I know what you’re thinking. Why does your cartilage piercing have a bump? And what should you do about it?
Maybe you’ve heard about keloids or persistent scars, and now you’re worried that this bump will get worse.
Let’s talk about cartilage piercing bumps versus keloids. I’ll explain the causes and what to do about them.
TL; DR summary: You’ll need to fix whatever is irritating the skin, keep the piercing clean, and be patient. You might also need medical attention – more on that in a minute.
What is a cartilage piercing bump and how is it different from a keloid?
As you know, it takes months for a cartilage piercing to heal completely. During that time, it requires daily cleaning and special care to avoid developing an infection.
A piercing bump is a temporary irritation. It could be a reaction to the metal in the piercing jewelry (which is why I recommend surgical-grade titanium only for new piercings).
It could also be an infection caused by touching it with dirty hands or sleeping on a greasy pillowcase. Maybe you snagged the jewelry on your clothes and injured the piercing. Or it could be pressure from headphones or a reaction to skincare products. Heck, even a change in the humidity can irritate a new piercing (1).
When you have a piercing bump, the skin will be red and there may be pus and pain or itching. Your skin might be crusty. That’s because your body is having an inflammatory response. Your body is trying to get rid of the problem.
The bump is usually soft and moves a bit under the skin. It might get as large as a pea.
Meanwhile, a keloid is a scar or fibrous tissue. Although it might be itchy and raised, it’s not a new injury. It’s skin that has thickened while healing from an injury. Worse, it may grow over time but it doesn’t move around under the skin like a piercing bump.
Therefore, if you have a piercing bump that doesn’t heal properly, you might end up with a keloid. Then, the keloid scar is there to stay unless you get a dermatological treatment.
Instead of thinking of it as piercing bump vs. keloid, it’s more like a piercing bump leads to a keloid if you don’t take action to help it.
Unlike a piercing bump that might resolve within a few weeks or less, keloids don’t go away on their own.
What causes a cartilage piercing bump or a keloid?
In summary, here are some of the things that could cause a cartilage piercing bump:
- Allergic reaction to the jewelry
- Exposure to other irritants like skincare or haircare products
- Reaction to a piercing aftercare product
- Injury to the piercing (snagging it on something)
- Contaminating it with bacteria (dirty hands, for example)
And here are things that could cause a keloid:
- Genetics – some people are prone to developing keloid scars
- Poorly-cared for wounds
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you did everything right and still ended up with a keloid. It happens.
How long does it take for piercing bumps to go away?
If you take action to treat a piercing bump, it might start looking and feeling better within a couple of days. But it may take a few weeks to go away completely. That’s not surprising as cartilage piercings take a long time to heal anyway. Depending on where they are located, it could be anywhere from 4 to 12 months.
Don’t be fooled by how your piercing looks. The skin heals from the outside in. The piercing may seem like it’s done healing, but the inside isn’t, yet. Keep up with the care and hygiene steps that the piercer recommended.
Will my piercing bump go away if I take out the jewelry?
Some people have a knee-jerk reaction when they see a piercing bump and they pull out the jewelry. Nope, not a good idea. At least not if you want to keep the piercing and don’t want to have to get re-pierced.
The only exception is if you need to replace the jewelry with something hypoallergenic. I highly recommend wearing titanium piercing jewelry to speed up healing. You could also try medical-grade plastic.
You need cartilage piercing bump treatment to get rid of the infection.
How do I get rid of the bumps on my piercing?
First off, don’t expect an instant fix. Be prepared to battle the bump for a few days or even a few weeks.
Before you begin, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Kill all those germs before you touch your piercing.
Next, you’ll need antimicrobial soap and sterile saline spray. Here are some examples:
H2Ocean Body Piercing Foam Soap
Clean the crust off your cartilage piercing bump and accelerate the healing process with this soap. It’s mild yet effective, with no artificial fragrance, color, or alcohol.
It has a small amount of benzalkonium chloride to kill harmful microbes that cause infection. It also features mineral-rich sea salt to soothe irritated skin. The formula won’t strip away moisture but it will reduce redness and swelling.
NeilMed NeilCleanse Piercing Aftercare
What’s the difference between this saline spray and a salt soak that you mix up at home? This spray is sterile. It won’t contaminate a piercing or worsen an infection. Plus, you don’t have to mix a fresh batch every time you use it.
The formula is made of pharmaceutical-grade sodium chloride and pharmaceutical-grade water. It’s extra pure and safe for wound care.
What’s more, it doesn’t sting or burn. Choose from fine mist or full stream dispensers. They both work at any angle, even upside down.
How to treat a piercing bump
Now that you have clean hands, antibacterial soap, and saline spray, you’re ready to treat a piercing bump.
(Put away the hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, etc. Although these products kill germs, they may slow down healing and irritate the piercing more).
With clean hands, gently wash the piercing with antimicrobial soap and rinse it.
Dry it with a clean paper towel.
(But why not a cloth towel? One, unless the towel is freshly laundered, it may contaminate the piercing with bacteria. And second, it could get caught on the jewelry or leave fibers behind) (2).
Follow up with saline rinse. Soak the piercing with sterile saltwater.
Now, repeat this process two or three times per day until the bump is gone. Continue to use a sterile saline spray to cleanse the piercing until it is fully healed. It may take 3 to 6 months, so stock up!
H2Ocean Piercing Aftercare Spray
This popular piercing aftercare treatment features unrefined Red Sea salt in a base of purified water. The brand explains that sea salt speeds up healing because it contains 82 trace minerals. The formula also has lysozyme, a healing enzyme found in tears and saliva.
At any rate, please don’t use table salt for soaking your new piercing. Use a purified saline soak or spray like this one.
BRIOTECH Topical Skin Spray, Pure HOCl
As an alternative to saline spray, try hypochlorous acid or HOCl. It’s something that the body makes on its own to heal from infection. But it’s also possible to electrolyze saltwater and make HOCl, too.
It smells a little bit like pool water because it comes from chlorine (salt is sodium chloride). But instead of being alkaline like bleach, it’s acidic. Your skin is acidic as well so the HOCl doesn’t hurt to use.
What’s interesting is that hypochlorous acid is an extremely powerful antimicrobial agent. It kills even more bacteria and viruses than alcohol can. Yet it doesn’t dry out the skin or cause irritation and it’s completely safe for the environment. You can use it on babies, pets, and even in your eyes.
Treat a piercing bump with HOCl and watch it shrink and disappear in record time.
Should I pop the bump on my cartilage piercing?
I know it’s tempting to milk the pus out of that bump, but don’t do it. You’re just as likely to spread the infection by pushing the bacteria deeper into the flesh. You really don’t want to end up in the hospital with sepsis, right?
Popping a piercing bump will also delay the healing. It’s likely to bruise it, make it more sore, and make it swell more.
Piercing bumps do go away on their own, but they disappear faster with treatment.
When to worry about a cartilage piercing bump?
How do you know if your piercing bump needs medical attention?
It’s normal if it’s a little red, swollen, and has a little discharge.
But if it’s uncomfortably painful and swelling more or if the discharge is thick, smelly, green, or gray, please see a doctor. Also seek medical attention if you’re experiencing a fever, nausea, or vomiting. These could be signs that the infection has entered your bloodstream.
How do you treat a keloid on a piercing?
If your piercing has developed a keloid, show it to a doctor. Better yet, visit a dermatologist. Chances are you’ll need medical treatment to make it go away. Simply cleaning your piercing won’t heal a keloid because it’s a scar (3).
Here are the treatments used to get rid of a keloid:
- Injected corticosteroids – may take repeated injections and months before the scar flattens and goes away.
- Freezing with liquid nitrogen or cryotherapy
- Laser treatment – may require multiple sessions
- Surgical removal
Sadly, not all of these treatments are successful. It’s really best to avoid developing a keloid if you can. Take good care of your skin by managing acne and keeping your piercings clean.
As not everyone has access to a dermatologist or can afford dermatological treatments, there are other options that might help. Here’s one:
Base Labs Piercing Bump Treatment | Keloid Bump Removal
This piercing aftercare product is formulated to treat both bumps and keloids. It reduces redness and shrinks inflammation while speeding recovery.
It contains several natural plant oils known to support healing and protect against infection. The oils also keep the skin moisturized.
The ingredients include grapeseed, jojoba, rose, lavender, rosemary, and turmeric oils. These are packed with antioxidants that help with healing. They may also prevent scar formation and minimize keloids.
The manufacturer recommends treating the bump daily for at least 15 to 30 days.
Acure Radically Rejuvenating Dual Phase Bakuchiol Serum
Once your piercing has completely healed, there’s another way you can treat a keloid. I don’t advise doing this on a new piercing because it could cause problems. But treating an older keloid with bakuchiol is like treating it with retinol, only nicer.
Bakuchiol is a natural, plant-based alternative to retinol, made from vitamin E. It’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, even rosacea-prone complexions.
It rejuvenates the skin and shrinks scars by speeding up cellular renewal. It’s not a quick fix, but after a few weeks of using it twice a day, you will see an improvement. But it might take months to make significant changes to a keloid.
One of our writers has a keloid from an ingrown hair. It happened a few years ago. Occasionally it swells up. But since she started using bakuchiol serum, it has shrunk and become nearly colorless.
If you have dark skin, bakuchiol serum won’t bleach it. Instead, it helps fade dark spots.
Since this serum is made by Acure, it’s vegan and free of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, petrolatum, and parabens.
Cartilage piercing bumps are caused by irritation, infection, and inflammation. If you keep the skin clean and soothe it with saline spray, the bumps will shrink and go away after a few days or a few weeks.
However, keloids are scars and they don’t fade easily. You’ll probably need dermatological treatment to get rid of them. If possible, avoid keloids in the first place by taking good care of your piercings.
1. https://www.healthline.com/health/cartilage-piercing-bump Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI — By Corinne O’Keefe Osborn — Updated on March 30, 2022
2. https://www.wikihow.com/Heal-Cartilage-Piercing-Bumps Co-authored by Stephanie Anders, Owner, Royal Heritage Tattoo and Piercing, updated June 13, 2022
3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/keloid-scar/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20520902 published October 11, 2022