Everything You Should Know About Ear Piercings

While some piercings are a bit more taboo that others, one that usually stands as an exception is ear piercing.

Some people have their ears pierced right from the hospital when they're born (with the idea that they're too young to remember the pain), while some have to wait until later on to decide if they want to have it done. Some people stick with a simple singular lobe piercing, while others deck out their ears with piercings aplenty. Overall, there's a lot to know about ear piercings, from the art and history of it all to the medical nitty-gritty of how to heal one properly. So, we've gathered the basics here for you in this handy guide to everything you should know about ear piercing. Let's start off with:

The History of Ear Piercing

Deciding to endure a little bit of pain and discomfort for the sake of adorning our ears with jewelry is by no means anything new. In fact, if we're going to truly deep dive into everything you need to know about ear piercing, the practice dates back a whole 5,000 years or so.

It's evidenced by the mummy of a man who lived during the 4th millennium, which was found to have pierced ears (also proving that the practice wasn't always seen as gendered). Ancient Egyptians also appeared to be fans of ear piercing, as even pharaohs have been found with pierced lobes and earrings in their tombs. In fact, ear piercing has been a practice across virtually all regions of the world throughout history, often for cultural or spiritual purposes. Aside from a brief period around the 18th century when clip-on piercings took popular favor, the rise of piercings would continue to spread for various purposes, including the stylistic reasons we still wear them today.

However, the way that ears were pierced was remarkably different to the clean, totally professional shops (or mall stands) we think of today. Until recent decades (the '80s and '90s), it was common for young women to use ice to numb their lobes before piercing them—a practice that led to many infections, eventually making piercings in hospitals a more common practice for cleanliness.

Egyptian hieroglyph with ear piercing: Shutterstock. Closeup of a Relief showing a Nubian woman on the wall of an egyptian temple, Egypt, October 22, 2018

(via Shutterstock)


How Ears Are Pierced

As mentioned above, there are technically a few ways that ears can be pierced (after all, there's no way that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were getting their ears pierced in their local Piercing Pagoda like we might do today). Nowadays, with ear piercing for adornment purposes being all-around normalized, almost all piercings are thankfully completed by professionals who utilize sanitized tools designated for the specific purpose of ear piercing. This tool can be either a piercing gun or a needle, depending mostly on where you go and the type of piercing you're getting. Here's everything you should know about how ear piercing works:

  • You can usually walk into a piercing shop (or jewelry shop like Claire's if advertised) or make an appointment in advance for your piercing
  • You'll discuss the type of ear piercing that you want and choose the initial earrings that will be used (only certain metals can be used to avoid the body rejecting the piercing or having an allergic reaction)
  • The professional will mark the spot where the piercing will go (if you're getting a set, they should also check that the spots are evenly spaced on each ear for symmetry)
  • They will create a hole in the previously marked spot in a quick motion with the gun or needle and place the earring in the hole

Woman getting professional ear piercing: Shutterstock. Professional placing the jewel of piercing on the ear with ball. Tragus type.

(via Shutterstock)


Also read about: A Piercing Professional Reveals What You Should Know Before Getting an Ear Piercing


Piercing Gun vs. Needle

Your ear piercing may be done with the professional use of either a gun or a needle, with there being specific pros and cons for each. Professional piercers at piercing studios will often use single-use needles, which are incredibly sharp and designed specifically for the sake of an ear piercing. This sharp precision means less tissue trauma in the piercing process, which can be better for the sake of healing. They are also more versatile, so a needle may be the necessary choice over a gun depending on the type of ear piercing you want.

A piercing gun, on the other hand, can only be used to pierce the ear lobes (the soft part at the base of your ear where piercings are most commonly found). With this method, a stud earring and the clasp are attached to the handheld piercing gun. When the professional piercer pulls the trigger, the earring pierces through your ear and attaches to the clasp on the other side (rather than the needle method, where your ear will be pierced first before the earring can be inserted). This form is fast and easy, which is part of what makes it the less expensive method.

However, it's important to note that the piercing gun has its downsides, which is part of why the Association of Professional Piercers does not endorse their use. This is because guns can be reused, which can lead to a greater risk for infection despite the fact that they are deeply sanitized before each use. The nature of a piercing gun can also cause tissue damage, as the piercing is created through a sort of blunt force trauma. This means more swelling, potentially more pain and a longer healing time than if the piercing were completed with a needle.

Woman getting pierxing with gun: Shutterstock. Woman having ear piercing process with special piercing gun in beauty center by medical worker, cropped close up view

(via Shutterstock)


Types of Ear Piercings

Now that we've covered everything you need to know about how ears are pierced, we can dive into the wide world of piercing types. Sure, there are your basic lobe piercings, but there are a whole lot of other types to know about if you want to add a unique touch to the way you adorn your ears. Each one will have a different pain level and possibly even healing time attached to it, but let's take a look at the different types of ear piercings in some detail:

  • Tragus piercings – The tragus is the small flap of cartilage that extends over your ear canal, and it has become a popular spot to add a small hoop, stud or bar earring in recent decades.
  • Rook piercings – The rook is the curved ridge area that can be found above your tragus, but below the outer ear cartilage. Because it is located further within the ear, it can add visual dimension when pierced.
  • Helix piercings – Helix piercings, which are sometimes simply called "cartilage piercings" are any piercings that exist on the upper cartilage of the ear. Outside of lobe piercings, helix piercings are one of the more common types of ear piercing.
  • Daith piercings – A daith piercing can be found in the small area just above your tragus, on the smallest fold of cartilage in your ear where your inner and outer ear meet above the canal.
  • Auricle piercings – On your outer ear, a piercing can be placed in the tiny space where your lobe meets your helix (cartilage). This is called an auricle piercing.
  • Industrial piercings – Two separate piercings are required for an industrial piercing, which involves a piercing on each opposing side of the top of your ear (cartilage) where a barbell piece of jewelry is placed to connect them.

Ear with lots of piercings: Shutterstock. piercings on an ear. Conch and helix piercings close up.

(via Shutterstock)


Also Read About: These Celebs Have THE Cutest Ear Piercings


Pain, Healing and Care for Ear Piercings

The pain of each piercing will vary depending on the type of piercing as well as your own personal pain tolerance level, but generally, it is described as a brief, sharp pain that is followed by some amount of dull aching. You should not take pain medication before receiving a piercing, as this can thin your blood and lead to other potential problems.

As far as healing goes, the time frame also depends on the type of piercing. Generally speaking, a lobe piercing can be fully healed within four to eight weeks, while a cartilage piercing will take a little longer at three months to a year. There are steps you can take to promote healing a new ear piercing, including cleaning the piercing with a sea salt solution, keeping your immune system healthy (a good tip for general health and wellness, too) avoiding additional trauma to the piercing caused by accidentally sleeping on it wrong or hitting it on something, not cleaning your piercing with harsh soaps or other cleaners (other than the aforementioned salt solution) and not changing your earrings prematurely, as this can allow the hole to close. Some swelling during healing can be normal, but any excessive swelling, hypergranulation (inflammation evidenced by a reddish bump that appears by the piercing)  or signs of infection should be discussed with a professional.

With proper care, your piercing should heal well and become something you barely remember the pain of getting to begin with. Eventually, you'll be able to change out the earrings you wear for each piercing, but your piercer should be able to discuss the right length of time when that is okay depending on which piercing you get.

Woman with ear piercing cleaning aftercare: Shutterstock. Doctor sterilize piercing place on ear of teenade girl.

(via Shutterstock)


Also Read About: A Definitive Ranking of Ear Piercings, From Least to Most Painful


In Summary

And there you go—everything you should know about ear piercing in one convenient guide! Overall, keep in mind a few key things: always go to a professional for any new piercings, the pain level will vary as will the healing time, you won't be able to change your earrings right away and proper care is necessary to keep yourself and your piercing in good shape. When in doubt, you can always speak with a piercing professional before actually getting your ear(s) pierced to understand all the details about what you should expect.

And if all this managed to turn you off from getting a piercing—at least for now—there are still some pretty cute ear cuff options out there for you to accessorize without the pain of an actual piercing. Just click HERE to check out some of our favorite (piercing-free) ear cuffs.