How to Care for a Helix or Forward Helix Piercing
This article discusses helix and forward helix ear piercings. A helix piercing is most commonly called the "top ear" piercing or the "ear cartilage," and the forward helix is the small piece of skin at the very front of the helix that attaches the ear and the temple together. The forward helix is also a cartilage piercing—you can see images of this below.
In this article, I'll discuss:
- Frequently asked questions about these kinds of piercings
- What to expect when you get your ear pierced
- How to take care of your piercing afterwards
- Danger signs of an infected ear
- Common myths about cartilage piercings
What You Need to Know Before Getting Your Piercing
Here are some of the most common questions that people have before they get a new piercing.
How Painful Is It?
I've had both my helix and my forward helix pierced. I'd rate the helix piercing as a 2 on a pain scale that goes from 1 - 10, with 10 being the most painful. The forward helix was a 7. This is because the helix is less sensitive, easier to pierce and very straightforward whereas the forward helix can be difficult to get to, fiddly, and far more sensitive. However, the discomfort does not last for very long.
Where Can I Get My Piercing Done?
You can get a standard or forward helix done in almost any piercing studio. You should choose one that has been around for a long time, has quality and professional piercers, is carrying a full government license, and has good reviews. You should shop around and ask as many questions as you need until you find a place that clicks with you.
IMPORTANT: Do not base your choice on price. Some places charge more and some charge less, but 99.9% of the time, the place that charges more will give you better service and a better piercing. They also use higher grade equipment. Don't skimp on price. Your health is worth it.
How Old Do You Have to Be to Get One or Both of Them?
This depends entirely on the studio. Most places in the UK will pierce a helix from the age of 12-14 with parental consent if you are under the age of 16. Consent can be provided with a land line call or by having the person come in with you.
If they suspect you are underage or giving them false information, they will refuse to pierce. It's a good idea to phone ahead and check with wherever you're planning on going.
How Do They Pierce It?
Cartilage piercings should only be done with a needle. They should NEVER be performed with a gun. If somewhere is piercing cartilage (including the nose or anywhere else) with a gun, they should be reported as this is not only illegal but potentially dangerous.
The gun cannot be sterilised as well as a brand new needle under autoclave, and a gun can also cause permanent damage to the ear as it can shatter your cartilage, causing the ear to collapse or become deformed.
A good piercing studio will pierce your ear with a needle and a small tube. For a forward helix, they will clamp the area first, slide the needle through, and put the jewellery into the tube thread, sliding it in and screwing the ball on tightly so it doesn't fall out. The piercer should mark the dot on your ear and allow you to check the position before they pierce you.
What Jewellery Will They Use?
For a standard helix piercing, the piercer will use a stud very similar to what is commonly used to pierce earlobes. It will nearly always be titanium since it is the least reactive metal (though some may use surgical steel). The jewellery will also have a very tight back on it to keep it from falling out.
Some places may also pierce with a ring. However, this is more likely to cause problems and discomfort. It may also cost extra.
A forward helix will be pierced with either a 1.2mm curved barbell (aka an eyebrow bar) or a 1.2mm labret stud. Either is a good option, and for both piercings you will be able to choose which piece of jewellery you would like.
Below, I'll discuss aftercare, what to expect during the piercing, complications, and the do's and don'ts of your new piercing.
What Should I Expect During the Piercing?
In a fully licensed studio, you should expect nothing but friendly, professional service and a sterile environment. You can ask to see proof of anything if that would make you feel more comfortable. You can even ask to see the equipment and how they clean their tools before they use them if you'd like.
After signing your consent form and choosing your jewellery, you will be taken into a small cubicle or private room for the piercer to set up. They will put on clean gloves, sterilise the jewellery, and take out the already sterile equipment. They will clean the area around the piercing, often with an alcoholic wipe. You will be asked to sit down while they mark the dot for you and allow you to check the position.
Most piercers will not pierce you until you allow them, since the more relaxed you are, the less it will hurt. Some may allow you to lie down during the procedure if you feel more comfortable doing so. Please let your piercer know of any allergies, if you are on medication, unwell, or prone to fainting or dizzy spells. They will talk you through each step and pierce you as gently and as quickly as possible.
Once the piercing is done, they will talk you through aftercare, make sure you are okay, and allow you to check out your new piercing in the mirror before you leave. Many sell a special aftercare solution which is much better than anything you could buy at a regular store and it often comes free with the piercing.
Video: A Triple Forward Helix Piercing
Helix Piercing Aftercare
Once you've had your piercing done, it's important to take proper care of it.
Do not touch the piercing at all and do not allow anyone else to touch it either. Touching a piercing, especially with unwashed hands, can contaminate it which could cause infection or other problems. If you must touch a fresh piercing, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands in warm water and soap for two minutes and do not allow your hands to come into contact with anything else before you touch it.
Cleaning the Piercing
You should clean the fresh wound several hours after it is pierced, before you go to bed at night. Use the piercing liquid they gave you and do not use any form of cream, peroxide, or anything else that has been used by another person. Creams can cause bacteria to build-up and clog the piercing, possibly leading to infection. Peroxide is too strong for most piercings and can prolong the healing process, cause a lot of pain, swelling, or even blistering of the skin.
You can buy a special cleaner in most studios or online. Many of them consist of saline with tea tree oil. Clean the piercing one or two times per day and leave it alone as much as possible.
Changing the Jewellery
Ideally you should not change your jewellery for at least eight weeks after getting the piercing, because it is an open wound and needs a chance to heal properly. The backs on new earrings can be very stiff and getting them off can put a lot of stress on a new piercing.
Cartilage piercings are known to take up to two years or more to heal fully, but most are ready to be changed after two to four months. The longer you leave it, the better it will be. You should ask your piercer for their advice, and you can even return to see if they can change a piercing for you or if the piercing is ready to be changed or not. Some piercings can close up within seconds of being removed, and it is always a good idea to be sure the back is very secure.
What Is Normal After Getting a New Piercing?
Your new piercing is a wound, and it will swell up due to the aggravation. Because this is very normal, your piercer will use a longer bar or larger ring to allow for proper swelling.
A small amount of redness may be present for a few hours after a piercing is done. It should go away on its own by the second day.
Especially with a cartilage piercing, there will be discomfort, pain, and sensitivity. You may find smiling or sleeping on that side to be painful. This is normal for the first few days. Your cartilage is a very sensitive area and will cause more discomfort than an earlobe piercing.
Feeling "Run Down"
This is a very common feeling after most piercings. This is because your body sees the piercing as a foreign object and will send out its troops (the immune system) to fight it. Don't worry, your piercing will stay intact and your body will heal around it. Common symptoms are tiredness, feeling run-down, feeling a little warm, a sore throat, or swollen glands.
A small amount of itching is normal during the healing process.
Signs Something Is Wrong With Your New Piercing
- Swelling that gets worse.
If the longer bar becomes embedded, or swelling increases after the third or fourth day of your new piercing, then something might be wrong.
Any redness without the piercing being snagged, rubbed, or freshly pierced is not normal.
If the skin around the piercing increases in temperature, becomes uncomfortable or is accompanied by swelling and redness, then this could be a sign of allergic reaction or early infection.
- Dark brown, green or dark yellow pus.
While it is normal to have some white or very pale yellow pus leaking from a piercing, it is not normal to have anything of a darker colour, especially brown, since this is a sign of a bad infection.
- A bad smell.
If you can smell your ear piercing without taking it out, this is not a normal symptom.
- Fever, high temperature, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or flu symptoms.
These can be a sign of a severe infection and you should see a doctor or go to the hospital.
- "Migrating," or when the piercing moves from a normal location to somewhere else.
This is where the piercing may leave scar lines, be rejected, or just move anywhere from a small amount to a completely different spot. It can still heal normally but you should have a piercer check it out.
- Severe itching.
If your piercing is itching excessively or very badly, this can be a sign of an allergy to the metal or the cleaning solution used. Speak with your piercer.
A small amount of blood is common after a piercing with some people, however, if your piercing is bleeding without getting caught on anything or if it's bleeding a lot, you should speak to your piercer.
- Skin turning black.
Though in some piercings this can be a sign of bruising, piercings in the ears are different. In the ears, this can be a common symptom of a metal allergy, especially with surgical steel or anything that contains nickel.
- Blistering, scales or a rash around the area.
This is most commonly a sign of allergy or the use of peroxide.
Please be aware that many of the symptoms above can signal allergy, infection, or problems with cleaning. It is not healthy to over clean the piercing just as it is not healthy to be unhygienic with it. See more information on the do's and don'ts of a new piercing below.
If you have any concerns you should speak to a piercer right away.
If your piercing happens to be infected, DO NOT remove it as the hole can close, trapping the infection inside your body.
The Do's and Don'ts of Your New Piercing
- Clean your piercing every day for two to three weeks after having it done, since this is the primary healing stage.
- Keep the area around the piercing clean and free to the air. Air can help make a difference in the healing time. Avoid letting hair become entangled and try to wash long hair upside down over the side of the bath as this can help prevent irritation or snagging.
- Consult your piercer if you feel anything may be wrong.
- For your own health and safety, find a decent, reputable studio, and do plenty of research before you get anything pierced.
- Buy the correct aftercare solution.
- Listen to the advice of your piercer or your aftercare sheet.
- Submerge a new piercing in water, go swimming, or share any personal liquid items e.g. cleaning solution or towels. This can cause serious infection and damage the piercing. Your piercing is an open wound directly linked to your bloodstream.
- Touch or allow other people to touch your fresh piercing.
- Scratch, rub, soak, salt, pick, play with, or remove a new piercing since this can cause a lot of discomfort and problems.
- Put a fresh piercing in direct sunlight or in freezing cold air as this will cause pain and even excess swelling.
- Ignore professional advice.
- Use any form of peroxide, bleach, or cream on a fresh piercing.
- Allow a friend or someone to pierce you at home or in their home "studio," even if the equipment was labelled as sterile. Chances are it has only been washed with alcohol or boiled rather than properly sterilised. You can never be sure whether it is truly sterile or not, especially if it came through the post. Even if something has been cleaned beforehand, nowhere will be as clean as a professional, licensed studio.
Myth vs. Fact
- Myth #1: Piercings can damage your ears.
Fact: Piercings done correctly cannot and will not damage your ears. Some people have adverse reactions to piercings, but in general, migration or rejection in ear piercings is very uncommon and most can still have very good outcomes without losing the jewellery.
- Myth #2: All piercings get infected.
Fact: All piercings can become infected but if the piercing is done properly and cared for correctly it will not become infected.
- Myth #3: If you get an infection you should remove the piercing.
Fact: If you have an infection, removing the piercing is the worst thing you can do as it will trap the infection inside your body, potentially causing blood poisoning.
- Myth #4: You can go swimming or take a hot bath after having a piercing.
Fact: You should NOT go swimming until a piercing has been fully healed as chlorine and the filth in the water can cause a serious health risk. A hot bath is fine if the piercing is not submerged.
- Myth #5: It is okay to pierce the helix with a gun.
Fact: Piercing the helix with a gun can cause serious and permanent damage to the ear. It is also illegal.
- Myth #6: It is okay to change a cartilage piercing one month after getting it done.
Fact: While some people may be okay changing the piercing after a month, generally it's better to wait in order to prevent infection, rapid closure, pain, migration or swelling.
- Myth #7: A helix piercing isn't as serious as other piercings so it doesn't need to be treated as seriously.
Fact: A helix piercing should be treated just as seriously as anything else since it is still an open wound.
- Myth #8: You can do a piercing at home by yourself just as easily.
Fact: You should never attempt to pierce at home even with the "proper" equipment as you could end up with a serious infection or injury.
- Myth #9: You can't wash your hair after getting your helix pierced.
Fact: You can wash your hair like normal. However, you should be very careful. Washing hair upside down over a bath is much easier as it will cause less distress to the piercing.
- Myth #10: A helix piercing will cause agonising pain.
Fact: A helix or forward helix is very unlikely to cause much pain. If it does, there is usually an underlying cause.
- Myth #11: Infection is very common with helix piercings.
Fact: Infection is less common in ear piercings.
- Myth #12: The cheapest place is the best.
Fact: The cheapest place is rarely the best. You pay for quality.
- Myth #13: If you fake your age, the studio won't get in trouble because it's your fault.
Fact: Faking your age to get a piercing can not only be illegal, it can cause a piercer to lose their license and their studio. This is especially true with a more intimate piercing (which can be classified as a minor form of assault to a minor).