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Everything About Ear Piercings

Updated on January 23, 2016
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Raye has many body mods, SFSI training, former CFR-D creds, and a decade-long stint as BellaOnline's body art editor, under her belt.

On Ears and Piercing

No one knows how the idea of decorating or piercing the ears first started, but different cultures all over the planet took up the practice. Ear piercing ranges from simple holes made to allow for thin wires that hold larger ear jewelry to enlarging the piercings and jewelry in imitation of traditional tribal practices of South Pacific and African cultures. In some cultures, ear piercing is done in infancy or childhood, and in others it is permitted alongside rites of passage or when a certain advancement towards or into adulthood happens.

With globalization, people have become aware of the many variations in ear piercing styles and practices and modern Western piercing fans now take influence and inspiration from within and outside their own cultures.

An Earring Collection

Many earrings featuring 2g, 4g and 6g piercings, plus lots of captive bead rings.
Many earrings featuring 2g, 4g and 6g piercings, plus lots of captive bead rings. | Source

Earring Poll

How many earrings do you have?

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Ear Piercing Locations

Ear piercings can go almost anyplace on the ear these days.
Ear piercings can go almost anyplace on the ear these days. | Source

Different Types of Ear Piercings

Now that mainstream piercing has moved well beyond the lower ear lobe, you can see a lot of different types of ear piercings in people's ear now. Here are some of the most popular.

  • Lobes - This area of softer tissue at the bottom of the ear is the most-commonly pierced area and the easier to heal. One variation you see now is stretched lobes, where the piercings have been enlarged to allow a much thicker gauge of jewelry.

  • Anti-tragus - It's still pretty rare, but a few folks have pierced this distinct piece of cartilage adjacent the tragus.

  • Tragus - this small chunk of cartilage is just forward of the opening of the ear and handles a piercing fairly well, however, it can be hard to heal for user's of ear bud-style ear phones.

  • Daith - The name for this unusually-placed piercing comes from the Hebrew word for “wisdom."

  • Conch - Piercing the shell of the ear can be complicated and requires advanced piercing/medical training.

  • Rook - This name specifically refers to piercings in this one particular ear ridge. People without this fold in their ears can't get this piercing.

  • Helix - Tends to refer to the rim piecings at the top of the ear. Piercing all along the ear rim has grown a lot in popularity in Western culture.

Jewelry Wire & Gauge Size Conversion Chart

Once upon a time, earrings were just whatever size earrings were... however with the rediscovery and popularity of large gauge ear piercings, earrings now come in LOTS of different sizes. The standard earrings that you buy with little wire loops, hooks or posts tend to be 20g-18g in size. The smaller the number, the larger the wire size. Once you get larger than 000g, earrings tend to be named using their English/standard measurements, i.e. 1/2", 3/4" etc.


Jewelry Gauge

Tunnels and Plugs

2g tunnel, 4g titanium plug, 2g plastic plug
2g tunnel, 4g titanium plug, 2g plastic plug | Source

Shrinking or Closing Ear Piercings

Reversing the process of ear piercing, that is to say reducing or closing a hole made in the ear, can sometimes be a tricky and/or costly process. For the most part, regular-sized ear piercings will just shrink and close if you stop wearing jewelry.

With enlarged piercings, how much the hole will shrink will depend on how big the holes were stretched, how long the body modification has existed and how elastic the individual's skin and ear tissue are. People with more elastic-like ear tissue sometimes find that larger piercings don't close down all the way or even stay fairly large.

Ear tissue is a bit different from other skin and tears or rips along the edges of the ear will not heal back together without being repaired by a plastic surgeon. So if an earring is accidentally torn out, or if you have very large stretched piercings, you may need to get medical attention if you wish to have your earlobe look much like it did before being pierced. For something like ear scalpelling, where a large chunk was cut out, plastic surgery with dermal reconstruction is the only course of action.

See A Tragus Piercing Being Done

See an Industrial Ear Piercing

Industrials and Orbits

An "industrial" piecing is in fact two piercings, placed and spaced in such a way that a single barbell can be worn going through both holes. Piercings can be done separately or at the same time, but lining up the distance and angle of the piercings for comfort and to reduce healing stress (so the jewelry isn't torqued) are key. When this same style of piercing is done so that a captured or fixed bead ring passes through both piercings, they are often called "orbits."

About the Pain of Ear Piercings

Please note, I can NOT answer questions about how much ear piercings might or might not hurt. Pain is "subjective" which means it seems different to each invididual person. Some people think ear piercings are painful, some don't think they are very painful at all.

If you are afraid it's going to hurt too much, DON'T GET PIERCED!

Be aware that taking aspirin will not make it hurt less, but it does thin the blood which WILL make you bleed a lot more.  The same thing happens when you are drunk.  Being intoxicated in any way during body modification procedures is an extremely bad idea.

Let's 'Ear From You!

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      Jessie 8 months ago

      I only have the normal one piercing on each ear but I want more. Which would be better, some more on my ears or one on my nose??

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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Josie, if it was me and my ear, I would not get pierced at Walmart unless the person doing the piercing could show me proof they went to piercing school and knew what they were doing. Also, at your age you will need a parent (your actual parent, not a friend's) to get pierced so maybe Mom or Dad can help you find a better place to get ear piercings.

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      Josie 4 years ago

      ok i got my ear pierced once one the lobe and im getting it done a second time and im kind of scared cause ive heard bad things when you get it done at walmart my friend is going to be there and shes getting her ears priced to is it a good idea to getmy ears pierced at walmart and should i make my friend go first btw i 9 my friend 7 so don't use fancy words lol

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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Eva, things like nerves and blood vessels can vary slightly in location from person to person. An experienced piercer will actually use a flashlight to examine and map the ear before deciding exactly where a piercing needs to be placed so that any interior anatomy that might be damaged is avoided. If your piercer doesn't know about doing this, go find one who does.

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      Eva 4 years ago

      Hey, I am planning to get my Helix pierced, however I've heard from a few people including my cousin who is a certified nurse that the Helix contains a nerve and if pierced will make a person blind. My cousin has handled a case like this before. Where is the exact location of the nerve and which area should I pierce because I plan to get 2 Helix piercings

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Anna, with that tear, your ear is back to square one of healing. You'll want to wait for that to heal up, and then let the ear settle and toughen up for a few months before you try stretching again. The name of that game is "how slow can you go?"

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      Anna 5 years ago

      Heyy, I need some advise, ive exspanded my right ear lobe with no problems to 12mm and i exspanded from a 10 to a 12 last night stupidly with a plug with a band on the back because i couldn't find my tapered 12. Taken it out this morning because it didn't feel right, it blead quite a lot and ive got a little rip at the bottom and i think part of my ear lobe was in the grove with the band and has cut into my ear pretty deep, ive put the ten back in and cleaned it is there anything else i should do or keep an eye out for?

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      akashera, ear piercings should NOT be done with staples of any kind (surgical or otherwise). That's most likely why you are having problems and you should take the piercing out and let it heal up, then get it redone properly.

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      akashera 5 years ago

      i gust got a staple the first couple days it was grate then it swelled up i feel like quazymotto i been putting ice on it but i don't feel any swelling leaving my situation im so irritable how do i get some swelling to leave me alone!

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      uH,,, Wash your ears, plain and simple. This means taking out the jewelry and washing inside the piercings. Dry them (cotton swabs work well) and clean off the jewelry before you put it back in.

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Link, those are called piercings in the upper rim of the ear.

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      Link 5 years ago

      I was wondering of you could help me identify the piercings o. The upper rim of the ear in this picture:

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      Tee 5 years ago

      i have 3 lobe piercings on each ear and i LOVE them! i soaked my ears in warm salt water & they healed perfectly!

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      raquel, if your body and mind are afraid, it means don't do it at this time. Wait, learn more about it, think about it and see if your opinion changes over time.

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      uH,,, 5 years ago

      How do I prevent my plugs from smelling like rotting corpse?

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      raquel 5 years ago

      I want to get my snug pierced, but Im kind of nervous about the pain. The man at the tattoo parlor said that it doesn't hurt any worse than getting your ragus pierced ( which didn't hurt for me ) . i really want to get it done, but now Im kinda afraid. :( Any advice?

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Lucy, I have sixteen ear piercings that go entirely all the way around the outside of one ear and no one ever said anything to me about "shattering" nor has anything like that happened. Cartilage piercings can be extremely tender to heal as the tissue is less flexible and the position of the piercings makes them easily snagged unless you take special care. Snagging them is very painful.

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      Lucy 5 years ago

      Hi, I want to get my cartilage pierced with a gun but loads of people have been saying it's a really bad idea for one of those reasons is that my cartilage would shatter.

      1: Is a definite that my cartilage would shatter?

      2: If so, would it be really painful and uncomfortable?

    • relache profile image

      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Kat, you're going to need to ask that question to a piercer who can see your ear.

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      Kat 5 years ago

      Hey, I have 2 ear piercings on my lobe, but i want a 3rd ear piercing. The only thing is i'm scared to get it on my cartilage so would a 3rd ear piercings fit on my lobe???

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