What to Know Before You Get Your Cartilage Pierced

I recently got a double helix piercing, and I absolutely adore it. Though I’d thought about the placement and timing of my piercing a lot before getting it, I found there was still a lot I didn’t know about the process. The young woman who helped me (at Body Piercings by Tracy in Oceanside, CA who did a fantastic job)  told me something that has stuck with me ever since: Ears are a project. She was completely right, though I didn’t totally understand how right until I had a cartilage piercing to take care of. So here are some key things to keep in mind as you prepare to get your cartilage pierced.

Go to a pro.

For my three lower lobe piercings I went to a tattoo and piercing shop. They did a great job, but the next few piercings I was interested in seemed like a bit more of an undertaking to me, so I sought out an even more specialized piercer to make sure I was doing everything right. (You could totally get it done at a tattoo and piercing shop, though.) I’ve learned it’s super important to find the right place to get your piercings done. There are a few things you should look for in a good piercing shop: cleanliness, expertise, pictures of their work (in the shop and on social media), and customer reviews. They should not be using a piercing gun - generally professionals won’t even use these for the lower lobe piercings. It may sound less scary than a needle, but the gun will be way more traumatic for your body (and less sterile) than a needle designed to be used for a piercing. A few positive things stuck out to me when I went to get mine done that gave me an overall very good vibe about the shop. It was observably clean, they spent plenty of time discussing the piercings I wanted with me, had very knowledgeable staff who made sure I had all the info, and made sure I knew that cartilage piercings are a long process from initial piercing to total healing. Spend some time chatting with your piercer to make sure that they prioritize you and your experience. The price tag will be higher in a professional shop but, when it comes to your body, it’s worth it. Think about how much research you would do if you were trying to find a place to get a tattoo – it should be a similar search process.

Ask what their jewelry is made of.

Make sure you (and your piercer!) know what material the jewelry they will use is made of. Surgical steel, gold, and titanium are most common. Note that while surgical steel is common, it contains nickel, which some people are allergic to. You can read more about this here.  

You might not get to use the jewelry you want to right away.

I was surprised to find out that there were some parameters that the jewelry I wore had to meet while my piercings were healing. The shop where I went only pierces cartilage with a certain gauge needle (which was much thicker than I expected). The post of my earrings is also longer than usual. This is because the area has a large tendency to swell. Larger gauge earrings are more stable for healing, while smaller gauge earrings introduce greater potential for the piercing to migrate or to be rejected by the body, both of which require removal and a new piercing (seriously, go to a professional). Find more info on this here or wherever you get your piercing.  

It doesn’t hurt as much as you think!

I heard from a ton of people how painful it is to get this kind of piercing, and I was super nervous when I went to get it done. When my piercer finished my first piercing, I was shocked at how little it hurt. She totally knew what she was doing, did it fast, and it hurt only a little more than getting my earlobe pierced. Most of the horror stories you hear are likely the result of a job poorly done. This is another huge perk of getting all piercings done professionally.

Healing is a long and high-maintenance process.

There are a ton of aftercare things to keep in mind when you go to get your cartilage pierced. It takes 3-6 months for one piercing to become stable. At this point, you can switch out your jewelry for a smaller gauge, shorter post, or different style. I would definitely go back to your piercer first to consult if the piercing is ready and even have them make this delicate first switch for you. It is only considered 100% healed when a full year has passed – during which you’ve had no issues with your piercing. You won’t be able to sleep on it until it’s fully healed. The more piercings you get in one sitting, the longer it will take to heal. In fact, the shop I went to will only do three piercings in one sitting max. You won’t be able to swim for a few weeks, so plan your piercing accordingly.

You’ll have to clean them daily. Here are the instructions they gave me. Different piercers usually give slightly different cleaning instructions. I was instructed to soak my piercing 2-3 times daily and wash it with a fragrance free (she recommended liquid gold Dial) soap for the first three months and continue soaking and washing once a day until it was stable after that. The piercing will probably swell and discharge some gunk, especially early in healing. That’s fine, but if it gets extensive or even just abnormal, don’t be afraid to have your piercer take a look at it. If they’re a pro, they have the experience to tell you what your next steps should be. You shouldn’t touch your piercings except to clean them, which should be done with clean hands. Touching them superfluously increase chances of damage, infection, improper healing, and piercing rejection. You also don’t want other soaps, like your shampoo, to get into your piercing, so be sure to rinse it thoroughly at the end of every shower.  

My last friendly encouragement to go to a professional.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, take it from Beyonce’s personal piercer. Or the Association of Profesional Piercers.  

It’s kind of addictive.

Once you start getting piercings, you’re probably going to want to keep getting them, on your ears or elsewhere. Whether you like them simple and delicate or numerous and flashy, it’s really fun to personalize your piercings. My ears have seriously become my favorite project. (See my progress below!)

 

 

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Images 1, 2 (provided by author)