Getting a new piercing is an exciting feeling. Sometimes, though, if your jewelry is removed and the piercing site is not properly cared for, your piercing can close — meaning the hole regenerates tissue that grows over the hole and makes it impossible to put jewelry in.
“Rather than healing around the path of injury, the scar tissues closes up the path, and the two sides of skin contact each other, blocking the original pierced opening,” says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Essentially, the piercing site disappears, and the skin that was once a piercing site goes back to being relatively normal—with the addition of scar tissue. If the closing of your piercing hole is accidental, though, there’s hope that it can be re-opened. To stop the problem before it happens, though, it’s important to regulate how long it goes without jewelry and to take regular care of your piercing—even months or years after getting it done.
How Long Does It Take for a Piercing to Close?
How long the piercing takes to close is dependent on a few factors.
“[It] will vary from body to body — and even piercing to piercing,” says Kookie Lynn, a body piercer at Infinite Body Piercing. “Generally speaking, the older and more established a piercing is, the longer it will take to close and heal.”
If it’s a brand-new piercing, removing the jewelry could cause it to close up in a matter of hours. During the healing period, the jewelry acts as a boundary to hold the skin in a specific shape while new tissue is regenerated. If removed, that tissue will grow back over the piercing site. This applies to piercings that are not fully healed—which takes around six months.
An older piercing doesn’t put you in the clear either, though. Removing a piece of jewelry may seem to cause no harm since the area is healed; however, while the piercing may be fully shaped and the tissue regrown around it, it’s not permanent. Extremely old piercings — like ones received in childhood or decades ago — may even take an extremely long time to close up without jewelry.
Regardless of research, everyone’s body is different, so there’s no real science of how long it will take for a piercing to close. The general rule of thumb is that the longer it’s in, the longer it will take to close, but you run the risk of it happening really anytime you remove the jewelry.
Can You Re-Open the Hole?
If the hole appears to be fully closed, there’s no way to re-open it yourself—forcing jewelry through will result in a bloody, open wound and possibly an infection. However, there is a chance that a “closed” hole is only actually partially covered. A thin layer of skin may have grown over the hole, leaving the piercing hole just beneath it.
If you believe your piercing is just partially closed over—which typically only happens as soon as it begins to close—you can try to re-open it manually. It is imperative that if you try this, though, that you don’t try to force a stud through the skin, as this will break the skin and cause a new, bloody wound.
“If you can’t slide your jewelry back in after a warm shower, don’t force it — go and see a reputable professional,” says Lynn.
To attempt a gentle re-opening of the hole, wet it with warm water in a bath or shower to soften the skin. Using a gentle ointment like Vaseline or Aquaphor, gently stretch your earlobe down and to the sides to attempt to open the hole. At this point, try pushing a small stud through the hole; if it doesn’t go in, don’t force it. However, if it does, keep the stud in for a few weeks to make sure the hole is fully re-opened before inserting a new piece of jewelry.
Lynn suggests seeing a professional body piercer who can attempt to re-open it for you if you’re having trouble but feel certain that your piercing isn’t fully closed.
“I’d say about 75% of my clients who come in for a re-piercing leave with an insertion,” says Lynn. “Even if you can’t get your jewelry back in at home, there’s a good chance that your piercer may be able to.”
How to Prevent a Hole Closing
People who want to be sure the piercing hole doesn’t close up while not wearing jewelry—whether you choose not to or can’t wear it for an extended period of time—there’s no real way to avoid the issue without wearing jewelry.
“The goal is to keep the ‘scar tunnel’ patent and open and [to] not traumatize the area again, which might induce it to close with more scar tissue,” says Nazarian.
Nazarian recommends always keeping a small stud in the piercing site and rotating it regularly, using a product like Aquaphor or Vaseline for lubrication. If you need to remove the jewelry for whatever reason, she says that placing a small stud in the hole when possible and using a small amount of product to rotate it a few times a day will help keep the area open without irritating it.
It’s also a good technique for any piercings exhibiting signs of the beginning of the closing process.
“If the area ever bleeds or is pulled and traumatized — which increases the risk that it closes up — immediately use this same regimen again for a few weeks,” says Nazarian.
Lynn suggests wearing small, flat designs or choosing a piece that matches your natural skin tone if you’re considering taking out your jewelry because you’re worried about it being seen. If it’s a medical procedure, says Lynn, you can wear a glass retainer. No matter what the reason, make sure you’re keeping something in the hole — at least every once in a while — and remember that you shouldn’t remove the jewelry at all until the piercing is fully healed.
“The only definite way to keep a piercing open is to keep jewelry in it,” says Lynn. “If you absolutely have to keep it out for an extended period of time, you can re-insert jewelry periodically to make sure that it stays open.”
Can You Re-Pierce the Hole?
Despite your piercing hole closing, what grows back is the same tissue as before — just scarred. As Nazarian says, “Piercing again requires you to injure the skin through scarred tissue,” and depending on how traumatized your body was with the original piercing, you may be able to re-pierce the hole.
Because the tissue grows back — albeit scarred — it can easily be pierced again. However, it’s important to make sure the area is fully done healing before going back in with another needle.
“If there’s an abundance of scar tissue present, your piercer will evaluate how safe it is to re-pierce,” says Lynn. “Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting longer until your body re-absorbs the scar tissue. Sometimes you can’t re-pierce it at all. I see the latter often in single-point piercings that have the same entry and exit point, like surface anchors.”
If you’re worried about your piercing hole closing over because you need to remove the jewelry, your best bet is to periodically re-insert the jewelry. However, if you can avoid taking out the jewelry for an extended period of time at all — either by switching to flat jewelry or a glass retainer — it’s best to do so.
If your piercing is in the process of closing, you may be able to reinsert the jewelry by stretching the hole in a warm shower, but you should never force it. You can try going to your piercer to get it re-pierced and ask them to attempt a re-insertion first as well; they’re more likely to do so successfully.
No matter what, never attempt to remove your jewelry at all until your piercing is fully healed. Otherwise, you can almost guarantee it’ll close up.