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Ear Lobe Piercings Beaten to Death

The Ear Lobe Piercing is by far the most common piercing in the world. It is represented in just about every culture in the world. This maybe because it has a high success rate or it could be that they just hang out there and beg to be adorned with shiny jewelry. So, you might be asking yourself why when there is so many piercing to choose from I decided to write a blog about them?

Well, it’s because a great deal of activities in modern life that have common place that we were don’t consider it’s importance. To many, especially with females, it has the act of getting your ears pierced has become a rite of passage. A way to display to the world that you are no longer a child but an adult. A marker in that confusing transformation that is the teenage years. For others it’s a symbol of their rebellion or a first step of claiming their own identity. For most of us it was the first time that metal pierced our body and permanently altered our body. A start of a long road of customizing and altering our body into our own vision of ourselves. Thus making ear lobe piercings one of the most important piercings of our lives.

History and Background:

Ear Lobe piercing seems to have been around as long as civilization. The Ötzi the Iceman's mummy has been dated back as 2,000 B.C not only had a number of tattoos but he’s earlobes were pierced with 2g to 000g jewelry. There’s is also evidences that both Persian and Egyptians pierced their lobes. In fact, one of the many treasures found in Tutankhamen’s tomb included earrings. The trend would continue during the Rome Empire into the modern age.

During the first part 20th century in America, the trend of wearing jewelry on ears became popular. However, good girls wore clip on jewelry instead of piercing their ears. In fact there was a great deal of prejudice against those with pierced ears. It was thought that only those of lower morals and classes pierced their ears. The idea was that it was barbaric and not civilized.  How much of this was due to there not being an easy or commercially available method, is unknown.

That began to change during the mid 1950s and 1960s as it became more acceptable for women to have pierced ears. Often done in a doctor's office but many department stores and beauty saloons began to hire registered nurses to come in a few times a month and pierce ears. This was done with a device that was a clamp with a cone shaped punch or with a needle. Since there was limited access to medical professional the tradition of “Piercing Parties” began in the 1950s and 1960s. Often involving a sewing needle, thread, piece of ice or a potato and some rubbing alcohol. Of course, this wasn’t the cleanest or safest method but the most common.

Modern Ear Piercing Devices or as they are often called, Ear Piercing Guns, began to be introduced into the retail beauty market in the late 1960s. Though the urban meth that I personally have quoted over and over, stated that the device was developed first for animal tagging, the fact is that many of those devices were either based off Edward Seyfarth 1880 patent for an ear piercing device or at least in parallel. The fact is that development of the modern device may have benefited from the cattle tagging devices but not come directly from it. They are more like cousins than parent and child.

With the wide introduction of the devices, the act of getting pierced by a medical professional or at a party by friends and relatives was replaced with a trip to the local mall. Making the act of getting your ears pierced, at least for female, less of a rebellious act and increasingly a common rite of passage for teenage girls. However, with the raise of the counterculture during the 1950s and 1960s increasingly men began to get their ear or ears pierced as a sign of their association with the counterculture to the point in the 1980s where getting the left ear was as common as women getting both ears pierced.

Why the Left Ear? For the most part it was believed that the left represented heterosexuality and the right homosexuality. No one is sure just where this started but maybe have something to do with the Gay S&M sub-culture uses of left for top and right for bottom. Whether this is the case or not, who knows. By the late 1990s and the raise of the Body Piercing industry, it became increasingly more common for men to pierce both ears. Also the trend of stretching the piercing to large sizes also wrongly called gauges became popular.

Ear Piercing Devices

This has been an ongoing struggle with the body piercing industry to educate the public to the dangers of ear piercing devices. Since most of the general public has been pierced with them and saw little or no problems, it’s been an uphill struggle partly because they are simply so common place. However even with modern cartridge style devices there is a number of Issues:

  1. Though the cartridge is the sterile before opening, the device itself is not. The act of touching the device and then opening the cartridge could lead to contamination. This is due largely to the fact that the device when used causes bodily fluid spray that collects on the device itself. Since there is no way to sterilize the device itself, there is a risk of transferring contaminants from the device to the cartridge.

  2. The lack of skill and education of the person operating the device. Since often the person operating the device has had no formal training in cross contamination, they don’t have the knowledge or habits to prevent spreading contaminates from one client to another.

  3. The piercing action of the device increases the chances of additional trauma, tearing of tissue and damage to the piercing. The devices are spring loaded and the piercing studs are not nearly as sharp as a piercing needle, thus they tend to rip and tear through the tissue instead of cutting through the tissue. This trauma can increasing healing time, inflammation and other issues during the healing of the piercings.

  4. The devices action cause bodily fluids to spray. Think of a kniffing like action, blood spray and what is around the piercing when it happens. Often this spray will come in contact with the device itself, the hands of the person doing the piercing and whatever is nearby. Now think about the surfaces in the area, the person who did the piercing and what they touched while they were getting ready to do the piercing. I once watch a young shop employee put on a pair of gloves and then rummage through a tube with a number of devices, picking up two or three of them before settling on the one to use. Then she helped a customer, rung them up, and then answered the phone. After all this while still wearing the same pair of gloves, she opened the cartridge, put it in the device, marked the piercing, handed the customer a hand mirror and then did the piercing. She touched at least 8 surfaces and didn’t wash her hands or change her gloves. Introduce Hepatitis C into that and I think you will understand my concern.

  5. The ear piercing studs are not only often dull but they are not long enough to allow space for the swelling that will occur. This can prolong healing and in the worse case cause the jewelry to become impacted into the tissue.

Piercing the Ear Lobes of Infants, Toddlers and Small Children:

A few years back I wrote a blog on why I will not pierce children called Piercing Infants And Small Children.

If you are a parent considering having your child pierced, I strongly suggest that you read it and make an educated decision. It seems in the last couple of decades it has become increasingly popular to pierce young girls, often toddlers and even infants. This brings up a number of issues that need to be considered.

  1. Safety - Regardless of whether you are going to a professional piercing or to the mall piercing hut, there is a high risk of contamination during the piercing then there is with teenagers and adults. This is due to the fact that young children are much more likely to move during the piercing or while the jewelry is being inserted into the piercing. Even a professional using a sterile piercing needle there is in an increased risk because they could puncture their skin during the piercing or while putting the jewelry in. With the professional method the piercing and jewelry insertion is done in two step which only increase the likelihood of the child to react to the pain. Though the piercing device isn’t the best option from the standpoint of the risk of directly exchanging bodily fluids, it is actually safer. However, if you read above it has it’s own mess of risks.

  2. Infection - Children are at a higher risk of infection because they don’t truly understand cross contamination. They tend to explore their world with their mouth and hands. Add a fresh new piercing or piercings into their life and understand that they will be playing with it non-stop with dirty hands. Also consider that it’s human nature to rub and touch areas of the body that are painful. Just think of how often you have to remind your child to wash their hands after using the restroom or before eating and just how well they do it. Now think about school, all the surfaces they touch, all the surfaces all the other children touch, and everything all of them touch and I think you get the idea.

  3. Responsibility - Healing an ear lobe piercing will take from 8 to 12 weeks to heal. During which the piercing will need to cleaned twice daily and the child will need to do soaks or compresses for 10 minutes twice daily. This is a bit of an adjustment for most adults but requiring a child to sit still for 10 minutes twice a day and then take two showers? This will need to be done for 2 to 3 months without break. Think about the last time you tried to get your child to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes. When my son was younger about 8 or 9, he asked if he could get his ear pierced. Just explaining what it would take to heal it, talked him completely out of it.

  4. Migration - The ear lobe grows rapidly as the body does and a piercing that is dead center on the lobe at say age 5, will not be in the same place at age 18. The lobe will grow away from the body. So, the piercing will often move downward.

  5. Child’s Understanding - I recently read on another studio’s site that a 5 year old has the capacity to understand that it is their choice. Yes, maybe but they have no understanding of the commitment to the piercing or whether or how these piercings might affect their future. I’m sure if you asked a 5 year old if they wanted a tattoo of Pokemon on their forehead, they would say, “Yes” but the adult version of them might not think it was so great. As parents part of our job is teaching our children how to make decisions and step in and say, “No” when they are making a bad one.

  6. Child’s Consent  - This is a huge one and as it has become increasingly popular to pierce female infants, I have to bring it up. There are a number of things that we would consider barbaric like female circumcision(and male circumcision), foot binding, lip stretching, nose flattening and countless other body alternating activities that are practiced in cultures around the world. Most of these have centuries of tradition behind them but does that make it right to force a infant or toddler to go through a painful procedure to change their appearance? Many of these were developed as tribal markings but often there was an underlying oppression involved that usually targeted females. In most of western civilization it has been established that earlobe piercings are part of being female. So. it brings up the question of whether piercing a child without their matured consent is in fact Forced Gender Assignment. A way to signify that they are in fact female. I came across this recently when I asked parents of an infant why they had pierced their in daughter's ears, they replied, “So, people would know she was a girl.”

Migration, Anatomy, Marking and Placement:

The Ear Lobe or lobulus auriculae is the loose tissue located at the bottom of the ear. There is a large blood supply in the area and it may help to regulate the blood temperature and keep the ears warm. Though there is no proof of this. It is also for many a sensitive area filled with nerve endings and an erogenous zone.

There are two general types of lobe:

  1. Unattached - The lobe is U shaped and hanging.

  2. Attached - The lobe is a triangle shape with the lobe connecting to the face at the front of the lobe.

Though it’s my experiencing that the lobe’s shape is vastly different from person to person. Often thin or thick and different is shape from the left and right ear. Other the years I have noticed that often in older people the tissue seems to separate and be less “meaty”.

The placement of the piercing really depends on the anatomy and what the client’s plans are for the future. I will usually ask if they are planning on just one or if they are wanting a grouping with a number of piercings. Then mark the placement based on whether they are planning on one or more. If it is just one, generally I will mark and place the piercing centered on the lobe about 1/4 to 5/16 of an inch above the bottom of the lobe. If they are planning on a number of piercings than I will place more toward the face.

When marking and placing on both ears, it can be a guessing game. This is because no one has two perfectly matched lobes. Also on a majority of people you can not see both lobes at the same time. So, the idea is to try to adjust each piercing, so it looks like it matches in placement based on the anatomy.

Ear Lobe piercing usually will not migrate but if the person is extremely young, the piercing may shift to toward the bottom of the ear as they get older. Also if the piercing is stretch the piercing seem lower on the lobe. This is why I will also ask the client if they are considering stretching the piercing and place the piercing higher if they are planning on increasing the gauge of the piercing.

Groupings:

It is not uncommon to have a grouping of 2 to 6 piercing in one ear lobe. It all comes down to whether there is space to do the piercings. I generally try to keep the piercings at least a 1/4 of an inch apart and follow the bottom edge of the lobe to adjust the location of the piercing. That way it follows the nature shape and flow of the body. Usually I will ask for the clients input because if they are wearing mostly stud style jewelry a straight line upward from the front might be more aesthetically pleasing.

Stretching:

I think it would be impossible to talk about Ear Lobe piercings without bring up stretching the piercings. If you would like to learn more about stretching piercings, I would suggest that you read my blog on the subject, Stretching.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to having large gauge jewelry in the belief that the thicker jewelry should be earned. Meaning that the thickness of the jewelry is increased over a period of time. For this reason I will scalpel or use a dermal punch. Not only do I feel the procedures are often beyond the expertise of the people doing them but it’s cheating. They also both cause a great deal more trauma to the piercing area and can lead to a reduced blood flow to the area.

If you take your time, listen to your body there is no reason that you couldn’t go from 10G to 0g or larger in 20 to 24 months. It might be seem like a long time but you will ended up with a much healthier and strong piercing in the long run. I would suggest bringing up your plans to stretch the piercing when you choose the jewelry.

Ear Piercings Never Close:

This is a wide spread belief that once they are pierced and heal, they will never close. However, once the jewelry is removed the body will shrink and compress the tissue until is can reconnect the tissue. When a piercing closes, it will connect the tissue in the center of the piercing and then begin filling in the hole moving outward. So, often the piercing will appear to be open when in fact it is not. 

Since most ear piercing studs are of a smaller gauge around 20g or thinner, it is easy to force the jewelry through the blockage in the center. Basically, re-piercing the piercing. That's why when you put jewelry back in a piercing after it's been empty for a while takes pressure and hurts. 

Now that said, larger gauge piercings that have been stretched may never close. The bench mark is 2g. When stretching lobes this should be considered because it will take plastic surgery to close the piercing.

Jewelry Size and Type:

The size of the jewelry should always be based on the anatomy of the client. Both the shape size and thickness of the area should be considered when choosing jewelry. Also their plans for the future.

There are issues that should be considered before choosing jewelry size and type:

  1. The thickness of the jewelry will either increase or decrease damage to the piercing in the future. Also a thicker gauge may increase the period of time the piercing can be left empty. It is a balancing act between a thickness that will not tear easily but you want the jewelry light enough to not add extra stress to the piercing during healing. Generally I like to pierce at 18g to 10g. With larger gauges, you are making a larger piercing which means that there is more blood vessels that are going to be cut or nick. Which means that the larger the gauge the more bleeding and the longer the bleeding will continue. Since there is more impact and trauma to the area with larger gauges, it means more inflammation and longer recovery time.

  2. The width needs to be wide enough to not only pass comfortably through the piercing without causing pressure on the piercing but to allow for inflammation and cleaning. Most people do not realized how much of a difference there is in the thickness of a person’s lobe. The standard is to have an 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch of extra space between the width of the piercing and the width of the jewelry. This is extremely important when the jewelry is a stud style piece of jewelry like a Labret Stud. With rings not only does the width need to allow for swelling but should hang freely for the lobe. If the ring is too small and tight to the bottom of the lobe this will add additional stress to the piercing that could lead to migration, prolonged healing, tearing and other issues.

  3. When picking the gauge of the jewelry there also needs to be a discussion about whether or not the piercing is going to be stretched in the future. Not only would piercing at a larger gauge speed up them getting to their goal but piercing at a small gauge and allowing the piercing to heal completely, can lead to a stronger piercing. A Stronger piercing will stretch much more easily without issues.

Jewelry Styles:

  • Captive Bead or Beaded Ring - A circular ring with a fixed bead or ball or a bead or ball that is held captive by the tension of the ring. For piercing and healing, depending on anatomy,  The ring’s width also needs to be wide enough to hang freely below the lobe. So for piercings that are higher on the lobe a Labret stud maybe a better option.

  • Labret Studs - A straight post with a flat disc on one side and threaded ball or end on each side. Another option is the threadless or pressure ends. With a fresh piercing the best option is the most simple design available. If the piercing is high on the lobe and would require a larger ring to fit around the bottom of the lobe, then a Labret Stud is your best option. I can't express enough to avoid ends that are large, shaped, have sharp edges or anything that hangs off the jewelry. Even after the piercing has healed "Novelty" style barbells can cause a nicely healed piercing to have issues.  Here's some styles that should be avoided:

    1. Shaped charms or settings - Since Implant Grade Steel and Titanium can be very difficult and expensive to mold into shaped objects and polish. So even if the packaging states that the jewelry is made of a body friendly material, they are only talking about the post. These settings and charms are often made of substandard materials and then attached to the post. It is common to find the charms and settings are made of Chrome Plated Plastic, Pot Metal, Silver, Pewter, Bronze, Copper, Cadmium, Chromium and Tin. Some of these materials are toxic and others can lead to reactions, infections or other problems. Understand there are better manufactures like Anatometal that do make shaped objects and settings in Titanium, Implant Grade Steel and Gold but you are not going to find them at the department store or the "Alternative" shop at the mall. Also the price will be higher to reflect the skill and craftsmanship that went into manufacturing the jewelry.

    2. Dangling Charms - Often the chain and charms are made of substandard or materials that are not body friendly but the real issue is that they act like a boat anchor. Dangles as they are often called will catch on just about everything they come in contact with increasing the risks of damaging the piercing.

  • Circular Barbells - A circular shaped horseshoe with two threaded ends. Can be used during healing and after the piercing is healed with one main concern, weight. Since the ends add additional weight to the jewelry it can increase the risks of migration. Has the advantages and disadvantages of a Captive Bead Ring but with the insecurity of threaded ends..

  • Ear Piercing Studs - Though many of us, including myself have healed out piercings using Studs, they are not the best option for a fresh piercing, There are a number of reasons for this:

    1. They are is no standard for “starter studs” they range in gauge from 24g to 16g. This can be an issue because if the gauge is too small there is an increased risk of the piercing tearing or causing damage to the piercing if it caught on something. In fact thinner gauges can rip through the ear like a cheese cutter.

    2. Even those labeled as “hypoallergenic”, which by the way is a marketing term with no standards, are often plated jewelry, With the amount of pressure that the body puts the metal under during healing and even after, it can cause the plating to wear and chip. The undercoating is usually not a material that is body friendly.

    3. The closer of the jewelry often tightens causing the jewelry to become too tight which can cause it to impact or dig into the piercing. This can also prolong healing and cause other issues by blocking discharge and the flow of oxygen to the piercing.

    4. The length or width of the jewelry is one size fit all and as I mentioned above, the lobe comes in a variety of thicknesses. Often the jewelry is far too tight.

    5. After healing usually it is not an issue to wearing studs in the piercing. Understand that since the body will always conform to the thickness of the jewelry, the piercing may shrink and be more prone to closing. The smaller the hole the faster it will close.

For more detailed information on what Jewelry to buy go to my blog Post Healing Jewelry Guide

Procedure:

I always do the piercing Free Hand. Forceps are really unneeded. Though some piercers believe that it makes lining up the piercings much easier, I have experienced that it tends to distort the area and increase risk of the piercing not being straight through.

The Procedure:

  • Consultation and paper work.

  • Evaluating the piercee's anatomy to insure that the piercing can be done safely and to size the jewelry.

  • Setup

  • Disinfecting the piercing area with a surgical scrub

  • Marking the piercing

  • Reclining the piercee and place a cork loosely against the back of the lobe taking care to adjust the align of the piercing so that it is straight through and not at an angle.

  • Lining up the needle and distract the piercee.

  • Injecting the piercing needle through the piercing area and into a piece of cork.

  • Insert and closing the jewelry

    • With rings and circular jewelry, the jewelry simply follows the needle into the piercing.

    • With Labret piercings: The needle is pushed out by a taper pin. The tip of the taper pin is inserted into the labret stud on the back side of the lobe and then the jewelry is inserted through the back.

  • Stopping any bleeding and cleaning up the piercing area.

Hassles and Aftercare:

Though they heal rather quickly healing in two to three months, during the first couple of weeks they are prone to discoloration, redness, tenderness to the touch, bleeding, redness and swelling.

Basic aftercare will involve hot soaks or hot compresses with warm water and sea salt twice a day and cleaning the piercing in the shower twice daily. Also you will need to take steps to reduce the likelihood of cross contamination. For more details go to Basic Aftercare Instructions.

Somethings to consider before getting the piercing especially if you are getting both lobes done. If it is an issue you may want to consider doing one side at a time:

  • You can not sleep on the piercing. If you must sleep on that side of your head, you can build a nest to elevate it off the bedding.  Take a clean soft bath towel, roll it up and then place it on the bed in the shape of a donut or nest. I’ve also had clients that have used hemorrhoid pillows and the U shaped neck pillows.

  • You want to avoid contact with telephones. Yes, this does include your own personal mobile phone. If you never want to put the thing near your mouth again, read this article. This means that your phone and your new piercing or piercings need to stay away from each other for at least 10 weeks. Either plan on using earbuds, speaker phone or texting everyone.

Pain:

The piercing is not that painful. You will experience throbbing and aching for about 20 to 30 minutes after the piercing is done. Then there will be tenderness to the touch for about 2 weeks.

Risks & Concerns:

Earlobe piercings are one of the common piercings in the world. The area is blood rich and not prone to infection or other problems. However, the piercings need to be babied during the healing period. Sleeping on the piercing or piercings should be avoided and any other stress on the area. Also you will need to avoid contact with phones until the piercing or piercings are healed.

Conclusion:

Ear Lobe Piercing can be one of the easiest piercing to heal out with a long track record of healing quickly and easily without issues. Though having the correct jewelry and method of piercing is important. Lobe piercings are one of the easiest piercings to stretch if you give them time. Also they are one of the least painful and socially acceptable piercing to have.

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