Saline Solution - What to Use & How to Soak
One of the best things you can do for all healing
or irritated piercings is a saline soak. A warm, mild saltwater
solution irrigates, cleanses, and allows the cells to rejuvenate. A
fresh pierced are should be treated properly. Saline Solution is the
most recommended medicament for piercing healing. Saline soaks keep
the cells well hydrated while simultaneously flushing out fluid and
cellular material that accumulate in the wound. This reduces
crusting and helps prevent pockets of trapped matter, which can
create unsightly and difficult-to-eliminate bumps. If this debris is
not removed, it can impede healing. The warm water also opens
capillaries and stimulates blood flow, which transports oxygen to
the region, promoting healing.
What to Use
Use non-iodized, fine-grain sea salt for your soaks. It is superior to regular table salt, which typically contains additives to prevent it from drying or clumping and other components that could be incompatible with wound healing. Do not use coarse kosher salt or rock salt either, because their large crystals do not dissolve readily. Many piercers sell or supply sea salt, so you might be able to obtain it at the studio when you go in for your piercing. Otherwise, look in the spice section, near the table salt, or in the natural foods aisle of your regular grocery store. It is routinely available in health food stores, or you can order it over the Internet from piercing supply vendors or food and spice websites. Natural sea salt is superior because it usually contains trace elements that are beneficial for health and healing.
The best saline solution is called "Normal Saline" and is used in medicine as an intravenous infusion and for cleaning wounds. It is isotonic (it matches the saline concentration of human blood), which is what the sea salt and water recipe is intended to emulate. Normal saline is widely used in the medical field. It is a mild but effective cleaning agent and will not harm normal tissue, unlike many stronger antiseptics. This product is sold in drug stores and can be warmed for soaks. The saline products sold for contact lenses and ear or nasal irrigation sometimes contain additives that may not be suited to healing piercings. To be safe, a prepared saline solution should be used only if the label confirms that the container holds “iso- tonic saline,” or 0.9 percent sterile saline without additives (meaning that it is, in fact, normal saline).
It's strange that most piercing enthusiasts make their own "sea salt soak", and most of them get it wrong and seriously slow down the healing process. The Normal Saline Solutions are isotonic. Isotonic solutions have equal osmotic pressure to the interior of your body cells, and that is hugely important for healing.
If you are making your own saline solution, the proper ratio is 1/4 teaspoon (not table-spoon) of fine-grain, non-iodized sea salt to 1 cup (8 fluid ounces/250 ml) of clean warm water. The correct proportions are critical. If the solution is too strong (hypertonic, or containing more salt than your blood), it can irritate your skin. If your soaks cause your skin to become dry, use a mixture of 1/8 teaspoon sea salt per cup of water. Premixing a large batch may be convenient, but it is safest to make a fresh solution every time you soak, as a stored supply can become contaminated.
Saline Soaks - How to Soak
Pour normal saline into a clean container and warm it in a microwave or mix up the sea salt with warm water. The solution should be the temperature of a drinkable hot beverage. Distilled water is best, and bottled water is a second choice; depending on your local water quality, you may need to avoid tap water unless it is filtered or first brought to a full boil for a minute or longer and then allowed to cool sufficiently before use. Even if you believe your water supply is clean, should you experience difficulty healing, use cleaner water for your saline soaks and final rinses.
Soak your piercing in saline solution for five to ten minutes at least once or twice daily, optimally prior to showering (which will rinse away the salt crystals and piercing secretions). If you’re not on your way to the shower, follow your saline treatment with a thorough clear water rinse to remove any residue and debris from the wound, as dried salt crystals and piercing crusties are sharp and can cause damage. Dry with clean paper products. Cotton swabs or sterile gauze squares are helpful for drying ears, navels, and other spots that have nooks and crannies. They can also be used to remove any stubborn matter that remains following a soak. Additional soaks to remove matter can last just a minute or two, but the brief duration won’t produce all of the benefits as described in “The Soak,” above.
Depending on the location of your piercing, a mug, glass, or shallow bowl can be an appropriate soaking vessel. A cup or shot glass is perfect for a navel or nipple piercing. Just lean forward and seal the container of solution over the area to create a vacuum. Keep a clean cloth or paper towel handy in case of leaks. For an ear piercing, use a small cup or lay your ear inside a shallow bowl. A mug or small bowl can be used for soaking a genital piercing, depending on its placement. Saturate a sterile gauze pad in saline solution to form a small compress for hard-to-soak spots. Disposable cups are a safe (if not environmentally friendly) option; you can also use clean kitchenware. Before use, clean reusable soaking containers in hot soapy water or in a dishwasher. As your healing progresses, you can try reducing the frequency to once a day or even less. Of course, any time a piercing has a flare-up, you accidentally injure it, or it is aggravated by a stretch, go back to regular saline soaks.