How to Treat an Infected Lip Piercing

After getting your lip pierced, it is common to experience mild discomfort, like itching, redness, and mild discharge from the wound. However, if your piercing becomes swollen, very painful, hot, leaks blood or pus, or you feel generally unwell, you may have an infection.

Since the mouth harbors bacteria, infections are likely to occur in piercings in or around the mouth. The more piercings you have, the more likely you'll experience an infection. 

This article explains lip piercing infection causes, treatment, and prevention. 

Person with white skin and lip, nose, and ear piercings smiles at camera

Tony C French / Getty Images

Types of Lip Piercings

When you think of lip piercings, you may think of a single loop on the upper or lower lip. But, there are dozens of different ways to pierce lips. Some common lip piercing styles include:

  • Labret (center of the bottom lip)
  • Angel bites (both sides of the upper lip)
  • Dolphin bites (two lip ring piercings under the center of the bottom lip)
  • Snakebite (two piercings, one on each lower corner of the mouth)
  • Medusa (indented part of the upper lip)

Regardless of the type of lip piercing you choose, be sure to find an experienced and qualified piercer to do body piercings. 

Causes of a Lip Infection

Piercings anywhere on your body may become infected. Because, although intentional, they are an open wound. As a result, they are vulnerable to pathogens (germs) that may enter and cause an infection.

The mouth’s moist environment harbors lots of bacteria. Therefore, because of their location on the mouth, lip piercings are especially at risk of infection. 

Signs of Infection

While some discomfort after a piercing is expected, be on the lookout for more serious symptoms that may indicate an infection. These include:

  • Excessive pain
  • Hot to the touch
  • Very red or dark color
  • Bleeding or oozing pus

In addition to localized symptoms, you may feel generally unwell. Systemic (whole-body) signs of infection include:

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

If you notice any signs of infection, contact a healthcare provider right away. The sooner you receive treatment, the quicker you will heal. 

How to Treat

If you have a bacterial infection, you may need antibiotics. That’s why it’s essential to have a medical evaluation if you notice signs of infection. You may also be able to treat your infected lip with over-the-counter (OTC) medication and at-home remedies. 

OTC Medication

Using OTC medications can help you feel more comfortable while your infection heals. Some things that may help include:

Talk to a healthcare provider or pharmacist before trying OTC remedies to be sure they make sense for your situation. 

Home Remedies

In addition to OTC treatments, some at-home treatments can help an infected lip. These include:

  • Icing the infection to reduce pain and swelling
  • Saltwater rinse to keep the area clean (especially after eating)
  • Warm compress to promote drainage

In addition to seeking medical attention for an infection, notify your piercer if you’re worried about your symptoms. They can tell you what is expected and what is not. They can also offer you some cleaning and healing tips. 

How to Clean

Cleaning your piercing is important, especially if you develop an infecton. Use the following tips to keep your pierced lip clean:

  • Wash your hands well before cleaning.
  • Rinse with saltwater or dab with a saltwater solution.
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Wash the exterior with mild, unscented soap.
  • Rinse the piercing with water to remove soap residue.
  • Dry thoroughly with a paper towel.

After every meal, brush your teeth and rinse with a saltwater solution or mouthwash. In addition, since hand and bath towels can harbor bacteria, be sure to only use disposable paper towels for drying your piercing as it heals. 

Avoid needlessly touching your piercing, sexual contact around the piercing, smoking, and immersing your piercing in water. These preventive measures can reduce the likelihood of introducing new bacteria while your piercing is healing. 

Prevention

Preventing infection starts with good aftercare habits. Be sure to follow your piercer's instructions for keeping the area clean. Some tips include:

  • Avoid foods that might irritate your piercing, like spicy or salty things.
  • Avoid foods that might stick to your pierced lip.
  • Avoid opening your mouth too wide (piercing may catch on your teeth).
  • Keep the piercing clean.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Eat nutritious food.
  • Wash bedding (especially pillowcases) regularly.
  • Take showers instead of baths during the healing period.

Summary

Lip piercings may be more prone to infections due to their location on the mouth, which harbors bacteria. While some tenderness is expected during the healing phase, some things, like excessive swelling, pain, and oozing blood or pus, may indicate an infection is developing. Sometimes OTC medications and at-home therapy are enough to treat an infected lip, but it's always best to check with a healthcare provider to be sure.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a pierced lip, the best way to prevent infection is to follow your piercer's aftercare instructions. Keeping the inside and outside of the lip clean is essential. Your mouth comes into contact with various foods and other items when you eat throughout the day, which means you need to clean it more frequently than you would other body piercings. A good rule of thumb is to clean around the piercing, including the inside of your mouth, after every meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does an infected lip piercing look like?

    An infected lip piercing may be swollen and red or dark in color. In addition, you may notice it leaking pus or blood.

  • How long does it take an infected lip piercing to heal?

    Healing from a lip piercing takes about six to eight weeks.

  • Should you take a lip piercing out if it’s infected?

    You should not remove a piercing even if it is infected. That's because doing so would result in closing the hole, which could then seal the infection inside rather than allowing it to drain.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Health Service. Infected piercings

  2. American Dental Association. Oral piercings

  3. Association of Professional Piercers. Suggested aftercare for oral piercings.

  4. UC Berkeley. Body piercings: Cleaning and healing.