What to Expect When Getting Your Ears Pierced

Ask yourself these questions before making an appointment

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Getting your ears pierced is a popular thing that can be done by medical and non-medical professionals. Earlobe piercings are most common, although other parts of the ear, including areas with cartilage, can be pierced as well.

Body piercings in the nose, belly button, and other areas are popular, too. Regardless of location, a new piercing needs to be performed and treated with care.

This article looks at how ear piercings are done, how to care for a new piercing, possible complications and things to consider before a piercing, and why getting your ears pierced shouldn't be a DIY project.

Close up of two earrings in a woman's ear
Achisatha Khamsuwan / Getty Images

How Are Ears Pierced?

You may or may not be given a local anesthetic or ice to numb the spot before the needle goes in. If you're worried about the pain, be sure to ask before you decide on a piercer.

Piercing techniques vary depending on where you get it done.

Ear Piercing Kits

Many jewelry stores and ear piercing professionals use commercial ear piercing kits. These generally include piercing "guns."

Ear-piercing guns hold a stud earring in one side and the earring back in the other. The process is simple:

  • The piercer puts your lobe (or other spot) between the two sides.
  • They pull the trigger.
  • The gun shoots the earring directly through your earlobe (or other location) and into the earring back.

One-Needle Technique

To use the one-needle technique, the piercer:

  • Inserts a hollow bore needle through the desired spot for the earring.
  • Then, they insert the post of an earring through the hollow bore of the needle.
  • Then they take the needle out, leaving the stud post in place, and put on the earring back.

Two-Needle Technique

To use the two-needle technique, a piercer:

  • Uses a smaller needle to make a hole in the desired area.
  • Then, they slip a larger, hollow needle over it in the opposite direction.
  • The smaller needle is removed and the post of the earring stud is inserted through the hollow bore of the remaining larger needle.
  • The needle is then withdrawn, leaving the stud post in place. The piercer then secures it with an earring back.

Caring for Newly Pierced Ears

Make sure to follow the instructions provided by your ear piercing professional.

Starter earrings need to be left in for several weeks in order for your piercing to heal without closing up the hole. The exact length of time may vary depending on what part of the ear is pierced.

You'll also need to clean the piercing with a sterile saline solution and rotate the earring to keep it from getting stuck.

Complications of Pierced Ears

A few complications can arise with a new piercing, even if you take good care of it. These can include:

  • Infection
  • Allergic reactions
  • Splitting earlobe(s)

Infection in Newly Pierced Ears

Your choice of piercer plus proper care at home can minimize your risk of infection. Symptoms of an infected piercing include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Discoloration (pink or red on light skin, darker patches on dark skin)
  • Crusting around the hole

Your piercing is going to cause some pain and inflammation no matter what. However, it should be minimal if you go to a qualified piercer.

Gete Immediate Medical Care When:

  • The piercing looks infected and you have a fever
  • Discoloration appears to be spreading
  • An upper ear piercing is red and swollen

Allergic Reactions in Newly Pierced Ears

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

contact dermatitis on ear lobe
Contact dermatitis on ear lobe.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

If you have a known metal allergy, check to make sure your starter earrings don't contain it. Stainless steel and sterling silver are generally safe choices.

Some people first develop or learn of a metal allergy after getting their ears pierced. A metal allergy is a form of contact dermatitis. It can lead to symptoms similar to those of an infection, including:

  • Discoloration
  • Itchiness
  • Burning sensations
  • Flaky, dry, crusty, or blistered skin
  • With ongoing contact, a rash on parts of the body that aren't directly exposed

With an allergy, though, symptoms won't clear up with antibiotic ointment. Also, if you get multiple piercings at once (such as in both ears), you're likely to develop an allergy in both or all places at the same time.

If you discover an allergy after having your ears pierced, take out the earring and see a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment. A dermatologist can do a skin patch test to see if you have a metal allergy.

The most common metal allergies involve nickel and cobalt. If you do have an allergy, you'll need to use jewelry and personal-care products that don't contain that metal (such as nickel-free earrings and razors.)

Not Life-Threatening

The good news is that a metal allergy won't cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening complication of some allergies.

Splitting Earlobe

If a piercing is too low on the earlobe(s), it may split out the tissue beneath the hole. That can lead to scarring.

Sometimes, this happens because the earlobes aren't symmetrical, so one piercing ends up too low in order to be even with the other one.

If your earlobes are significantly asymmetrical, mention it to your piercer. They may need to take extra care to make sure your earrings are level with each other without either one being too low.

Keloids (Large Scars)

Keloids are large scars that spill over the border of the area of trauma, often forming lumps. If you have a personal or family history of keloids, your risk of developing a large scar after getting your ears pierced increases.

Consider whether that kind of scar on your ear would bother you before you get the piercing. It's also a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

ear piercing keloid
Ear piercing keloid.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Where to Get Your Ears Pierced

Any piercing, no matter who administers it, poses certain risks. Common locations are:

  • Shopping mall kiosks
  • Jewelry and accessories stores
  • Piercing and tattoo studios
  • Dermatology offices

All of these locations are generally considered safe. However, if you have known problems that make piercing riskier for you (e.g., keloids, metal allergies, immune-system problems) you may want to consider having it done by a dermatologist.

Should You Pierce Your Ears at Home?

It's not a good idea to pierce your own ears or have a friend or family member do it for you.

You can purchase sterile needles, starter earrings, and ear piercing kits. However, without proper training and procedures, a DIY piercing increases your risk of complications like infection and splitting lobes.

So while it might be tempting to do your piercing at home, it's best to involve a professional.

Summary

Ears can be pierced using various techniques, including a gun or needles. It's important to keep your piercing clean and rotate the earrings regularly.

Possible complications include infection, allergic reactions to metal, a splitting earlobe, or keloid scars. Keloids are more likely if you have a personal or family history of them.

Most professional piercing locations are considered safe. If you're at risk for complications, you may want to have it done by a dermatologist. Piercing your ears at home ups your risk of problems.

A Word From Verywell

Getting your ears pierced is so common that it's easy to forget about the possible dangers. Making good choices about placement, who pierces you, the type of earring they use, and how you care for it afterward can help you avoid potential complications.

When everything is done right, your piercings are something you can enjoy for a lifetime.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Susan J. Huang, MD
Susan Huang, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist practicing at Sutter Health. She is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School.