Learn how to properly care for new earlobe piercings and ear cartilage piercings in this helpful Ear Piercing Aftercare guide. We discuss everything from what you should and shouldn't do during the healing process to how to clean your ear piercings, what to do if you experience any ear piercing problems, when you can change your earrings, what types of earrings are available for different types of ear piercings, and beyond.
Types of Ear Piercings
If you're interested in getting an ear piercing but want to know what types of ear piercings are available before you take the plunge, you have at least thirteen options. Some ear piercings can be performed in multiples on each ear, too, making your ears one of the most pierceable parts of your body.
The types of ear piercings you can choose from can be broken down into earlobe piercings and cartilage piercings. Earlobe piercings include standard earlobe piercings, transverse lobe piercings and orbital piercings, all of which can be placed anywhere around the rim of the earlobe. Transverse earlobe piercings are surface piercings that go through the earlobe at an angle and come out the same side rather than going straight through the front and out the back side of the earlobe. Since they're surface piercings in an area with little surface area, transverse earlobe piercings can be risky. They're prone to migration and rejection, which can leave you with unsightly scars. Orbital piercings are much safer, because they're actually two separate standard earlobe piercings placed closely together with a ring connecting them to make it look like the ring is orbiting the earlobe.
As for cartilage piercings, you have loads of options: you can choose from anti-tragus and tragus piercings, single or multiple forward and standard helix piercings, daith piercings, industrial piercings, conch piercings, rook piercings, and snug piercings. Look at the illustration to the left to see where each of these different cartilage piercings is placed on the ear.
If you'd like to learn more about any of the different types of ear piercings listed above, check out our Ear Piercing FAQs.
It's important to know that ear piercing guns are not an ideal tool for ear piercing. They're less of a danger with earlobe piercings than cartilage piercings, but piercing guns are inferior to piercing needles for all types of ear piercings. Piercing guns force a relatively blunt stud through the ear with great force, which can cause microscopic tears in earlobe tissue and potentially shatter ear cartilage. People who get their ears pierced with piercing guns have more trouble with infections, hypergranulations and other ear piercing problems than those who get pierced with piercing needles. We highly recommend having a professional piercer who uses piercing needles perform your ear piercing rather than having an unskilled technician from a piercing boutique pierce your ears with a piercing gun.
Choosing Starter Ear Piercing Jewelry
Many piercers recommend specific types of starter jewelry for specific ear piercings. Captive rings make ideal starter jewelry for both standard ear piercings and orbital piercings, because they're unlikely to put pressure on your fistula (piercing hole) even if your earlobe swells. Captive rings also make great starter jewelry for a variety of cartilage piercings, including all helix piercings, rook piercings, daith piercings, snug piercings, tragus piercings, anti-tragus piercings, and even industrial piercings, as do horseshoe-shaped circular barbells. You can request an industrial barbell as your starter industrial piercing jewelry, but some people find them uncomfortable during the first few months of healing, when their ear cartilage is especially tender. Also, hair can easily get caught in industrial bars and tug on them uncomfortably, so rings and circular barbells may make better placeholders while your industrial piercings heal if you have long hair. Some piercers will recommend labret studs or bent barbells as alternatives to captive rings for cartilage piercings like tragus and conch piercings, but if you get a larger gauge conch piercing, you can start out with a conch pin instead, if desired.
Ear Piercing Care
There are a number of things you should and shouldn't do during the ear piercing healing process, no matter which type of ear piercing you get. Use the guidelines below as a supplement to any ear piercing aftercare instructions your piercer provides. If you follow these guidelines and your piercer's instructions and clean your ear piercing(s) regularly, you can expect new earlobe piercings to heal within 4-8 weeks or new ear cartilage piercings to heal within 3-12 months, depending on the type of cartilage piercing you get and whether or not you experience any ear piercing problems along the way.
- Do Keep Your Ear Piercing(s) Clean. Ear piercings should be soaked twice a day for five minutes per session with sea salt solution and misted 3-6 times per day with a quality saline spray like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray throughout the ear piercing healing process. (Learn more about doing sea salt solution soaks below.) You shouldn't need to use an antiseptic piercing spray unless you experience an ear piercing problem. Avoid soaping up your ear piercing directly; it's okay if sudsy water washes over your ear piercings when you shower, though.
- Do Stay Healthy Overall. A healthy immune system will aid in the ear piercing healing process, so it's important to eat nutritiously, get lots of quality sleep, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and practice overall good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing. Avoid other people's germs at all costs; don't let people touch your ear piercing(s), don't go swimming or soak in communal water, and don't let your partner's mouth near your healing ear piercing(s). You should also avoid things that are detrimental to your immune system, like smoking and consuming alcoholic beverages during the ear piercing healing process. If you're a smoker and can't quit entirely, you should at least cut down your nicotine intake by utilizing low dose nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, and/or an e-cigarette with low nicotine e-juice.
What You Should Not Do While Your Ear Piercing Heals
- Don't Thin Your Blood. Aspirin, alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine are all blood thinners, so you should avoid these things the day you get pierced. New piercings of all varieties can be prone to occasional bleeding during the early days of the healing process, which is why it's important to continue avoiding these things during the first week or two of the ear piercing healing process, too. If you need to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for swelling and/or pain, consider using acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) instead of aspirin or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil). Although ibuprofen isn't a blood thinner like aspirin, it can cause excess bruising.
- Don't Traumatize Your Ear Piercing(s). You have to be careful when washing, brushing and fixing your hair on a daily basis after getting an ear piercing, because you could traumatize your piercing with a misplaced hand or brush. Avoid playing with your jewelry and letting other people touch your piercings, too. If you have to touch your ear piercing, only do so with freshly washed and/or gloved hands. Don't twist, turn or slide your earrings to break up crusties (dried lymph), because you could push bacteria into your fistula and cause an infection to develop. If a build-up of crusties freezes your jewelry in place or irritates you in another way, soak your ear with piercing aftercare spray to soften the crusties, and then gently wipe them away with a clean tissue.
- Avoid Bacteria. Bacteria is everywhere, so it can't be avoided entirely. However, you can minimize your chances of developing an ear piercing infection by not allowing others to touch your ear piercing(s), avoiding touching your piercing(s) yourself except with clean or gloved hands, avoiding swimming pools, hot tubs and other communal water, and telling your partner that your ears are off limits during make-out sessions until your ear piercing(s) heal.
- Don't Soap up or Clog up Your Ear Piercings. As mentioned earlier, soap is harmful for healing ear piercings. It can dry out your skin and make you more susceptible for developing a piercing infection. Likewise, hair spray, gel and other hair products and oils, creams, balms, and ointments are all risky things to apply to a healing ear piercing. These things can clog your fistula, trapping in bacteria and potentially triggering an infection to develop. Shield your ear piercing when applying hair spray and other hair products. If the skin around your piercing gets overly dry, you can add tea tree oil to your sea salt solution soaks to take advantage of its natural moisturizing and antiseptic properties.
- Don't Change Your Earrings Prematurely. With earlobe piercings, you can usually comfortably change your earrings yourself for the first time eight weeks after getting pierced. With cartilage piercings, you should wait between six and twelve months before trying to change your jewelry. The longer you wait, the better off you'll be, because your fistula will still be young and tender at the end of the healing process, making it harder for you to change earrings at first. Don't try wearing different earrings every day initially; just change your jewelry once and let your ear calm back down before attempting to change your jewelry again. If you have trouble changing your jewelry yourself, pay your piercer to do a jewelry change for you. It's usually a small fee that's often worthwhile for changing cartilage piercing jewelry in particular.
There are two methods for doing full sea salt solution soaks. The easy way is to saturate a series of clean cotton balls with a saline-based piercing aftercare spray. Just spritz a cotton ball until it's thoroughly soaked, hold it against one side of your ear piercing for about 30 seconds, throw it away, repeat on the other side of your ear piercing with a fresh cotton ball, and continue going back and forth with freshly-soaked cotton balls until you've applied saline solution to your ear piercing for a total of five minutes. Repeat this process twice a day, at least for the first few weeks of the ear piercing healing process and any time you experience an ear piercing problem. If the skin around your ear piercing gets overly dry, you can add a single drop of tea tree oil, which is a natural moisturizer, to each cotton ball before applying it to your ear piercing.
Alternatively, you can prepare homemade sea salt solution to use for your full soaks. You'll need sterile water, quality sea salt like Recovery Sea Salt from the Dead Sea (not table salt, which contains iodine), and tea tree oil, if desired. You can sterilize tap water by boiling it for five minutes, or you can buy sterile water. You can also purchase Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt and Tea Tree Oil Combo Packs to save money on both ingredients, if you plant to utilize both. Once you have your ingredients gathered up, measure out one cup of sterile water, stir in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, and mix in 2–3 drops of tea tree oil, as desired. To soak a cartilage piercing, saturate cotton balls in the solution and apply them to your ear piercing one-at-a-time until you've soaked your piercing for five minutes. If you've just gotten an earlobe piercing, you can fill a shot glass or other small container with sea salt solution, hold it up to your earlobe, and let your whole lobe soak in the solution for five minutes instead of using cotton balls. If it will make it easier for you to keep up with your twice-a-day soaks, you can make up larger batches of sea salt solution and store it in a sealed container for easy use whenever you need it.
There are a handful of problems you could potentially experience during the ear piercing healing process. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with these potential issues so that you can address them quickly if you experience any of them.
It's normal for ear piercings to swell, which is why your piercer will outfit you with an extra-large captive ring or extra-long barbell as your starter ear piercing jewelry. If you have significant or unusual swelling, though, it's important to address it immediately, particularly if it's causing your jewelry to press into your ear. You can take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) to help reduce swelling; if you haven't experienced any bruising or aren't concerned about bruising, ibuprofen is also an option. Avoid aspirin, though.
In addition to taking an anti-inflammatory, you can also apply a cold compress to your ear to help minimize swelling. Either wrap a small gel ice pack in a clean towel or paper towel and apply it to your ear for ten minutes, or soak a clean washcloth in cold water, ring it out, and apply it to your ear until the cloth warms up. Do not apply the same washcloth to your ear twice without washing it in between uses.
If an anti-inflammatory combined with cold compresses doesn't relieve your swelling and your jewelry is pressing into your ear, see your piercer right away. S/he may need to replace your jewelry with a larger captive ring or barbell to prevent necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to an ear piercing infection.
Hypergranulation is an issue that's typically triggered by a combination of excess pressure on and moisture around a piercing wound. If you experience this issue, it will present as either a reddish bump alongside your piercing that appears fluid-filled or as a ring of puffy, reddish tissue encompassing your fistula. Due to their similar reddish color and taut appearance, many people mistake hypergranulations for keloid scars. Unless you know you're prone to keloids or someone else in your immediate family is, it's highly unlikely that's your problem if a red bump or lumpy red tissue crops up around your ear piercing. Keloids are hereditary and effect a very small percentage of the population, but anyone can develop a hypergranulation.
If you do experience a hypergranulation issue, the first thing you need to do is get the pressure off your piercing. Doing so should naturally take care of any moisture issues you may also be experiencing. See your piercer and ask him or her to replace your captive ring or barbell with more loosely-fitting jewelry. Ramp up your piercing aftercare regime, doing 2–3 full sea salt solution soaks enhanced with tea tree oil per day and continuing to mist your ear piercing with piercing aftercare spray in between full soaks. Your hypergranulation issue should subside within a week or two of changing your jewelry and adding an additional sea salt solution soak with tea tree oil to your daily routine, but if it doesn't, consider adding a piercing antiseptic rinse to your daily cleaning regime once a day in between full soaks.
Ear Piercing Infection
Signs of an ear piercing infection include discharge of thick, yellowish pus instead of just clear lymph that dries to a whitish crust, red streaks radiating from your piercing site, skin that's hot to the touch, swelling, and/or fever. If you suspect you're developing an ear piercing infection, ramp up your aftercare regime immediately. Do three full sea salt solution soaks per day, preferably enhanced with tea tree oil, mist your ear piercing with aftercare spray morning, noon, night, and in between full soaks, and consider using an antiseptic piercing spray to clean your ear piercing an additional time each day sometime in between full sea salt solution soaks and aftercare spray spritzes. (You don't want to wash away the antiseptic with saline rinse.) If your symptoms of infection persist or get worse at any point, see your family physician and ask if you need to take an antibiotic. If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, take the full course to avoid feeding the infection and making it more resistant to antibiotic treatment. Leave your jewelry in so your infected ear piercing can drain and avoid developing an abscess. Keep up with your ramped-up ear piercing care regime the whole time you take the antibiotic, too.
The two most common types of ear piercing scars are hypertrophic (raised) scars and atrophic (indented) scars. A small percentage of people may also have to worry about keloid scars, which are lumpy, purplish-red scars that grow excessively, well beyond a piercing site. (See the sample photo of keloid scarring to the left.) Hypertrophic and atrophic scars, on the other hand, tend to form closely around or in a fistula and settle to a skin tone color.
Hypertrophic scars typically won't appear until you've had an ear piercing for anywhere from 4-8 weeks, if not longer. If you do develop one, it will form closely around one opening to your fistula. Atrophic scars are only likely to present if you retire an ear piercing. They're the result of the body under-producing collagen when attempting to fill a retired piercing hole with new tissue, leaving you with a little divot where your ear piercing used to be. Hypertrophic scars may also form over top of retired piercings. When that happens, it's because the body has over-produced collagen when filling a piercing hole with new skin cells to close the hole.
Hypertrophic and atrophic scars can be conveniently treated at home with either silicone scar therapy gel or jojoba oil. Just massage a small amount into the scar tissue around or over top of a fully healed fistula twice a day for as long as it takes to sufficiently minimize the appearance of your ear piercing scar. If you do develop a keloid scar, you'll need to see a dermatologist to address it with a method like cryotherapy to freeze off the scar tissue, laser therapy to burn it off, corticosteroid shots to shrink it, or surgical removal. (Learn more about piercing scars here.)
When the time comes to change your earrings for the first time, there are a couple different methods you can try to make inserting new jewelry easier. You can use your new jewelry to push your old jewelry out, or you can use a piercing taper to thread new jewelry into your ear piercing. Ideally, your replacement earrings should be the same gauge as your starter jewelry so you don't run into problems getting the new jewelry into your piercing. If you do have trouble, add a tiny drop of a water-based lubricant like Astroglide to your ear before threading the new jewelry through, so it can pass through your ear more smoothly. If all else fails, have your piercer change your ear piercing jewelry for you, at least the first time. Remember that the longer you have your ear piercing, the stronger and more reinforced the fistula will become, which will make it progressively easier for you to change your jewelry yourself with time.
Stretching Ear Piercings
Cartilage piercings are very hard to stretch, so if you know your end goal is to have a larger-gauge cartilage piercing, you should consider getting pierced at a larger gauge or having your cartilage punched. The only downside to punching is that the cartilage is permanently removed and will likely not grow back if you remove your large gauge ear piercing later. Piercing needles part the tissue rather than removing it, so there's a chance your cartilage piercing will fully close if you remove your jewelry at a later date.
Earlobe piercings, on the other hand, can be stretched fairly easily. You should always wait one-and-a-half-times as long as it took for your ear piercing to heal initially (e.g. 8-16 weeks) before going up a full gauge. If you'd like to make progress more quickly and with less trauma to your earlobes, consider using stretching tape to gradually increase the size of your ear piercing(s) instead of going up a whole gauge at a time. Just remove your jewelry, wrap it with a single layer of stretching tape, and re-insert it every week or two until you reach the next gauge up. You can then swap out your taped jewelry for a larger barbell, wait a week or so, and begin stretching again, if desired.
It's a good idea to massage emu oil into your ear every day for a week or so before stretching. Emu oil enhances the skin's natural elasticity, making it easier to stretch without causing microscopic tears that may make you susceptible to infection. After stretching, resume your piercing aftercare regime as if you just got your ear pierced to avoid developing a piercing problem.
Learn More About Ear Piercings & Jewelry
Our Blog and Information Center are filled with informative ear piercing articles and posts that will educate you about everything from types of ear piercings to ideal earrings and beyond. Check out the articles below if you're interested in learning more about ear piercings and jewelry.
- FAQs About Ear Piercings
- Earlobe Piercings & Cartilage Piercings
- Ear Jewelry for All Sized Lobes
- Industrial Piercing FAQs
- Ear Stretching FAQs
- Hot Jewelry for Stretched Ears
- Picking Plugs in Marvelous Materials
- Opening & Closing Traditional vs. Snap Fit Captive Bead Rings
- Custom Jewelry by Painful Pleasures
- Piercing Ideas for a More Masculine Look