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Aftercare suggested for healing a new body piercing almost always includes a sea salt soak. Wikibook's Body Piercing Aftercare explains the process.

'SSS (Sea Salt Soaks)' – With this method you soak your piercing in a warm salt mixture. The appropriate ratio for the mixture is ¼ a teaspoon of non-iodized salt in 8oz or 1 cup of water. For this method you would do one to two soaks a day for five to ten minutes. During the soak the piercing needs to be completely submerged in the sea salt mixture. After the soak simply rinse your piercing with warm water and pat dry. This method works with your body’s natural salinity to push out any bacteria inside your piercing. For this reason it’s very important to mix the solution in the right proportions. This is also the recommended aftercare method presented by APP. The APP also recommends the use of anti-microbial soap. Satin and Provon are good, gentle soaps to use in conjunction with sea salt soaks.

The reason given this it is beneficial is it is somehow pushing out bacteria from the body. A similar claim comes from BME

Salt soaks are one of the best things you can do for an angry or new piercing. Many use saltwater as their only cleanser. Hot, it's a natural astringent and can be helpful in drawing out infection and pus.

This site says sea salt soaks can clear up already infected piercings

Take the time to treat it with a sea salt soak and you can clear up any piercing infection quickly. 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.

is routinely soaking a new piercing in a sea salt and water solution beneficial at all for healing? For prevention of infections? For getting rid of existing infections? What is the mechanism of action?

  • salt is a well known preservative, been used that way for thousands of years. I've no reason to believe it wouldn't help when washing out wounds (though it's likely to hurt like hell). – jwenting Jan 31 '12 at 6:46
  • Salt is often recommended for cleaning wounds however I would still question whither sea salt does so better than regular table salt would. – Rincewind42 Jan 31 '12 at 13:14
  • @jwenting salty water in concentrations suggested here does not hurt at all on fresh piercings. – Sam I Am Feb 1 '12 at 3:37
  • sea water is 4-5% NaOH content. It hurts, though maybe not as much as higher concentrations :) – jwenting Feb 1 '12 at 6:55
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I found this review in The Cochrane Library - Water for wound cleansing

This is the Plain Language Summary:

Water is frequently used for cleaning wounds to prevent infection. This can be tap water, distilled water, cooled boiled water or saline (salty water). Using tap water to cleanse acute wounds in adults does not increase the infection rate, however, there is no strong evidence that cleansing per se is better than not cleansing. The reviewers concluded that where tap water is high quality (drinkable), it may be as good as other methods such as sterile water or saline (salty) water (and more cost-effective), but more research is needed.

  • While helpful and definitely relevant, this doesn't really answer the question much. The goal of healing a piercing is to create a fistula, a different goal from most "normal" wound healing. The recommendations are different too. – Sam I Am Feb 1 '12 at 3:34

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