What to Do If the Skin Around Your Piercing Turns Gray or Black

The skin around the site of my piercing turned gray. This is known as "argyria."
The skin around the site of my piercing turned gray. This is known as “argyria.”

Why Is the Skin Black (or Gray) Around Your Piercing?

Is there a weird dark spot around your piercing? The cause of a gray or black piercing hole is usually jewelry made with improper or inferior metals that turn your skin black, gray, bluish-gray, or grayish-black in color. “Argyria” is the proper term for this condition caused by exposure to silver or silver compounds.

Most body jewelry that you find online or at places like Claire’s are made of low-grade alloys. When they come into contact with body fluids (sweat, natural oils on your face, etc.), these metals tarnish and often cause the skin around a piercing to oxidize. This oxidization is what causes the gray stain.

Can I wear sterling silver in a new piercing?

Actually, even sterling silver—which is in fact only .925% silver, so it still contains .075% random metals—can tarnish and turn your skin black. All silver tarnishes over time, and most piercers warn against wearing sterling silver in a new, unhealed piercing. Sterling silver will likely tarnish and the blackish oxidization will become trapped inside the healing tissue, where it can leave a permanent black or gray “tattoo” mark at the piercing site.

Although the rate of the process depends on your environment and body chemistry, silver will tarnish more quickly if it is exposed to the lymph from a fresh piercing. If that is the case, not only is it likely to leave a stain—it can also interfere with the healing process.

Any piercing—lobe or cartilage or anywhere—can turn gray from tarnish.
Any piercing—lobe or cartilage or anywhere—can turn gray from tarnish.

Should I take out the jewelry if it’s turning my piercing hole black?

Do NOT take out the piercing and let the hole close up. I learned this the hard way. When my cartilage piercing turned gray, I hastily took it out from fear, then I asked my piercer if there was anything that could be done about the discoloration it left behind. He replied, “Not now there isn’t.” If I had left it in, on the other hand, steps could have been taken to correct the problem.

In other words, if the piercing hole is still open, you still have the chance to remove the discoloration, but if you allow the hole to heal, the stain will be locked in.

Is the black or gray stain permanent? Will the discoloration go away if I replace the jewelry?

Sometimes, poor-quality jewelry tarnishes the skin only temporarily, and if you simply clean thoroughly and replace the jewelry, the piercing will return to normal. But if you used the wrong jewelry during the initial healing process, the discoloration might be permanent.

What to Do to Remove Stains and Tarnish From Piercing Holes

1. Replace Your Jewelry

Take out the jewelry that is creating the problem and replace it with something made of implant-grade surgical stainless steel.

What kind of metal won’t turn the hole black?

316LVM or 316L are the only acceptable grades (this is the type of jewelry piercers use when you first get a body piercing). 316VLM has a slight advantage which decreases the chance of minor alloy inclusions that cause irritation. You can order surgical stainless steel jewelry online, or you can go to a nearby tattoo parlor/body piercer and buy it directly from them.

I know that there may be some other metal options for jewelry—like maybe titanium or high-karat gold—but if you’re trying to repair the damage done by improper jewelry, it’s no time for experimentation. You can try those options after you’ve cleared up the tarnish.

2. Clean Thoroughly

  • After taking out the bad jewelry—but before putting in the new jewelry—clean the area very thoroughly, back and front, with saline solution. I like to use basic saline solution, the kind you can get for $4–$5 at any pharmacy.
  • If it’s a nostril piercing, be sure to saturate a Q-tip with the saline solution and clean the site of the piercing on the inside of your nose as well.
  • Once or twice a week, remove the jewelry and soak it and the site with saline solution before reinserting. Do a sea salt soak (quarter teaspoon of salt, preferably non-iodinized sea salt, dissolved in a cup of warm water) for ten minutes or so to draw out all the gunk.

After following this regimen for about a month, the gray area on my nose shrank dramatically and nearly disappeared.

Oxidization from improper jewelry can make your piercing look gray or tarnished.
Oxidization from improper jewelry can make your piercing look gray or tarnished.

What if the black hole won’t lighten, even with proper jewelry and cleaning?

The following are not treatments I tried myself, but ones I came across in my research as possible solutions.

  • Laser treatment. It can get expensive, but it might be affordable on a very small area.
  • Glycolic acid or chemical peel. Alpha hydroxy is a popular treatment for skin issues like acne and winkles, but might work on tarnished skin, too.
Before & After: Here's how I reduced the discoloration of the black piercing hole on my nose.
Before & After: Here’s how I reduced the discoloration of the black piercing hole on my nose.

My Story

I was a teenager when I got my cartilage pierced, and I was horrified when the skin around it started turning a grayish color. I thought it was an infection, but cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide or saline solution did absolutely nothing. Although I wasn’t crazy about my skin turning weird colors, I had long hair that could easily hide it so I wasn’t too worried. Out of sight, out of mind.

But then a few years later, the same thing started happening to my nostril piercing, and that was very definitely not okay. Your face is the first thing you present to the world, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I couldn’t be walking around with a gray blob on my nose that just seemed to be getting worse and worse.

I did some research and was told that the discoloration of the skin is irreversible without intervention by a dermatologist and the use of lasers—neither of which I could afford. I refused to accept this fate, so I did some more research. Through a combination of knowledge and improvisation, I was able to get rid of the gray nearly 90% of the way (so far). I hope this article has helped you!

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