For some reasons, ear piercings have been part of human culture for thousands of years, and the practice of piercing ears has developed independently across different societies that had no contact with each other. In this article I go through everything you need to know (and maybe didn’t even know you did) about ear piercings, from the history and types of ear piercings, to important safety information and style dos and don’ts.
I was 22 when I finally had my ears pierced. This is pretty rare – most women have their ears pierced when they’re preteens, or even when they’re babies. When you totally remove yourself from the cultural necessity of earrings, the idea becomes odd. We… make holes in our ears? We put metal through them? Imagine being an alien, and trying to understand ear piercings. Imagine trying to explain this to an alien!
Nowadays, in the United States, around 83% of all people (both men and women) have had at least one of their ears pierced at some point in their life, and this number is likely only rising, as more men opt for pierced ears.
Below, you’ll learn all the details about ear piercings you should know. I’ve also compiled some of the most beautiful earrings available on the market right now, for once you do get those ear piercings done!
History of Ear Piercings
Ear piercings are one of the oldest forms of body modification, likely because the ear lobe is easy to pierce through, and the healing is fairly speedy. In 1991 the surprisingly well-preserved body of a many who lived approximately 5000 years ago was discovered in the mountains in the border between Austria and Italy.
This “mummy”, that was named Otzi, had his ears not just pierced, but also gauged (or “stretched”). This is the earliest proof we have of ear piercings, but it’s likely we have been piercing ears for much longer than the past 5000 years.
A few other famous ancient examples of ear piercings include: the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s death mask (as well as other mummies’ death masks), the Old Testaments are filled with mentions of people of both genders wearing earrings, and depictions of the Hindu gods also show them covered in jewelry, including earrings.
Mentions of earrings in Western Europe began in the late 16th century, during the English Renaissance. They were worn especially by men who spent their time in the royal court. Amongst sailors, wearing a single earring became popular, to represent their time sailing the world. Later on, in the West, earrings went on to be popularly worn by pretty much everyone.
At some point in the late 1800s, for unclear reasons, ear piercings had fallen out of style, and clip-ons became the standard ear jewelry choice for women. By this point, men in the US and Europe, for the most part, no longer wore decorations in their ears.
For about 70 years, while many women did still wear clip-ons, actual ear piercings had become a marker for foreignness and low birth, especially in the United States.
Then, in the 1950s, likely due to the post war boom, women started focusing on their appearance again, and ear piercings made a huge comeback. Teen girls, up until the ‘70s, even, would have ear piercing parties, where they would numb each others’ ears with ice and use needles to make holes. At some point at this time, as ear piercings gained popularity, doctors started performing the piercing procedure, since parents wanted a sterile environment.
However, the conservative environment at many schools led to the banning of the wearing of earrings, although that might have been due to their association with adulthood. Whereas in many cultures all throughout the world, girls would have their ears pierced not long after birth, in the United States so called “bad girls” would have to do it in secret.
This was a contentious enough topic that it even came up with Hillary Clinton, regarding her daughter, when her husband was campaigning for the presidency. At the time, Hillary Clinton did not yet have her ears pierced (although nowadays we are pretty sure that she does).
It was only in the ‘80s that the mall kiosks we know so well started popping up, as well, becoming the go-to place for most people to get their piercings done, but it was until the mid-90s that the taboo of ear piercings mostly disappeared.
Types of Ear Piercings
1. Lobe Piercing
This is the classic – simple holes in the lobes, from which you can wear anything from a tiny stud to big chandelier style jewels. There are a ton of different earring styles to choose from, and no one will ever bat an eye.
2. Double and Triple Lobe Piercing
These are equally as safe as regular lobe ear piercings, but they lend a bit of a punk edge to your lobe. Most people can’t fit more than three piercings on their lobe, before having to move up to the cartilage.
Double piercings are widely accepted nowadays, although some schools and workplaces still don’t accept them. Most commonly you will see studs or small hoops in the second and third holes.
Ear gauging is a unique take on lobe ear piercings – you progressively increase the size of your piercing by wearing increasingly thicker earrings. Just avoid going super thick, or you risk splitting your ear lobe.
Ear gauging has been done by different cultures for thousands of years, but nowadays it is most closely associated with alternative subcultures in Europe and the US, and some tribes from central and eastern Africa.
4. Helix (a.k.a. Cartilage) Piercing
After lobe piercings, these are the most popular. Most popularly done on the top part of the ear, they take longer to heal, but look really fun and a little Rock & Roll. A row of helix piercings, along with a row of lobe piercings can have a really beautiful flow.
5. Industrial Piercing
An industrial piercing refers to the metal barbell that goes through two parts of the ear’s cartilage – also normally done at the top of the ear.
6. Auricle Piercing
This is a type of cartilage piercing that is done in the center of the ear, rather than at the top. Since there is usually less space in that part of the ear, the earrings should be smaller, and the effect is much softer
7. Tragus Piercing
The tragus is an oval shaped piece of cartilage that juts out from the center of the ear, and piercing it has become quite popular in recent years. It is a painful piercing, although it doesn’t require any more healing time than your average helix piercing.
8. Anti-Tragus Piecing
The anti-tragus refers to the inner piece of cartilage on the opposite side from the tragus – for many people, there is not enough space jutting out to actually pierce it.
9. Conch Piercing
The conch is the large, curved expanse of cartilage in the ear, and piercing it requires a barbell or a fairly large hoop.
10. Outer Conch Piercing
Despite the name, this is technically a cartilage or helix piercing that is done a little further away from the edge of the ear.
11. Rook Piercing
This angled piercing is done at the thick fold of cartilage in the top inner part of the ear. It is quite painful, and requires a longer healing time than most ear piercings.
12. Snug Piercing
The snug piercing is done to the inner piece of cartilage that is not far from where an auricle piercing would be done.
13. Daith Piercing
The daith piercing is a bit complex – it is done between the rook and the ear canal, and is not easily visible.
14. Orbital Piercing
An orbital piercing is a bit like an industrial – one piece of jewelry, that goes through two parts of the cartilage. However, in this piercing the two holes are closer together, and the piece of jewelry is circular (or heart shaped).
15. Transverse Lobe Piercing
The transverse lobe piercing is one of the most unique ear piercings on this list. It is a barbel that goes through the lobe perpendicular to how a lobe piercing would normally go.
16. Forward Helix Piercing
The forward helix piercing is done at the front part of the cartilage, above the ear opening. Since the helix is so short and thin over there, these ear piercings look extra delicate and lovely.
A Few Considerations About Earring Placement
• If it’s your first time getting your ears pierced, definitely start with the lobe. It hurts the least, and heals the quickest. It’s a great way to learn how to take care of you ear piercings.
• If you are into a bit of a punk look, consider working your way up the lobe to the top of the helix, adding one ear piercing at a time. Taking care of one piercing per ear at a time is much easier and less risky than taking care of multiple piercings.
• Consider your job before adding new piercings – remember, for the first year you have to keep them in!
• Inner cartilage piercings like the conch, daith, snug, and rook, are awesomely unique, and show that you are a little rough around the ages. Expect a lot of criticism and annoying questions, especially from older or more conservative acquaintances and relatives.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Your Ears Pierced
There are ton of places that do ear piercings. Often, women prefer to take their children to have their ears pierced at jewelry shops, mall kiosks, or cutesy accessory shops (think Claire’s, where you can get your ears pierced for free). However, professional piercers who work at tattoo and piercing parlors frequently caution against it.
Jewelry shops and mall kiosks usually pierce ears with ear piercing guns, made, for the most part, of plastic components. These machines cannot be adequately sterilized, and the people performing these procedures are not trained anywhere near as thoroughly as professional piercers.
Overall, it is likely safest, regardless of whether it is you or your child going in for the ear piercings, to get it done at a piercing parlor. Yes, the environment might seem a little tougher, and it might seem more intimidating, but it’s a small price to pay to have a professional perform the procedure.
Depending on the type of ear piercings you choose and where you decide to get your ears pierced, it’ll cost you circa $10-$100 to get the piercing of your dreams. Ear piercing costs may vary depending on the popularity of the piercing studio, the city you live in and other factors.
The cheapest type of ear piercing you can go for is the standard lobe piercing and double piercing, which will cost you around $10-$25, while helix orbital piercing ($50-$80), tragus piercing (around $40), industrial piercing ($35-$80), conch piercing ($40-$70) and daith piercing (around $50) are some of the most expensive types of ear piercings you can consider.
Ear Piercing Safety Tips
Like any type of procedure or body modification, there are some risks associated with ear piercings. The safest of the ear piercing types are the lobe piercings, so that is likely the best place to start.
Some things to consider first:
Additionally, take into account any potential metal allergies. Many people are allergic to nickel (as well as white gold, which may contain a bit of nickel), while the metals best tolerated are surgical stainless steel, platinum, titanium, and 14-karat yellow gold. Since the fresh piercing is a wound, a potential allergy could cause a lot of problems – much more than with an older piercing.
One final tip: if you or your child are terrified of the (admittedly very mild) pain associated with ear piercings, consider using a numbing cream like Emla before having the procedure done.
After having your ears pierced, cleanliness is super important.
• Always wash your hands thoroughly (at least 15 seconds of scrubbing), before handling your new ear piercings.
• Soak your ears twice or three times a day with a saline solution. You can do so by saturating a cotton pad or gauze in saline solution, and holding it against your piercing for a few minutes.
• For lobe piercings, you want to stick to a cleansing regimen for at least 6 weeks.
• For cartilage and other more complex ear piercings, clean the ears twice a day for at least 12 weeks.
• Do not change your earrings for the duration of the cleaning period.
• For the first year, do not spend more than a few hours without earrings in your ears, or the holes may close.