Oral infections should be treated quickly to prevent complications. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotic pills or ointment to clear up infection.
You should also see a healthcare professional if you experience:
- Prolonged bleeding, severe swelling or bruising
- No improvement in pain, swelling or redness after 2 weeks
- Signs of allergy to jewelry, like itching, rash, wheezing
- Damage to the jewelry, with part of the jewelry embedded or missing
They can assess for complications and provide appropriate treatment to help you heal.
Changing jewelry too soon
It’s important to avoid changing lip piercing jewelry too early while still healing. Here’s why you should wait:
- The piercing canal is still an open wound for weeks after being created. Early jewelry change risks re-tearing it before it has closed up.
- Intact skin cells haven’t sealed over the piercing site yet. Changing jewelry scrapes away these cells before they fully form.
- Crusties and scabs around the site help protect the wound. Changing jewelry can rip these away too soon.
- New jewelry introduces new bacteria before immunity develops in the area.
This can all set back the healing process and increase risks of infection, bleeding and damage. Allow the full healing period before attempting to change lip jewelry.
How to change lip piercing jewelry safely
Once the piercing has fully healed after the recommended period, you can start interchanging your jewelry safely. Here are some tips for changing lip rings or studs:
- Wash your hands before handling jewelry to prevent bacteria transfer.
- Rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash right before changing jewelry.
- Gently ease the new jewelry into place without forcing it through.
- Avoid over-cleaning the piercing when changing jewelry to let it calm down.
- Keep new jewelry made of implant-grade metals to minimize reactions.
- Allow a few extra days of healing time if changing the shape or gauge of jewelry.
Avoid swapping jewelry too frequently, allowing a few weeks’ rest between changes. See your piercer if the hole seems to be closing up – they can safely reinsert jewelry or taper the hole open.
What if I snag or swallow my lip piercing?
Lip piercings can be accidentally pulled on or swallowed, especially while eating or kissing. Here’s what to do:
- Snagging – Carefully unsnag the jewelry without forcing it. Clean it and continue healing. See your piercer if it caused injury or won’t unsnag.
- Swallowing – Consult your piercer or doctor right away. They can assess if it passed safely or requires an x-ray or retrieval. An x-ray can check if it became embedded.
- Embedded – Don’t try to dig it out. See a doctor promptly to have the area numbed and the object gently removed to avoid tracheal damage.
- Missing end – If a ball or gem falls off, see your piercer to get replacement parts. Don’t leave jewelry open-ended long.
In an emergency, go to urgent care or the ER to have a swallowed piercing evaluated or retrieved.
Risks and complications of lip piercings
While lip piercings are relatively low risk, improper placement or aftercare can lead to complications like:
- Infection – Bacteria enter resulting in swelling, pus, fever. Requires antibiotic treatment.
- Abscess – Pocket of pus under skin. Needs drained by doctor.
- Nerve damage – Piercing through sensory nerves can cause numbness or tingling.
- Tooth damage – Jewelry rubs against and can crack teeth over time.
- Gum recession – Piercing near the gumline can gradually recede gums.
- Scarring – Formation of thick, raised scar tissue around the piercing.
Risks are reduced by starting with an appropriately placed, high-quality piercing, following aftercare instructions, and avoiding trauma such as biting or pulling on the jewelry.
Lip piercings can take some time and care to heal properly. While a little pain, swelling and discharge is normal at first, contact your piercer or doctor if symptoms persist or get worse. With good aftercare practices, most piercings heal without complications within 6-12 weeks and can start being changed safely.