How to Choose Earrings for Sensitive Pierced Ears

Updated on September 28, 2019
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Scientist and author, Beth writes on a wide variety of subjects.

Gold Fringe Ear Cuff and a Rook Piercing.
Gold Fringe Ear Cuff and a Rook Piercing. | Source

What Are Hypoallergenic Earrings?

If you get itchy or irritated areas around your piercings when you wear earrings you need to be careful when choosing earrings. The material the earring post is made from is reacting with your sensitive skin. Once you understand the cause of your allergic reaction, you can choose earrings that don't cause itching and swelling.

The term "hypoallergenic" means the material used is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than one not labelled hypoallergenic. However, there is no standard a manufacturer has to meet to use this label. So do not assume a product labelled hypoallergenic is allergy-free. Instead, look for specific materials such as 14k gold or surgical steel as these are less likely to have skin-irritating metals in them.

Hypoallergenic usually means there is no nickel on the outer surface of the earring’s post. However, 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.

The Best Types of Materials for Earring Posts

Type
Pros
Cons
Gold, Platinum, Silver
Allergic reaction rare
Expensive but high-quality
Titanium
Cheaper than "noble" metals, allergic reaction rare
Limited choice
Plastic, Acrylic, and Silicone
Cheap, allergic reaction rare
Break easily
Surgical Steel
Hard-wearing and allergic reactions are rare
Thicker and less delicate
Nail polish "trick"
Cheap
Labor intensive
Glass
Rarely causes allergic reactions
Can be hard to find smaller sizes with glass post

Gold, Sterling Silver, Platinum, and Titanium

An allergic reaction to 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 and very few people suffer allergic reactions to it.

14 karat Gold

There are different levels of gold. You should aim for something around 14 karats. Twenty-four karat gold is sometimes too soft for jewelry. "Gold plated" is not the same thing as solid gold. A gold-plated item's gold will wear or rub away after frequent use, revealing a lower-quality material below that you're possibly allergic to.

Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is an alloy comprised of at least 92.5% silver and some other metal such as nickel or copper. It is much cheaper than gold but easily tarnishes and so needs to be polished regularly to prevent surface oxidization.

Platinum

Platinum is a rare and expensive metal. It is hard-wearing and very few people have an allergic reaction to it.

Titanium

Titanium is also considered a non-allergenic metal as only about 4% of the population react to it. It is also known for its resistance to corrosion.

Other Hypoallergenic Materials For Earring Posts

Surgical Steel

The term "surgical steel" refers to a wide variety of corrosion-resistant steels. It's a great mid-priced option for those with sensitive ears. I wear a pair of these gemmed studs to sleep as they do not irritate my pierced ears and are very comfortable.

Plastic, Silicone, or Acrylic

Earring posts made from plastic, silicone, or acrylic are very cheap to buy. However, they also have little strength and so these type of posts break easily.

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Reduce 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 does not become infected. Maintain cleanliness and good hygiene and your piercing should remain trouble-free. When you have a new piercing, wipe or spray it with a saline solution like H2Ocean Piercing Aftercare Spray at least once a day. I find this helps prevent infection of the pierced area.

Acute or short-term sensitivity at your piercing site is usually the result of a localised infection. 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, seek medical advice as you may need to take antibiotics.

How to Prevent an Ear Piercing Infection

Chronic or Long-Term Skin Sensitivity

Chronic or long-term sensitivity when wearing earrings is a type of contact dermatitis. It 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 earrings and jewelry. One way to prevent the itch is to wear earrings that have posts made of a non-nickel 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.

Try the Clear Nail Polish Trick

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

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

What Should I Know Before Getting My Ears Pierced?

  • Make any decision about getting a piercing when you are sober.
  • Do not try to pierce yourself—even if it's "just" your ears. Go to a licensed piercing professional. Do not get a piercing, including your ears, at any place that uses a piercing gun. Go to a professional tattoo shop or a piercing parlor. Look for a piercer who is part of the APP (Association of Professional Piercers).
  • Always keep the wound clean. You will usually be given some saline spray to keep it clean. If you experience excessive bleeding, pain, or swelling to the pierced area, you should have the wound checked by a medical doctor or nurse.
  • Sleeper earrings are temporary jewelry pieces that hold the piercing open until the skin heals.
  • If you know you have an allergy to a certain type of metal or plastic, tell your piercer ahead of time so that they can help match you with the best jewelry.

Get your ears pierced by a professional.
Get your ears pierced by a professional. | Source

Have Your Ears Pierced by a Professional (Not a Mall Shop)

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.

You do not want to get your ears, or any other part of your body for that matter, pierced at a location that uses a piercing gun, such as a shop in the mall. Piercing guns cannot be sanitized. That means you could potentially be put in direct contact with bio materials (including blood) from the person the gun was used on before you. Instead, you should go to a professional piercing parlor or a tattoo shop. If you live in the US, look for a piercer who is part of the Association of Professional Piercers. They have strict guidelines and quality standards that must be met before someone can join.

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.

What Material Is NOT Good for Sensitive Pierced Ears?

Nickel

Most metal allergies are caused by nickel. So avoid this whenever you can if your ears are sensitive. It is often used to strengthen expensive and malleable metals, like silver and gold. Even if you're buying expensive jewelry, make sure the post (the part that goes in your ear) is also made of the material you're looking for.

For instance, you might find a nice set of seemingly gold earrings, but they may be either gold-plated on nickel or the post itself is made of nickel. This means the earrings might not be good for your sensitive ears because nickel will be in contact with your pierced skin.

The positions of earrings on a human ear. 1 = Helix 2 = Industrial 3 = Rook 4 = Daith 5 = Tragus 6 = Snug 7 = Conch 8 = Anti-Tragus 9 = Lobe
The positions of earrings on a human ear. 1 = Helix 2 = Industrial 3 = Rook 4 = Daith 5 = Tragus 6 = Snug 7 = Conch 8 = Anti-Tragus 9 = Lobe | Source

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 a similar one 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 is very common. However, there is no need to let it limit your choice of earrings if you follow the tips given in this article.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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