Keloids are overgrowths of scar tissue that form at the site of skin injury. They’re a common side effect of piercings and some people are more prone to keloids than others. They’re harmless, but can be annoying and occasionally painful. Keloids are more common with ear piercings, but they do happen with other piercings, including belly button piercings.
A navel keloid might appear as a thick, raised scar after belly button piercing or injury. These unsightly bumps usually look shiny, vary in color from pink to purple, and tend to migrate from the piercing site to nearby healthy skin. The keloid might increase in size over time, with itching and discomfort common symptoms. Several treatment options might reduce the size and color of a keloid, but typically fail to completely remove scar tissue.
Doctors remain unsure why keloids form in some people but not in others. Patients who developed these types of scars in the past face higher risks of another keloid forming. The condition might run in families, and more women tend to acquire a navel keloid, but the scars might be linked to more navel piercings by females. People with dark skin might also develop these scars more often. There is no way to predict in advance if a navel keloid might develop after surgery or belly-button piercing.
Scars form on the skin after injury or surgical procedures. Normal scarring tends to lighten and become less noticeable as the wound heals. Keloids differ because they often spread to adjacent skin and commonly grow larger. The risk of keloids after navel piercing increases when heavy jewelry is worn, obese patients, and women in the last stage of pregnancy, when the skin stretches.
Keloids are basically raised scars that feel hard and rubbery. They usually appear at the site of the injury — in this case, a piercing — and can extend well beyond. They look:
- Appear and grow slowly. It can take 3 months up to a year before you see the first signs of a keloid. Then it takes weeks or months for it to grow. Sometimes, they continue to grow slowly for years.
- Begin as a raised pink, red, or purple scar. A keloid is usually a raised scar with a flat surface. The color tends to darken with time. It usually ends up being darker than the person’s skin, with the border being darker than the center.
- Feel different than the surrounding skin. Some keloids feel soft and doughy. Others are hard and rubbery.
- Cause pain, itching, or tenderness. When they are growing, some keloids may be itchy, tender, or painful to the touch. These symptoms usually stop once the keloid stops growing.
“People often confuse keloids with other raised scars and bumps that can form following a piercing, like a hypertrophic scar or an abscess, but they’re not the same,” explains board certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD.
“Hypertrophic scars won’t extend beyond the treated area but can be very thick and sensitive. Keloids, by definition, extend beyond the treated area. Infection or abscess can look like a lump, but will be swollen, warm, sore, and may have yellow discharge,” says Cheung.
Experts aren’t entirely sure exactly why some skin grows excess fibrous tissue this way, but there’s usually an overproduction of collagen involved.
- You’re more likely to develop a keloid if you:
- have dark skin
- are between ages 10 and 30
- have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who gets keloids
Even without any of these risk factors, the location of a belly button piercing could increase your chances of a keloid, according to Cheung.
“Even if you’re not prone to keloids, the navel is one area that can [develop a] keloid, due to trauma and constant rubbing from clothing,” says Cheung.
Curved navel jewelry in the shape of a barbell might lessen the chance of a keloid developing while the site heals, which could take up to a year. These types of scars might also appear on the earlobes, face, or any area of the body that is pierced. A keloid might also form from severe acne, burns, or another injury to the skin surface.
For someone prone to keloid scarring, the only surefire way to prevent them is to avoid procedures that injure your skin, like tattoos and piercings.
The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) actually recommends that people with a history of scarring or keloids not get pierced.
You may be able to lower the chances of a keloid from a belly button piercing by following your piercer’s aftercare instructions. Cheung also recommends avoiding excess friction to the piercing.
Belly buttons are also little bacteria and lint traps as it is. During the healing phase, which can take up to a year, keep the area clean and dry and avoid tight clothing that can irritate your skin and trap bacteria.
How to tell the Difference
The fact that keloids tend to spread out and cover a larger area than the injury or wound itself is one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between the common healing bump and a keloid. A healing bump is a raised bump that typically just grows right above the piercing site.
If you get a keloid on your belly button piercing, it’s there to stay unless you have it removed by a dermatologist. That said, you may be able to stop one in its tracks if you act quickly at the first symptom of a keloid.
Keep an eye on your piercing and call a dermatologist as soon as possible if you notice any scarring or thickening of the skin. Quick intervention could help prevent the thickening from becoming a keloid.
Various treatment options are available for keloids. The appropriate treatment option can depend on several factors, including the type and size of the keloid. Treatment options include:
- Corticosteroids: This type of medicine can help shrink the keloid. The AAD notes that people require about four injections on average, having one every 3–4 weeks. They also say that 50–80% of keloids shrink after corticosteroid injection.
- Silicone dressings or gel. Applying a silicone sheet or gel to a keloid may help flatten it. Silicone is usually used along with compression.
- Compression. Wearing a compression garment ■■■■■■ by a dermatologist can help prevent a belly button piercing keloid from growing.
- Cryotherapy. This freezes the keloid from the inside out without damaging your skin underneath. Cryotherapy can help make a keloid smaller and softer and is sometimes used together with steroid injections for better results.
- Surgery. Surgical removal is the only way to get rid of a keloid completely, but it’s important to know that it will probably grow back at some point. To lower the chances of it coming back, your dermatologist may recommend using another treatment after surgery, like compression, radiation therapy, or injections.
- Laser treatment: Laser treatment can help flatten the keloid scar and make it fade.
Piercing bumps are small lumps that can appear after a piercing. They often occur following cartilage piercings, such as the nose or upper ear piercings.
A person may notice bleeding, bruising, and some swelling at the site of the piercing in the first few weeks after getting it. These symptoms are all normal. Other symptoms that are not typically a cause for concern may include:
Treatment for piercing bumps
Piercing bumps are part of the body’s natural response to injury, and they do not typically require treatment. However, people can take steps to keep the area clean, prevent infection, and allow the piercing to heal.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends:
- keeping piercing jewelry in, without changing or removing it, for at least 6 weeks
- washing the hands before touching the piercing
- washing the piercing with gentle soap and water once a day
- twisting the jewelry inside the piercing a few times a day to keep the hole open
- patting the area dry with a clean cotton pad after bathing or showering and avoiding using a towel, which can introduce bacteria.
The texture of keloids can differ. They can feel soft and doughy or hard and rubbery. Other symptoms that a person with a keloid scar may experience include:
Initially, keloids and piercing bumps can look similar. However, over time, differences will emerge.
The following table shows some of the key differences between these skin changes:
|Location||Around the piercing site||Around the piercing site but can extend beyond it|
|Formation||Soon after a piercing||3–12 months after piercing|
|Size||Varies, but after forming, it does not grow bigger||May start small and grow bigger over weeks, months, or years|
|Color||Pink or flesh-colored||Varies, but it can become darker over time|
Some signs of an infected belly button piercing include:
- intense pain or a burning sensation at the site
- bright red skin around the piercing, or red streaks coming from it
- a fever
- discharge, which may smell bad, from the piercing
- a swollen bump near the piercing
Distinguishing between signs of infection and regular healing can be difficult. Pain and swelling right after a piercing are common. It is important to monitor how symptoms change. If symptoms, such as pain, steadily improve, the piercing is probably healing normally.
If a person suddenly experiences new symptoms, especially after a period of few or no symptoms, this can signal an infection.
The piercing process itself can transmit blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. The risk is greater when piercing equipment and jewelry are not sterile, especially when the piercing needles have been shared.
Always choose a safe piercer. Anyone who is unsure whether their piercing conditions were sterile should consider being tested for these infections. An infection can spread from a piercing throughout the body. In some cases, the infection can cause life-threatening complications.
Anyone with a weakened immune system should talk to a doctor before getting a piercing and immediately seek medical care for any signs of infection.A person’s immune system may be weak if they have, diabetes, HIV, AIDS, another chronic illness, or if they are taking chemotherapy.
Issues other than infection can cause pain or discomfort around a belly button piercing. See a doctor about any new or unusual symptoms, as the cause can be difficult to identify.
Allergies to the metal in body jewelry are common. Jewelry containing nickel is especially likely to trigger an allergic reaction.
The Association of Professional Piercers recommends using metals, such as surgical steel, titanium, or nickel-free gold, that are less likely to cause reactions. They also suggest using smooth jewelry, free from bumps or nicks that might irritate the skin.
Allergic reactions usually begin as soon as a person inserts the jewelry into the piercing. The reaction may be intense, involving a painful rash or swelling, or it may be minor but grow steadily worse.
When clothing or other objects catch on navel jewelry, it can injure and tear the skin.
If the jewelry has caught on something, and the new piercing looks larger or feels painful, a person may have an injury. These injuries increase the chance of infection. They can also change the shape of the piercing or cause it to heal incorrectly.
See a doctor about the injury and consult a professional piercer to see if the piercing requires redoing.
Sometimes, pain and irritation close to a piercing result from a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis.
A rash, redness, peeling, or irritation could stem from a preexisting skin disorder. Injuries to the skin can trigger some disorders, such as psoriasis, and a piercing is one such form of injury.
Diagnosing an infection
A doctor can usually diagnose an infection by looking at the piercing.
When there is no infection, but the skin shows signs of irritation, a doctor will ask about recent changes involving the piercing, such as using a new cleaning solution or jewelry made from a different metal.
The doctor can usually diagnose the cause of irritation after performing an examination and taking a complete medical history. However, the doctor may also need to take blood tests or a sample of the skin.
A serious piercing infection can spread to other areas of the body.
An entry from 2011 in BMJ Case Reports describes damage to the intestines that had been caused by a belly button piercing and resulted in ■■■■■. However, the person had pierced themselves, and the authors described the piercing as very unusual.
It is important to be cautious and contact a doctor if symptoms of infection do not resolve quickly.
A person should see a doctor within 24 hours if:
- they have a disease that weakens the immune system
- the pain is intense
- they have a fever
- the piercing site has sustained an injury
- a bad smell is coming from the piercing.
- the piercing site shows signs of redness and warmth, or there are red streaks on the skin
See a doctor within a few days if:
- symptoms of infection are not improving
- an allergic reaction did not resolve after taking out the piercing
- symptoms of infection are getting worse, or there are new symptoms
Excellent piercing care can help prevent infection.
To reduce the risk of infection:
- Choose a licensed piercer who sterilizes equipment and never reuses needles. The piercer should take their time and wear gloves while placing the piercing.
- Consider asking a doctor for a referral to a reliable piercer.
- Use only high-quality, piercing-grade jewelry.
- Follow the piercer’s instructions about keeping the piercing clean. This usually involves washing the piercing regularly and touching it only with clean hands.
- Do not allow anyone to touch or kiss the piercing until it heals completely.
It may not be advisable to get a piercing:
- in an area with a skin infection
- if a person has a condition that weakens the immune system
- if a person has a history of infected piercings
It may be a good idea to go to a member of the Association of Professional Piercers, an organization that requires members to practice safe piercing and provides related education.
How to tell if you’re allergic to the metal
Allergic reactions happen if you’re allergic to the type of metal being used. For example, piercing jewelry made of nickel is known to cause allergic reactions in susceptible people.
Metals that are safe for body piercings include:
Signs of an allergic reaction include:
- development of an itchy, inflamed rash around the piercing that spreads to a larger area
- a pierced hole that looks larger than before
- tenderness that may come and go
A belly button is a place where germs can become trapped and multiply. Too many germs in the belly button can cause an infection, which may lead to discharge through the skin.
Belly button discharge can have various colors and give off an unpleasant smell. There are a few different causes of belly button discharge, each requiring a specific treatment. Preventative care may be the best way to avoid belly button discharge caused by infections.
Fast facts on belly button discharge:
- Infections are the most common cause of belly button discharge.
- People who have recently had abdominal surgery may be at risk.
- Cysts are another cause of belly button discharge.
- Treating belly button discharge depends on the cause.
There are a few common causes of belly button discharge, which are explained below:
Bacterial or fungal infections
A common risk factor for bacterial infection is belly button piercing. An open wound such as a piercing is ideal for bacteria to get under the skin and cause an infection. Bacterial infections cause a discharge that has a disturbing smell to it.
The discharge may be off-yellow or green in color and will often cause swelling and pain. Fungal infection or yeast infection may cause symptoms that are slightly different. Candida albicans is a yeast found naturally on the skin that prefers dark, damp environments, including the armpits and groin.
A Candida yeast infection will often cause a rash in and around the affected area. The rash is usually itchy and red, and the discharge coming from the belly button will be thick and have an off-white color to it.
Anyone who has recently had abdominal surgery and notices pus or liquid draining from their belly button should call their doctor. This kind of discharge may be a sign of an internal infection that needs immediate treatment.
Cysts are hard or soft growths that are filled with liquid and pus. A urachal cyst may be the cause of belly button discharge. The urachus is the tube connecting the bladder of the fetus to the umbilical cord. While the urachus usually closes up before a baby is born, sometimes it does not close completely.
In cases where the urachus tube has not closed completely, a cyst may then form on it later in life. If the cyst becomes infected, it may cause a cloudy or ■■■■■■ fluid to leak from the belly button. Other symptoms can accompany a discharge, such as abdominal pain, fever, and pain when a person urinates. Sebaceous cysts are also a cause of belly button discharge in some cases. The sebaceous glands release oil into the skin. If one of these glands in or near the belly button gets backed up or clogged with dirt and oil, a cyst may form under the skin.
If the cyst is infected and leaking, a thick off-white to yellow discharge will often come from it. The discharge will have a foul smell, and the cyst itself can be swollen, red, and painful.
Conditions such as diabetes may put a person at risk of having a discharge from their belly button at certain times. According to research in the Journal of Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology, there appears to be a link between high blood sugar and candida yeast infections.
People with diabetes often have a higher blood sugar than normal, and yeast feeds on this sugar. The yeast can then spread more easily in the body and on the skin.
Prevention and tips
Belly button discharge is largely a preventable condition using the following methods:
- The belly button should be cleaned each day using soap and warm water.
- After bathing or showering, the belly button should be dried well.
- Built-up oils, soap scum, or lint should be removed from the belly button throughout the day
- Avoid picking or scratching at the belly button.
- Wearing tight clothing should be avoided.
- Loose-■■■■■■■ clothing made from natural fibers may help the skin breathe.
- Creams, moisturizers, and over the counter antiseptic products do not belong in the belly button unless they are prescribed by a doctor, as oils and creams can clog the pores and create the perfect environment for germs to grow.
- Belly button piercings may also cause a lot of trouble in some people, and the jewelry and piercing should be regularly cleaned to avoid infection.
Surgery. Surgical removal is the only way to get rid of a keloid completely, but it’s important to know that it will probably grow back at some point. To lower the chances of it coming back, your dermatologist may recommend using another treatment after surgery, like compression, radiation therapy, or injections.
- Crush three to four aspirin tablets.
- Mix them with enough water to form a paste.
- Apply them to the keloid or wound site. Let it sit for an hour or two, then rinse.
- Repeat once every day until desired results are achieved.
These can further irritate the skin and slow the healing process. Don’t remove the piercing. This can cause the hole to close up and trap the infection.
For example, piercing bumps are harmless and may go away over time. However, keloid scars can continue to get bigger. Although piercing bumps and keloid scars can initially look similar, there are ways to differentiate between them.
Being a natural astringent and an exfoliant, ACV is blessed with innumerable benefits. It prevents scar-promoting cells from entering the keloid site and reduces pigmentation and the size of the keloids. It also soothes the irritated skin and reduces any swelling.
Keloids form within scar tissue. Collagen, used in wound repair, tends to overgrow in this area, sometimes producing a lump many times larger than that of the original scar. They can also range in color from pink to red. Although they usually occur at the site of an injury, keloids can also arise spontaneously.
Imiquimod 5% cream (Aldara), an immune response modifier that enhances healing, has also been used to help prevent keloid recurrence after surgical excision. The cream is applied on alternate nights for eight weeks after surgery.
Tea tree oil may also: ease redness and irritation around the piercing. Shrink papules, pustules, and other bumps. Prevent keloids and other scar tissue from forming.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 50 to 80 percent of keloids shrink after treatment with injections. However, they also note many people experience a reoccurrence within five years.
NO. With keloids and granulomas, there’s nothing to pop 'out of your bump. And with pustules, just because you think you’re a dab hand at popping pimples on your face, does not mean you should be popping pustules on your piercings.
Taking good care of your piercing and protecting it from irritation is the best you can do to lower your chances of getting a keloid on your belly button piercing, not to mention other complications like infection.