Migration means, ‘move from one place to settle in another’. When piercings migrate, they literally travel through the skin and settle in a different position from the original piercing.
Some people may take this to mean that a navel piercing might work its way around the body to settle in an entirely different location, like the nipple for example! This will not happen!
A piercing that migrates will usually move a few millimetres out of its original location. This is also called ‘parking’. Sometimes this is because the piercee might be allergic to the metal and so should also display the signs of metal hypersensitivity. Obviously it would be wise to visit your piercer and check that a more biocompatible metal or PTFE jewellery should replace the migrating jewellery. On other occasions, migration will occur because the jewellery used in the piercing is too big and is resisting the elasticity, or ‘flow’, of the skin, and so the body allows the jewellery to move into a more ‘comfortable’ place. A good example is in navel piercings; where some clients have little or no space for jewellery in their navel. If this is the case, the jewellery cannot be expected to heal well, if at all, because of the stresses the jewellery would place on the tissue it rests in. If you notice this happening, then visit your piercer for more adequately sized, or shaped jewellery.
The weight of the jewellery can also be a factor in migration. Time is certainly an accomplice, and it can take years for a person to notice the migration of their piercing. But the weight of body piercing jewellery can contribute significantly to the ‘life’ of a piercing. If a piercing appears to be migrating for no discernible reason, then switching to a light weight metal, such as titanium or niobium, or to biocompatible plastics, like PTFE, might make a difference. On other occasions, migration could well be due to the gauge of the jewellery. Very thin jewellery like 1mm or 1.2mm jewellery can migrate more easily because it is thin and easier to relocate through skin. Abdominal and genital piercings are most prone to migration due to small gauge jewellery. I personally would recommend that abdominal and surface piercings be performed with jewellery no thinner than 1.6mm; and for genital piercing, no thinner than 2.4mm gauge jewellery for men, and no thinner than 1.6mm gauge for women.
Though migration itself might only be a problem because it changes the ‘look’ of the original piercing; if migration is left unchecked it can lead to rejection. Many piercings reject and some are more prone to rejection; especially eyebrow and navel piercings. The causes are as those for initial migration, but the result of rejection can be irritating to deal with. When rejecting from the body, the body is literally pushing the jewellery out of the body. The skin around the piercing can be a little sore but very red and you will notice the skin appears to ‘thin’ slightly as the jewellery reaches closer to the surface of the skin. Finally, there will be a tiny amount of skin holding the jewellery in. That tiny bit of skin thins-out so much that the weight of the jewellery helps it fall out and away. The result on the skin is usually a lot of scar tissue and an indentation, or cleft where the jewellery made its final exit. It would be better to avoid this by removing the jewellery before it falls out. That way less skin damage, or scarring, is caused by the progress the jewellery makes through the skin.