How to Choose Earrings for Sensitive Pierced Ears

Updated on June 3, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

A woman tries on a new earring. Piercings should not cause pain or irritation
A woman tries on a new earring. Piercings should not cause pain or irritation | Source

How to Get Your Ears Pierced

  • Make any decision about where to have a piercing when you are sober.
  • Do not carry out the piercing yourself. Go to a licenced piercing professional.
  • Always keep the wound clean. Any pain or swelling should be checked by a medical doctor.
  • Sleepers are temporary studs or earrings that hold the piercing open until the skin heals.
  • Choose metal or plastic earrings to suit your budget and skin sensitivity.

Have Your Ears Pierced by a Professional

Getting your ears pierced by a professional is the first step to preventing infections or problems occurring. A piercing breaks through the natural barrier (your skin) and opens it up to invasion by bacteria, so care must be taken to minimize infection. The piercing should be done with sterile hygienic instruments.

As the wound heals and the pierced hole is formed, it is important that regular cleaning and appropriate after-care is maintained. Many countries have professional bodies that accredit practitioners of ear and body piercing. Using an approved practitioner will provide reassurance that the person understands proper hygienic methods of piercing.

US Federal law and State law determine licensing requirements for their area. For example, a Board of Body Art Practitioners determines applications in the State of Oregon. In US, the Association of Professional Piercers can advise on local licensing requirements. In UK the equivalent industry body is the British Body Piercing Association.

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Pain and Inflammation Due to Sensitive Skin

Wearing earrings for pierced ears is a lot less painful than wearing clip-on ones. However, you must ensure the piercing doesn't become itchy or infected. Preventing infection is about maintaining cleanliness and good hygiene and with proper care your piercing will be trouble-free.

Unfortunately, you may find that good hygiene is not enough. When you wear earrings you get itchy or irritated areas around the piercings. You may already know you have sensitive skin, or this sensitivity may come as a complete surprise to you. However once you understand your allergic reaction, you can choose earrings that don't cause sensitivity induced itching and swelling.

Multiple lobe, cartilage and tragus ear piercings
Multiple lobe, cartilage and tragus ear piercings | Source

Acute Sensitivity Caused By Bacterial Infection

Acute or short-term sensitivity in your piercings is usually caused by a bacterial infection. This may happen soon after a new piercing has been carried out. It could be you have infected the wound by touching it with a dirty finger. Bacterial infection can result in swelling, redness, and throbbing of the affected area. The swelling may contain pus.

By regularly swabbing the area with antiseptic, it should clear up within a few days. However if it persists you should seek medical advice and may need to take antibiotics. You should wait until the infection has completely cleared before shopping for new earrings. To help prevent infection, when you have a new piercing wipe it with a saline solution like H2Ocean Piercing Aftercare Spray at least once a day.

How to Prevent an Ear Piercing Infection

Chronic or Long Term Skin Sensitivity

Chronic or long-term sensitivity when wearing pierced earrings is a type of contact dermatitis. The resulting tissue reaction to the metal post of the earrings is annoying and painful. In affected individuals, chronic sensitivity to their earrings can cause itching, localized skin irritation, redness, and swelling. The most common metal to cause this allergic reaction is nickel, hence a common nickname for this condition is “nickel itch”.

Nickel posts are often found on cheaper pierced earrings. One way to prevent the itch is to wear earrings that have posts made of different material. The other is to protect your skin from the metal by putting a protective barrier between your skin and the allergen. For a cheap DIY method of creating such a barrier you could use nail enamel. (There is more information about using nail varnish for this purpose at the end of this article).

Types of Earrings for Sensitive Ears

What Are Hypoallergenic Earrings?

Hypoallergenic means the material used is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than one not so labelled. However, there is no standard a manufacturer has to meet to use this label. So, do not assume the product is allergy-free.

A label claiming that earrings are hypoallergenic may be misleading. These can work well for most people with sensitive pierced ears. However, although hypoallergenic means there is no nickel on the outer surface of the earring’s post, it may be made of coated nickel.

Over time the outer surface of the post will wear and the exposed nickel will come into contact with the wearer’s earlobe and cartilage. If you wear earrings frequently you need a better, longer term solution to the problem.

Gold, Silver, Platinum and Titanium

Having an allergic reaction to your pierced earrings is usually only a problem with cheaper jewelry. Noble metals such as gold and silver rarely cause sensitivity reactions. If you can afford it choose earrings with solid gold or solid silver posts. Platinum posts are also unlikely to cause any skin reaction, but these are usually more expensive than gold ones. Titanium is another metal used for earrings. Although it costs more than nickel, very few people suffer allergic reactions to it.

Gold earring posts do not cause irritation for most people.
Gold earring posts do not cause irritation for most people. | Source

Other Options for Fashion Jewelry

Fashion or costume jewelry may only be worn a few times before the wearer changes their look. So asking you to pay a lot of money for fashion jewelry is not realistic. Many earrings are now made with either surgical steel or plastic posts (rather than gold). The advantage is this lowers the price of the earrings. For example you can buy a set of 12 pairs of surgical steel stud earrings for pierced ears in gemstone colors. I often wear these in preference to my sleeper studs.

The disadvantage of cheaper steel posts is they tend to be slightly thicker than a gold ones would be. In addition, plastic earring posts tend to be slightly flimsy and break more easily than a traditional metal post.

Try the Nail Enamel Trick

There is an easy solution that enables you to wear cheap pierced earrings. I call it the nail varnish or nail enamel trick.

  • Before you insert your new earrings into your piercing, paint the posts with a couple of coats of clear nail enamel.
  • Make sure the varnish is fully dry before you wear the earrings. The nail enamel makes a barrier between the nickel post and your sensitive ear.
  • You will need to re-coat the earrings if you wear them more than a couple of times.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Vaseline

There is another way to make a barrier between your skin and the earring post. You need some hydrogen peroxide, vaseline and cotton wool balls. I don't like this method as much as the nail varnish trick. You need to reapply the vaseline every couple of hours for it to remain effective. My vote is for nail enamel every time. Take a look at the video below and see what you think.

Craft Tip for Sensitive Ears

Chronic Sensitivity and Types of Earring Post

Type
Pros
Cons
Nickel
Cheap
"Nickel itch"
Gold, Platinum, Silver
Allergic reaction rare
Expensive
Titanium
Cheaper than "noble" metals, allergic reaction rare
Limited choice
Plastic
Cheap, allergic reaction rare
Breaks easily
Surgical Steel
Hardwearing, allergic reaction rare
Thicker and less delicate
Nail enamel "trick"
Cheap
Labor intensive

Are Rubber Backs Good To Use For Sensitive Ears?

Rubber and plastic earring backs are cheap to buy and are often used for DIY jewelry. However, if you are using them to replace a lost earring back, be careful as they may not fit as well as the original, and you could lose your earring because of this. It is always better to replace a gold or silver back with similar if you can afford to do so.

Plastic and rubber backs may not suit everyone as some people are hyper-sensitive to these materials. Test your sensitivity by wearing them for an hour or two first, before selecting them for day-long wearing.

Having sensitive pierced ears or contact dermatitis on your ears is very common. However, there's no need to let it limit your choice of earrings if you follow the tips given in this article.

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