Ear Piercings 101


Specifically for a friend who asked about my piercings, here’s a bit of info and advice.

I have eight piercings in total (10 originally but two failed). Three in my left ear and five in my right ear. They’re all different styles but here’s tips on each.

Getting Pierced

General advice – always have your piercings done using a hollow “cannula” needle. Never ever have gun piercings. Never. If you go to a piercer and they pick up the gun, walk out. Gun piercings are brute force, they force a point through your tissues and instead of removing a “core sample” they simply push it aside. Healing can, however, be quicker with the gun, but the hole will be much tighter and will not easily accept any body jewelry, only the 0.6mm “earrings” stuff.

I cannot emphasise this enough though, and in the case of anything involving piercing the helix cartilage, it is dangerous to use the gun as it can shatter the cartilage and cause serious infections such may even lead to reconstructive surgery.

I would be lying if I said the process was painless. It isn’t. Depending where the piercing is you could be preparing yourself for a long drawn out healing process and this cannot be rushed at all.

Choice is very important – you may wish to take your ideal jewelry with you, but bear in mind it must be either titanium or surgical steel, and from the start you should choose a size as it’s not an easy process enlarging a hole. Common sizes are 1.2mm and 1.6mm – most of mine are 1.6mm.

Then it’s a case of choosing a shape, as this is important too. The simplest type is the “labret” (or labrette, I’ve seen it both ways). It’s a bar with a solid plug on one end and a thread on the other onto which you thread a ball.

You then get the bent bar or banana, which is similar, basically a banana shaped bar but this time it has a ball on each end. These tend not to be used in ears and are more for naval, nose and eyebrow piercings.

The next step up is the horseshoe, which can be seen in my upper three piercings. It’s an even more bent banana, and again it has a closure threaded ball on each end.

Finally we have the full hoop, which unlike all the others had no thread and instead is held in place by a ball which is pushed into the gap and held in place by indentations and spring pressure.

Further up the chain we have things such as industrials and scaffolds connecting multiple holes using bars, but those aren’t for the faint hearted.

As well as coming in different gauges of thickness, they also come in different sizes. You should make sure when choosing that you allow for swelling immediately after the piercing, so make sure you buy larger than you intend to wear. My jewelry is 8mm x 1.6mm for the top three horseshoes, with a 8mm x 1.6mm upper hoop and 10mm x 1.6mm lower hoop.

Once you’ve chosen your piercings, you then need to choose your studio. Don’t choose the cheapest, and certainly don’t walk in off the street – check Facebook, Google reviews, and make sure they’ve got a good reputation – especially if you’re having a helix piercing as that is a surgical procedure which can’t be carried out by just anyone.

It’s often better to phone up and book in as they are usually tattooists too and they can be very busy. Whilst the procedure is fairly swift it does require about 20 minutes for the full session.

The Procedure

So you’ve booked in, you’re at the parlour, and you’ve introduced yourself and paid for your procedure (you’ll usually pay in advance, and often when you book to prevent time wasters)

You’ll be taken into a room and asked to show the piercer where you want your piercing. They’ll then draw a dot using a skin pen to show you where the final piercing will be. Once you’re happy with them, they’ll then start the procedure, first of all preparing the sterile field, wiping down surfaces and then unwrapping a cannula needle. This will often be left on top of but inside it’s own packaging to preserve good hygiene. They’ll also take the jewelry and sterilise that too.

The area to be pierced will be cleaned with alcohol, and depending on where it is they’ll used one of a number of sets of tongs or forceps to hold the skin or cartilage. Different shaped tongs are used for different areas of the ear, some more curved than others.

Once the ear is held, they’ll grab the cannula, and with a sharp push they’ll press it totally through your ear in one quick motion. They’ll then leave it in place for a few seconds.

The pain levels will be variable, some don’t really hurt, some may make you feel nauseous! It’s ok to let them know how it feels as they may give you a minute with the needle in. Do not be tempted to touch it – you’ve got a very sharp sterile needle in your ear.

Once you’re ready for the second part of the procedure they’ll press the needle totally through, or remove it the same way it went in, and immediately follow it with your chosen body jewelry, before finally closing it up.

There may be quite a bit of blood, or hardly any. Either way they’ll generally sit with you for five minutes until you feel ok to stand up, and then that’s it. Done.


The healing process is the most essential part of the procedure and can determine whether the piecing takes or fails.

The golden rule, though, is never EVER take them out until the first stage is complete (6 weeks minimum for the lobe, three months for the helix) and if you do choose to take them out, replace them immediately. Don’t leave them out for more than the time required to clean the area. They can close up really quickly and getting your jewelry back through can be impossible.

At first clean them twice a day. Cotton wool in a highly saturated salt water bath is great, and a salt water spray to give them a quick blast if you accidentally touch them. The jury is out on things such as TCP but I always found it to settle them down if I was having a painful episode.

You’re probably going to see a few episodes of swelling up, if you knock them etc, but provided you keep a good clean hygienic practice in place and avoid touching and bumping them you should be ok.

If you do get any lumps or swellings around the piercing, or it feels warm or starts to throb you may have an infection. Do NOT – I REPEAT DO NOT REMOVE IT. Consult your piercer, or a doctor. If you have an aerobic bacteria and you remove the piercing the hole could close and seal a pocket of nasty bacteria inside meaning a simple topical antibiotic spray could no longer be effective and you’ll need a course of tablets.

The first two weeks may involve disturbed sleep and you may be tired. Every time you roll onto it you’ll wake up. You might want to consider one side at a time for the reason.

After this initial period though the general pain will subside and you’ll be left with just sharp pain if you bump or catch them.

In the case of a lobe piercing you’ll find this disappears totally after about 3-4 weeks, and after 6-8 weeks the healing process should be complete enough to change them at will, but I’d suggest allowing 6 months before you take them out and leave them out for any length of time.

Upper helix piercings are very different. Cartilage has no blood supply and as such there’s no transport mechanism for the essential building blocks, so the healing process is from the outside through – your skin is building a tunnel and this can take a long time – at least 6 months, and up to two whole years to be totally complete. At any point in-between removing or catching your piercing can start off bleeding. This is normal but you need to be aware of it.

This skin will eventually bridge the hole, and once this has happened it will toughen up so you’ll be less prone to future injury.

As for pain with helix piercings – 2-4 weeks will usually see off the worst of the pain, although impacts and laying on them can still hurt even after 6 months. With any cartilage piercing you’re playing a long game.

The results

After 8 months I’m now fully healed. I can lay on all my piercings without issue.

Just a couple of things to note though that not many people realise until they finally are pierced:

  1. They jingle – if they catch together they’ll chink and jingle.
  2. They whistle – in breezy conditions, or on rollercoasters you’ll hear a faint whistle from then

I hope I haven’t scared you off, but if you’re going to get pieced – I’d love for you to do it right and don’t make the mistakes I made.

I’ve gotta say… They look good with the latex!