What You Should Know About Ear Piercing

Ear piercing can be safe and simple, but there are some important guidelines to follow when you get it done. If you know what to expect during the piercing and how to take care of your ear afterward, you'll cut your chances of infection.

How does ear piercing work?

Depending on where you go for your piercing, and the part of your ear that you choose, a professional with a needle or piercing gun marks a spot and creates a hole. The piercer then places an earring in the hole.

Which is safer, a piercing gun or a needle?

Depending on where you go for your piercing, and the part of your ear that you choose, a professional with a needle or piercing gun marks a spot and creates a hole. The piercer then places an earring in the hole.

Will I feel pain?

Yes, at least a little. But it's rare to need anesthesia.

Will I bleed?

Possibly. A little bleeding is normal.

Can I take aspirin beforehand?

No. Don't take aspirin or anything with aspirin in it. This can cause you to bleed more than normal.

What medical conditions would prevent me from piercing my ears?

Piercing may not be a good idea while you're pregnant because of the risk of getting an infection. Check with your doctor first if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • Hemophilia
  • An autoimmune disorder
  • A heart condition
  • A condition that slows or prevents healing
  • Skin issues in the area you want pierced, including a lesion, rash, lump, cut, or mole

What are the risks?

Piercing breaks your skin and opens the door to problems like:

  • Allergic reaction. Jewelry made of nickel or brass can trigger it.
  • Infection. People sometimes have redness, swelling, pain, and a discharge after a piercing.
  • Skin trouble. You may get problems such as scars and keloids (overgrown scar tissue).
  • Blood diseases. You can pick up hepatitis B and C, tetanus, and HIV from equipment contaminated with infected blood.

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How young is too young for ear piercing?

This is up to you. In some cultures, parents have their baby's ears pierced hours or days after birth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says there's no health risk at any age, as long the setting and procedure are safe and sterile. But they also suggest that you wait until your child is old enough to handle the care involved afterward.

If you choose to have your child's ears pierced, start small. Round, flat earrings are best. Avoid anything big or dangly that can catch on clothing and tear your child's earlobe.

Who should do the piercing?

Only a professional. Some pediatricians do piercings on young children.

Make sure you do research on ear piercing professionals beforehand. Ask people you trust for recommendations, and visit a few piercers to get a feel for the place and person.

Some "positives" to look for:

  • A clean studio with good lighting
  • A selection of hypoallergenic jewelry

Ask these questions:

  • Are you licensed?
  • Do you wear disposable gloves?
  • What equipment do you use?
  • How do you sterilize it?

Avoid any place where they sterilize equipment in the studio's public bathroom.

What kind of jewelry should I choose?

Look for titanium, 14-karat gold, or surgical-grade steel.

What are the different types of ear piercings?

You can make holes in about 15 places on your ear:

  • Lobe
  • Upward along the outer cartilage
  • Inward along the part of the ear attached to your head
  • Several places in the center

What's the healing time?

There are different types of tissue in different parts of your ear, so how long it takes to heal depends on your body and the place you've pierced.

Earlobes usually take 6-8 weeks. If you pierce the cartilage on the side of your ear, it can take 4 months to a year. Ask your piercing professional for an estimate.

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How do I care for my piercing while it heals?

Clean the area around your piercing twice a day with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol. Your piercing professional may recommend a specific cleanser. Put an antibiotic ointment around the area to prevent a skin infection.

Though it's tempting, try not to touch your ear piercing. Germs from your hands can cause an infection.

Avoid places where germs flow freely, like pools and hot tubs.

It's also important to leave your piercing in place, even at night, unless you have an infection or other issue.

What if my piercing gets infected?

Right after an earlobe piercing, your ear may be red or swollen. That should go away after a day or two.

If it continues, feels itchy, or has a discharge, try this three times a day:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Put 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and stir.
  • Don't remove the earring. Soak a cotton ball in the salt water and place it on the infected area.
  • Pat it dry with a tissue or clean cotton ball.
  • Put a little bit of over-the-counter antibiotic cream on the area.
  • Rotate your piercing a few times.

If it's still not better, or if a different part of your ear is infected, see your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on October 07, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: "Body Piercing: What You Should Know."

National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: "Body Piercing: Medical Concerns with Cutting-Edge Fashion," "Trends and complications of ear piercing among selected Nigerian population."

American Academy of Family Physicians, FamilyDoctor.org: "Body Piercing."

Mayo Clinic: "Piercings: How to prevent complications," "How to treat a piercing site infection."

Center for Young Women's Health, Boston Children's Hospital: "Body Piercing."

Association of Professional Piercers: "Picking Your Piercer," "Taking Care of Your New Piercing." 

University of Utah: "Ear Piercing: How Young Is Too Young?"

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Ear Piercing."

Riley Children's Health, Indiana University Health: "Ear Piercing for Kids: Safety Tips from a Pediatrician."

University of Michigan, University Health Service: "Body Art: What You Need to Know about Getting a Tattoo or Piercing."

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