How to Choose Earrings for Sensitive Pierced Ears

Updated on November 10, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

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

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. Instead, look for specific materials such as 14k gold or surgical steel that is less likely to have skin-irritating metals in them. A label claiming that earrings are hypoallergenic may be misleading, although they can work well for many people with sensitive pierced ears.

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. Detailed below are some options.

Some of the options for hypoallergenic earring posts.
Some of the options for hypoallergenic earring posts. | Source

What Are the Best Hypoallergenic Materials That Are Good for Sensitive Ears?

The term "hypoallergenic" is not regulated by any governing body. That means that hypoallergenic does not always mean something is nickel free. Therefore, you should look for specific materials, rather than the hypoallergenic label. These metals have a low-allergy rate, but some people may still have allergic reactions to them. So you may have to try a couple before you find a material that works for you.

Pure Gold, Sterling 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. Here are a few things you want to pay attention to when selecting each type of metal.

  • 14kt Gold: Not surprisingly, there are different "levels" of gold. You want 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 could wear or rub away after frequent use, revealing a lower-quality material below that you're possibly allergic to. A lower-quality gold could be mixed with something that you are allergic to as well. You also want to ensure that the post that goes into your ear is made of gold (or some other material like steel that you are not 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. "Fine silver" is 99.9% pure silver and is also typically too soft for jewelry.
  • Platinum: Platinum is a rare and expensive element found in the earth. It is notable for its remarkable resistance to corrosion.
  • Titanium: Titanium is also considered a nonallergenic metal as only about 4% of the population is allergic to it. It is also known for its resistance to corrosion.

Plastic, Silicone, or Acrylic

The great thing about materials made out of plastic, silicone, or acrylic is that they are inexpensive. Some people are allergic to most metals and one of these polymers might do the trick. Plastic, silicone, and acrylic all loosely refer to broad categories of malleable polymers. Plastic and acrylic tend to be more rigid than silicone.

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. Since "surgical steel" refers to a large number of alloys, it's important to note that some varieties do contain 8-12% nickel (and yet, somehow, surgical steel won't irritate some peoples' skin). Surgical steel need not be expensive. I often wear a pair of these gemmed studs to sleep because they are so comfortable.

Niobium

Niobium, like titanium and platinum, is a chemical element. It is known as a hypoallergenic element and is frequently used in medical implants and jewelry. It can be anodized, meaning that it comes in some eye-catching brilliant colors.

The Best Types of Materials for Sensitive Ears

Type
Pros
Cons
Gold, Platinum, Silver
Allergic reaction rare
Expensive for high-quality product
Titanium
Cheaper than "noble" metals, allergic reaction rare
Limited choice
Plastic, Acrylic, and Silicone
Cheap, allergic reaction rare
Breaks easily
Surgical Steel
Hardwearing, allergic reaction rare
Thicker and less delicate
Niobium
Rarely causes allergic reactions
Can be difficult to find; options might be limited
Nail polish "trick"
Cheap
Labor intensive
Stone
Allergic reaction rare; hard; can get eye-catching colors
Can be hard to find a small size with stone post
Glass
Rarely causes allergic reactions
Can be hard to find smaller sizes with glass post

What Materials Are NOT Good for Sensitive 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, ensure that the post (the part that goes in your ear) is also made of the material that you're looking for. For instance, you might find a very nice set of gold earrings--but they may be either nickel-plated or the post itself made be made of nickel, meaning the earrings might not be good for your sensitive ears because the nickel part is what will be in your ear.

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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.

Hoops, studs, and clasps; earrings come in many shapes and sizes.
Hoops, studs, and clasps; earrings come in many shapes and sizes. | Source

Reduce Pain and Inflammation Due to Sensitive Skin

To help ensure your piercing does not become itchy or infected, you should clean it regularly. With proper care, your piercing will be trouble-free.

If you have sensitive skin, you may find that good hygiene is not enough. You might be allergic to your jewelry's materials. When you wear earrings, you might 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 do not cause sensitivity-induced itching and swelling.

Manage Bacterial Infections

Do not be tempted to scratch the itch as you can cause microscopic tears in your skin that could harbor infection. Acute or short-term sensitivity at your piercing site is usually caused by a bacterial infection. This may happen soon after a new piercing has been placed. 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. To help prevent infection, when you have a new piercing wound, wipe or spray it with a saline solution like H2Ocean Piercing Aftercare Spray at least once a day. Choosing hypoallergenic earrings can help reduce itchiness and redness, which can in turn help reduce the chances of an infection.

How to Prevent an Ear Piercing Infection

What About Hypoallergenic Materials for Stretched Ears?

Glass

Glass is a great alternative to metals and other organic materials if you have sensitive ears. Gorilla Glass is expensive, but it is not your only option as far as this particular material is concerned. Glass is nickel free! Much like with stone, it can be hard to find smaller sizes where the entire earring is made of glass (as opposed to the front portion and the post being made of different things). If this is the case, spirals are a great way to go.

Stone

If you have stretched ears and are allergic to the superabundance of acrylic and silicone earrings (often misnamed as "gauges"; "gauge" refers to the size of the earring, not the earring itself), stone can be alternative to consider. If you are allergic to acrylic, ensure the stone earrings you are looking at are made of actual stone and are not acrylic imitations. If your ears are stretched to a relatively small size (like 18g-4g), you might be hard-pressed to find single-flare earrings with a stone front and post. Finding double-flared earrings or saddle plugs should be easy enough. If you cannot wear double flares for some reason, spirals are a great option to look into.

Wood and Bone

One thing to keep in mind is that bone and wood are porous, so they can get stuck to your ears. It's important to periodically remove your earrings and clean them. You'll also want to check to see if the jewelry is sealed with something. The sealant may be irritating to your skin, if there is one. If the earrings aren't sealed with anything, you'll just want to be sure to take them out before taking a shower (which will also give you a chance to clean your ears out).

Steel, glass, and stone are great materials for stretched, sensitive ears.
Steel, glass, and stone are great materials for stretched, sensitive ears. | Source

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.

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. 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.

Earring for pierced ears should not cause pain or irritation.
Earring for pierced ears should not cause pain or irritation. | 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.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Cadentz Orbanus 

    4 months ago

    I thought that but then I had them re pierced and as soon as I put in an earring they bled. I’ll make sure I see me doctor though. And I will thank you.

  • Beth Eaglescliffe profile imageAUTHOR

    Beth Eaglescliffe 

    4 months ago from UK

    If your ears are bleeding when you insert an earring, it sounds like the original piercing has started to close up. You are breaking open the wound and it can easily get infected.

    You should see a nurse or doctor for advice on how to get it to heal properly. Then you can start over and get it re-pierced by a professional. When you get your nose pierced go somewhere you know is clean and has high hygiene standards. Make sure you are pierced by someone who has been properly trained.

  • profile image

    Cadentz Orbanus 

    4 months ago

    Okay so when I put certain metals in my ear the piercing bleeds. Will that be the same when I get my nose pierced?

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