A woman wrote to me for a consultation about her failed nipple piercings. She'd been told that her problem was "rejection" but I sharply disagree with that assessment.
Here's how they looked, and what she said:
About two weeks ago I had my nipples pierced. It certainly didn't hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would and there were really no problems. Only a drop or two of blood and normal after piercing pain. Everything went well for about a week (except for some hives that popped up a couple days after I had it, but I thought it was a shampoo I recently switched to) and then a week and a half in, I noticed my right nipple had swelled substantially and it appeared to be "eating" the ball on one end. I went to my piercer the next day who commented on the swelling and said a longer bar should fix it. She swapped it out and said it looked slightly infected and instructed me to dip a cotton swab in tea tree oil and swab the area 3 times a day for two days and then use the salt wash for two days and to alternate this process for about a week before I went back to the original process of using just the salt wash. I followed her directions and that night I noticed the left side was starting to follow suit with the right side.
I tried the tea tree oil on that side too which resulted in a lot of pain. By the next morning, I was in so much pain I had to leave work to go to the doctor. She prescribed me some antibiotics, tramadol for the pain, and instructed me to do cold and warm compresses every few hours. It's day 3 after I saw my doctor and I am no longer seeing puss come out of the piercing and all the pain and redness is gone. But I noticed that even though I had a longer barbell, my skin seemed to grow to fit it and looked like it was eating the ball again. Plus, it started on my left side as well. I went to my piercer to ask if maybe she had titanium or something else I could try and she said hoops may be a good option. Before she changed over the jewelry, she looked at the pircing itself and said it looked like my body was trying to reject the piercing. It had all the signs, but she had never seen a rejection where instead of forcing the jewelry out, it seemed to be trying to take the jewelry in. She took out the barbells and instructed me to continue with the salt washes.
Before I left, she asked if I had recently had a child or if I was pregnant. The answers were no and I certainly hope not because I am on birth control. She advised me to take a test. I did, it came back negative as I suspected. But it got me thinking....is it possible that the hormones in my birth control (Nuvaring) had caused the rejection of the piercing? Or is it more likely that it was the jewelry itself causing the rejection? I really loved the piercing and I'd love to get it redone, but not at the risk of going back through all of this again.
Here's the list of products I tried:
Tea Tree oil (100% organic)
Cold Compresses followed by warm compresses
Sea Salt washes
Also, is this a rejection? Or was my piercer mistaken? I have included pictures of when I first got them done as well as the problem I experienced and what it looked like after the jewelry was out.
Thank you for any and all help. J.
I'm so sorry to hear about (and see) the problems you had with your nipple piercings. But I most definitely do not believe that you were experiencing rejection.
In all honesty, it appears to me that your jewelry was simply far too short (even the replacement "longer" jewelry you mentioned). From my professional experience (since the 1980s) I have to say that there's just no way what happened to you could have occurred if the barbells had been of sufficient length.
Nipples can have a VERY big difference in size between erect and relaxed states. If your piercer did not spread out the tissue as far as it could go after marking, then she would not have been able to anticipate the bar length that would ultimately be needed.
Your nipples may erect to the point that jewelry as short as a 1/2" bar would fit (in the moment). But they could easily spread out so that there's an inch between entry and exit when your nipples are fully relaxed. I suspect that something along these lines was the issue. (I was just giving those sizes to illustrate a point--I could't really give you such specifics without seeing you in person or seeing a measuring device next to the piercing.)
I'm not surprised if some matter was trapped due to the poor jewelry fit, which could have seemed like an infection or actually become one.
I also believe your piercer's advice to use tea tree oil was not appropriate or helpful, and as you describe, it was very painful. It is very strong and irritating (especially full strength!) and is normally used heavily diluted, and only when there is an excess growth of tissue that you want to essentially "burn off."
When you say "sea salt washes" do you mean the saline soaks as I describe them? It would be good to do 1-2 soaks a day until the wound seals up.
Also, I used to advocate washing piercings with Provon soap but the manufacturer changed the formula and added Triclosan, which has been linked to harm of the environment and human health. In fact, I now suggest avoiding soap on healing piercings in favor of something far more effective for destroying pathogens, but that is way milder to your delicate healing tissue. I advise the use of Briotech spray for healing. It is fascinating stuff--containing an active ingredient that is the same substance our white blood cells produce as part of our immune function! So it is not foreign to the human body. And it is incredibly powerful against pathogens, but totally bio-friendly. In fact, though it has a 30-second kill-time for MRSA, it can safely be used in the eyes, nose, and mouth!!!
If you want to use soap, I suggest just 1x daily with a much milder one such as Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Unscented Castile soap (pre-diluted 15:1 with clean water).
Please let me know if you have any other questions.
Elayne Angel, Author
The Piercing Bible--The Definitive Guide to Safe Body Piercing