History & Placement
It appears that the oldest (and probably first) of mankinds piercing were done on the earlobes since this region of the body is fairly easy to pierce and heal. To illustrate this point, a mummified body, found to be over 5,000 years old, was recently discovered frozen in an Austrian glacier. The body had pierced ears whose holes had been stretched to 7 – 11mm in diameter.
Anthropologists believe that the ears were probably first pierced as a charm ‘ to repel evil spirits and prevent bad luck. Many early tribes believed that demons could enter the body through an orifice and that piercing the ears with metals would prevent them from taking possession of a person’s spirit.
Ear-piercing has also been used by many tribes as a rite of passage. In Borneo, child’s parents each pierce an ears as a symbol of the child’s dependence on its life givers. Other societies have used ear-piercing as a puberty rite. No where is this more apparent than in the modern day U.S. where teen girls can go to the mall and get their ears punched by a gun.
Ear-piercing has also been used to connote one’s position in society. From the ancient Egyptians to Elizabethan England, both men and women adorned their ears to reflect their wealth and status.
Nowadays, ear-piercing is done mostly for decoration, with new and creative piercing of both the lobes and the cartilage being done. What follow are some definitions and locations for piercing of the ear and cartilage:
- Antitragus: A piercing is made through the extrusive ridge of cartilage opposite the tragus. In most cases, a straight or curved barbell is advisable over a ring.
- Bridge, Industrial, Ladder: A barbell pierced through the two sides of the upper pinna (see definition below) so that it looks like a bridge.
- Conch: Piercing made straight through the shell of the ear cartilage. The conch piercing are sometimes described as either ‘lower’ and ‘upper,’ the dividing line being the Crus helix (daith). The piercing is usually done initially with a barbell, but once it’s healed a large ball-closure ring may be inserted, spiked labret studs are sometimes worn as well.
- Daith: A piercing made through the Crus helix, the inner-most ridge of cartilage above the Tragus. Of the interior ear cartilage piercing the daith is usually the most successful as it is not subject to pressure from sleeping and irritation from daily activities.
- Helix: Piercing made through or around the upper, curled edge of the ear, including the curled edge towards the face. If the curl is extreme or wide, a piercing made parallel to the plane of the head through the apex of the curl will be more comfortable. In this instance, a piercing made perpendicular to the plane of the head would require a large diameter ring to allow for proper healing which would be too large to comfortably fit between the ear and head.
- Industrial: Two or more piercing through which a single barbell is worn. An industrial can involve piercing of the helix, tragus, earlobe, conch, or rook. Piercing should be placed as perpendicular to the tissue as possible to avoid stress that can cause scarring and migration. In some cases a curved barbell may be more comfortable than a straight barbell. The piercing should be healed wearing two separate pieces of jewellery if a single piece of jewellery will put too much stress on the piercing.
- Lobe: The most common piercing of the ear, can be pierced several times depending on it’s size. One of the fastest of all piercing to heal.
- Orbital: Two piercing through which a single ring is worn. Common orbital combinations include conch/lobe, lobe/lobe, conch/conch. Piercing should be placed as perpendicular to the tissue as possible to avoid stress that can cause scarring and migration. The piercing should be healed wearing two separate pieces of jewellery if a single piece of jewellery will put too much stress on the piercing.
- Rook: A piercing made through the antihelix, the ridge above the daith ridge. More prone to rejection/migration.
- Snug: A horizontal piercing of the antihelix, across from the tragus. This piercing isn’t suitable for all people.
- Top-Ear Pinna: The outer rim of the ear extending from the top of the Helix to the daith. The second most common piercing, it has become quite popular because it’s novel without being to extreme. Usually takes 12 months to heal and is more prone to granulomas because of hair pulling on it and lying on it during sleep.
- Tragus: The prominence of cartilage in front of the opening of the ear canal. This piercing is a little bit more painful than other cartilage piercing because it’s very thick, usually takes at least 12 months to heal.
- Transverse: A horizontal piercing through the lobe with a barbell.
Ear piercing studs aren’t really suitable for initial piercing because they can’t be cleaned properly which can lead to infections. Ear piercing heals quickly and comfortably when a captive bead ring is worn. Rings are easier to clean and more comfortable than ear piercing studs. Piercing studs are usually only one length which is too short to accommodate swelling or earlobes which are thicker than average. The butterfly clip backing can become clogged with discharge, dirt, and bacteria. Studs also have a tendency to become wrapped with hair, embedding hair in the piercing.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 8 gauge and 3/8″ to 5/8″ in diameter.
The ring must not hug the edge of the earlobe. A ring which is too small in diameter will cause the piercing to migrate or scar. Heavy rings should not be used if the earlobe is exceptionally thin.
- Straight barbells in 18 to 8 gauge and 1/4″ to 5/16″ long; the length should be 1/16″ longer than the width of the piercing to accommodate swelling.
Transverse or Lateral Earlobe
The transverse earlobe piercing is placed perpendicular to a standard earlobe piercing, from edge to edge. This piercing is only appropriate for large, unattached earlobes.
The transverse piercing can be placed to intersect an enlarged lobe piercing, making the transverse piercing two piercing which may reduce healing time.
- Straight and curved barbells in 14 to 12 gauge and 1/8″ longer than the width of the piercing to accommodate swelling. If a curved barbell or ring is used, the piercing must be curved to match the jewellery. Most earlobes are not thick enough to support jewellery larger than 14 or 12 gauge.
- Captive bead rings in 14 to 12 gauge.
No more than 1/3 of the ring is through the piercing. A ring which is too small in diameter will often cause the piercing to migrate or scar.
The vertical earlobe piercing is placed vertically or close to vertically through the earlobe and anti-tragus.
- Straight barbells in 14 to 12 gauge and 1/8″ longer than the width of the piercing to allow for swelling and cleaning. Most earlobes are not thick enough to support jewellery larger than 14 or 12 gauge.
Helix (upper ear) piercing are often performed with a piercing gun. Cartilage piercing performed with piercing guns are often problematic. Often the piercing is not perpendicular to the tissue because the piercing gun will not fit around the curl of the upper ear. Body jewellery is easier to clean and more comfortable than ear piercing studs.
Cartilage piercing involve several layers of different types of tissue which heal at different rates and by different processes. Some cartilage piercing, particularly those through very dense cartilage, often swell during healing. Cartilage piercing are often performed using a needle one size larger than the that of the jewellery to be worn (e.g. 18 gauge jewellery, 16 gauge needle) to allow room for new tissue to form around the inside of the piercing.
Cartilage piercing have a greater tendency than other piercing to scar because of the nature of the tissue involved. The piercing should be as perpendicular to the tissue as possible to reduce stress on the tissue. A ring which is too small in diameter will often cause the piercing to migrate or scar. Prolonged healing, scarring and migration often result if the wearer sleeps on his/her piercing.
Cartilage piercing often resist stretching quickly. Stretching a reluctant piercing often results in scarring.
The specific initial jewellery for the ear cartilage piercing are:
- Captive bead rings in 16 to 10 gauge. The ring should not tightly hug the edge of the ear.
- Barbells in 16 to 10 gauge and 5/16″ to 3/8″ in length; the barbell should be 1/16″ to 1/8″ longer than the width of the piercing. A barbell is more comfortable if the wearer sleeps on his/her ears.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 14 gauge and 3/8″ to 1/2″ in diameter.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 12 gauge and 5/16″ to 7/16″ in diameter. The ring should not hug the edge of the ear.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 14 gauge and 5/16″ to 3/8″ in diameter; the diameter should be approximately 1/8″ wider than the piercing.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 14 gauge and 3/8″ to 7/16″ in diameter; the diameter should be approximately 1/8″ wider than the piercing.
- Barbells in 16 to 10 gauge and 5/16″ to 3/8″ in length; the barbell should be at least 1/16″ longer than the width of the piercing. A barbell is more comfortable if the wearer sleeps on his/her ears.
- Captive bead rings in 18 to 16 gauge and 1/4″ to 3/8″ in diameter; the diameter should be approximately 1/8″ wider than the piercing.
- Curved barbells in 18 to 16 gauge and 5/16″ to 3/8″ in length; the barbell should be at least 1/16″ longer than the width of the piercing. A curved barbell is more comfortable if the wearer sleeps on his/her ears.
- Straight and curved barbells are usually chosen as the most comfortable and unobtrusive style of jewellery. The barbell should be 1/8″ longer than the width of the piercing.
The estimated healing times for ear and ear cartilage piercing are:
- Earlobe: 6 – 10 weeks
- Transverse or Lateral Earlobe: 4 – 8 months
- Vertical Earlobe: 4 – 8 months
- Ear Cartilage: 3 – 6 months
The ear-lobe and the helix are some of the fastest parts of the body to heal. It usually takes 6 – 10 weeks to heal them and problems are very rare. Cartilage piercing however, are more prone to problems. This is because cartilage doesn’t heal the same way that flesh does. The most common problem is the formation of small lumps around the piercing, called granulomas. These occur because the piercing has been knocked about or the jewellery has been taken out and re-inserted, thereby damaging the piercing.
The best course of action to heal granulomas is to apply hot compresses to the wound once or twice a day. Put a clean paper towel under hot tap water, making sure that it’s not hot enough to burn the skin, but hot enough to penetrate the wound. Leave it on until the heat dissipates. Do this twice daily. If that doesn’t work, the best course of action is to remove the jewellery for a short period of time. This allows the wound to heal. After the lump goes down (usually 4-5 days) the jewellery may be reinserted. However, if the lump starts to come back it’s best to leave it heal and have the site re-pierced at a later date.
Another problem are ‘Keloids’ which are lumps formed by excessive scar tissue. This problem is genetic and people with black or dark skin are especially prone to it. If a Keloid develops it’s best to remove the jewellery immediately as they can be very hard to treat. The best treatment is the application of cortisone creams which you must get via prescription from a physician. It has been noted that keloids tend to form more often around the exit hole, due to the action of the needle, which slices a crescent-shaped opening.
The leading cause of infection for any piercing is the improper handling of it or playing around with it. You should only touch your piercing with clean hands, and only when you are cleaning it.
The following instructions will help you care for and maintain your piercing.
- You will need an antibacterial soap, such as Dial and/or sea salt. Special ear piercing antiseptic called Ear Care Solution is very gentle and also recommended.
- Your piercing should be cleaned thoroughly once day every day for the entire healing time. Prepare the area for cleansing by removing any dried secretions. This is easily accomplished by soaking the piercing in warm water for 1 to 2 minutes. When the crust has softened, use a Q-tip to gently remove the matter. Never pick at the crust with your fingernails.
- Work a small amount of soap with water and apply to the piercing. Gently rotate the jewellery back and forth through the piercing several times making sure the soap is entering the piercing. Allow the soap to remain in the piercing for two to three minutes. Keep all other soaps, shampoo, and conditioner from entering the piercing. Remember, the soap does not have to lather to be effective.
- Rinse the area thoroughly under running water, while rotating the jewellery back and forth several times to remove ALL traces of the cleanser. Never put any kind of soap on your piercing without rinsing it off.
- Gently pat the area dry with a Kleenex or other disposable paper product. Use a Q-tip to dry difficult to reach areas.
- Clean the piercing no more than once a day. Cleaning more frequently may damage the delicate skin cells, and cleaning less frequently may invite an infection. When you’re not cleaning your new piercing leave it alone.
- Mild salt water soaks are strongly suggested as a supplement to your once a day cleaning. Do this once or twice a day. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon sea salt into 8 ounces of warm distilled water in a clean cup. Invert the cup over the piercing to form a vacuum. Soak the piercing for 10-15 minutes. Rinse or splash the salt from your piercing. If any whitish material remains, remove it with a clean Q-Tip. Do not rotate the jewellery. Many above the neck piercing are difficult to soak. In this case a warm compress of paper towels or gauze should be sufficient.
- Check the piercing every morning to ensure that your hair hasn’t become tangled in the jewellery. If you have long hair, it’s advisable to to use a bobby pin to keep your hair out of the piercing until it’s healed.
- Be careful when brushing your hair not to catch the jewellery in the brush as this can tear the wound and cause inflammation.
- Leave the jewellery in during the healing phase. Pulling it in and out can increase the likelihood of infection. Leaving the jewellery out during the healing phase can lead to the hole closing up.
- Avoid holding the phone to the ear that’s been pierced. Be especially careful of this with public phones. If both ears are pierced make sure to clean the earpiece of the phone with disinfectant.
- Try to avoid getting hairspray or cosmetics on the piercing during the healing phase. When washing your hair make sure to wash the piercing carefully.