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Running Cold and Hot

From the forthcoming second edition of The Piercing Bible:
In addition to any care products you may choose to use, ice packs and warm compresses can increase comfort, decrease post-piercing symptoms, and facilitate healing. Always place a barrier such as a clean cloth, paper towel, or sterile gauze between your piercing and the compress to maintain hygiene and protect your skin. Use only fresh disposable products or launder your linens with bleach between uses and store them carefully to avoid contamination. Place compresses onto your piercing gently to avoid injuring it.

•   Ice packs (cryotherapy): Apply ice during the first forty-eight hours to help reduce the discomfort, swelling, bleeding, and bruising that can accompany a fresh piercing. Use a clean zip-top bag with chipped ice, cubes, or frozen peas or blueberries. You can add a little bit of water inside to help the contents conform to your body more comfortably. Wrap the baggie in a clean paper or cloth towel and replace soggy coverings with dry ones as condensation wets them. Too much moisture can disrupt a fresh scab resulting in prolonged bleeding. Place the ice pack on your piercing for ten minutes and remove it for forty-five minutes to an hour before reapplying. Follow instructions carefully; icing too long can cause tissue damage (ice burn) and reduced blood flow, which slow the healing process.

•   Warm compresses (thermotherapy): After the first forty-eight hours, if initial bleeding has stopped, you may begin using warm compresses. They can feel soothing, diminish swelling, and stimulate circulation. Heat causes an influx of oxygenated blood, which brings in more nutrients to help repair injured tissues and flush out debris. Warm compresses can be dry or moist.

     Moist (or wet) compress: Wash your hands and soak a clean washcloth, paper towel, or lint-free gauze in hot–but not scalding—water. Use a sterile saline spray or any of the suitable water types mentioned above in “Irrigation: What’s on Tap.” Heating it in a microwave is fine. If possible, check the water temperature with a thermometer. It should be no hotter than 105° for children or 120° for adults (like hot tap water). Wring out the compress and apply it until it no longer feels warm, then reheat and reapply. Repeat for fifteen to twenty minutes, up to three times daily.
A simple option is to spray saline onto gauze squares, heat until warm to the touch in a microwave, and apply. Research shows that a moist healing environment helps prevent cell dehydration and death and improves the rate of epithelialization (skin cell growth) and other aspects of wound healing, along with the cosmetic outcome. Another method is to use a foil-wrapped sterile saline wipe, run the sealed packet under hot water, remove the warm pad, and apply it.

     Dry compress: Pop a paper-wrapped packet of two sterile gauze squares in the microwave for about 30 seconds, open carefully, and apply. Alternatively, place a wet compress inside a zip-top baggie. You can also use a hot water bottle, microwavable heating bag, electric heating pad, or another commercially available hot pack. Follow package instructions for use.

     Whether moist or dry, cover your compress with a folded dry towel to help maintain the warmth longer. Following the application of heat or cold, your skin should look pink, not bright red, and never blistered! Apply a warm compress for about 10 minutes at a time, four to six times a day. When finished, gently pat the area dry with a clean paper towel, tissue, or gauze.

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Compress Extras

Certain natural substances can be added to warm compresses. You may find that these further aid healing and serve other functions, though scientific research is not conclusive. Finish with a clean-water rinse afterward if you include any of the following in a compress.

•    Add a tablespoon of white or apple cider vinegar to one cup of water and use this mixture to wet your compress. The acetic acid in vinegar is antimicrobial, and there is some evidence that it may also help promote wound healing.

•    Add chamomile tea or use a warm, wet chamomile tea bag as your compress to minimize irritation and inflammation. Avoid this if you have an allergy to any of chamomile’s cousins: ragweed, marigolds, daisies, or chrysanthemums.

•    Add lavender tea to your compress to facilitate healing. You may also find its scent to be relaxing. Boil three tablespoons of flowers in one liter (a quart) of water for ten minutes, then strain.

•    Add witch hazel tea to your compress. Boil two to three grams of witch hazel leaves, twigs, and bark in a cup of water for about fifteen minutes, then strain. This may soothe and reduce inflammation, minimize bleeding, and support healing. Do not apply commercial witch hazel: it is distilled and contains alcohol, which is harsh and drying.

•    Add four to five drops of any of the following essential oils to a cup of water and use this water to make your compress: tea tree, lavender, rosemary, or ylang-ylang.