The goop Ear-Piercing Guide
So apparently, those ear piercing guns at mall stores aren’t always such a great idea—not only is symmetry key, but the angle of the hole based on how attached your ear is to your lobe is everything. Who knew? We decided to figure it out, since everyone at goop HQ is on a bit of an ear piercing bender—one of our go-tos, Maria Tash, answered all of our questions below, and some friends of goop sent in some earlobe-styling inspo. (Yep, it’s a thing.)
A Q&A with Maria Tash
You are very careful to ensure that both the front angle and the back angle are flattering—how do you determine what will look best?
This determination tests the aesthetic skill of the piercer. I first look at the person’s ears and see how “attached” they are. That means I assess how much their ears stick away from their body. The closer the ears are to the face, in general, the more the piercings should be deliberately designed forward for rings/studs to be pointing to the front, and not just perpendicular to the ear. The end result is that the wearer should see the front of their studs when looking straight in the mirror and not have to turn their head to the side to see the stud straight on. Our low profile settings emphasize this point—we like our studs to lie very close to the body, and that helps to see the jewelry when looking straight on. The same angling goes for rings, as we can pierce with rings for earlobes. Rings should sit almost straight on, with a slight angle. This way, the emphasis is on the front of the ring and its decorative elements, not the inside of the ring which frequently happens when rings are pierced perpendicularly to an attached lobe. On the same note, we start ear piercings at age 5 and up, because we want someone’s ears to be sufficiently developed so as to not change and affect piercing placement. I frequently see women come in for secondary lobe piercings and I can tell their first hole was done as an infant due to the high, non-center placement. It was center when they were a child, but the ear grew and more tissue developed, so what was centered as a child is frequently not centered as an adult.
A lot of chain stores use piercing guns—best to avoid?
Everyone in the professional piercing world uses needles, not piercing guns. Non-disposable piercing guns are banned by the Association of Professional Piercers, and disposable ones are very frowned upon. Although the concept of a needle stirs up most people’s anxiety level, the truth is you will get a cleaner, more accurately placed piercing with less trauma to the tissue with a specially designed piercing needle than with a gun. Guns use a spring mechanism to shove a sharpened, thick earstud through the tissue. Most people are familiar with the gun stud, which is thicker than most traditional earposts on the market. I suspect that the gun manufacturers make the stud thick so that it does not bend or torque when attempting to go through the skin. Unless you specifically ask for a thicker piece of jewelry, we pierce with a stud or ring the same size as the majority of traditional jewelry. There is no need to pierce thicker. Another reason that getting pierced with a piercing gun is not suggested is that it is very difficult to control the angle of the piercing. They really just shoot perpendicularly, as the stud might not make its way through the tissue if done in another way. I have used piercing guns in my piercing career infancy, where the stud, when aimed perpendicularly, did not make its way through the lobe—there is always a chance the stud will not make it through the lobe when getting pierced with a gun. Also, not all piercing guns are pre-sterilized and disposable. Some are, but a quick Google image search for “ear piercing gun” will show you the prevalence of non-disposable guns. Non-disposable guns are not pre-sterilized in autoclaves, and should not be used for sanitary reasons. The stud inside the gun could be sterile, but the parts touching the stud are not, and micro-fine tissue spray can land back on the gun to fester until the next recipient. There is also a fixed length to piercing studs and the earring back cannot be adjusted for thicker tissue, it can only be removed—that is contingent on your piercer even being aware of the actual thickness of the tissue they are piercing, and then removing the earring back because they know it won’t fit thicker tissue.
I have been pierced with a piercing gun in my youth and I have pierced people with guns. When kids are under 18 and don’t want to bring a parent, or want to keep their ear piercing wants secret, they frequently go to unsavory locations with poorly trained staff to get pierced. It is much better to have an open dialogue and encourage safe piercing practices with your children.
People are intimidated by needles, but this is how it actually works: the specially designed tip of the needle is designed to cut tissue and move it aside to make room for the jewelry. It does not remove tissue (unless piercing at a very large size), so that fact should help pacify those worried about a needle. As a piercer, we want you to barely feel any discomfort, perform the piercing quickly and elegantly, and have you thrilled about the result. My old joke is “if you want pain you have to pay more.”
Is it possible to get pierced with something other than titanium? What are the options and what should be avoided?
We pierce with 14k and 18k nickel-free gold, platinum, medical grade and commercial grade titanium, and medical grade stainless steel. Our 14k and 18k white gold is specially alloyed with palladium, instead of nickel, to make the white color of gold. When people have a reaction to a metal, it is most commonly to nickel. The U.S. is not as strict as Europe when it comes to keeping nickel out of white gold, so you really need to be diligent as a manufacturer to keep alloys and solders nickel-free. Most white gold studs and rings on the market in the U.S. are alloyed with nickel, and stainless steel usually has some nickel in it, though often not enough to create a reaction. Yellow and rose gold do not have nickel, nor does titanium. Historically, gold has been the choice of piercings: just look at all of the great history of Indian and Pakistani culture with their 18k and 22k yellow gold and multiple piercings in the ears an nostrils. This is also the case for the Pre-Columbian culture. Other cultures like the African Masaai, Alaskan Inuit, and the Amazonian Yanomami pierce with organic, permeable materials like bone, and have successfully healed their piercings. I always tell people to choose a metal that resonates with their coloring and other commonly worn jewelry.
How can you avoid infection?
The main way to avoid infection is to not touch the piercing with dirty hands. It is so common to see people reach for their new jewelry in the fresh piercing with hands that have touched door knobs and keyboards. Transference of bacteria from these and other common sources needs to be avoided just by being mindful. It is important for your bedding to be clean and to keep pet dander away from your pillows and sheets so that it does not get inside of your freshly healing piercing. Cleaning twice a day is usually plenty—over-cleaning can irritate. Irrigating a piercing with sterile, wound wash saline is also helpful. Some other non-traditional methods can work, too: emu oil, diluted tea tree oil, and mild antibacterial soap. Please note that healing piercings do produce some discharge and that is normal. They can also be a little red around the entrance or exit of the piercing, which does not necessarily mean that you have an infection. In the uncommon cases when infection could be present, it is usually diagnosed via a physician’s lab culture, and antibiotics are prescribed. Sometimes one can mistake inflammation for infection, but a qualified piercer can differentiate between the two. For example, if a fit of jewelry is too tight or the angle is not good, the body will not be happy with the placement and it will let you know. Simply changing out the jewelry for a better fit or a hypoallergenic piece of jewelry can help many cases.
If you want multiple piercings, what’s the ideal spacing between each hole?
The wonderful thing about the modern, creative world of piercing is that there are no rules. Some people want a closely placed group of three rings pierced in a row far away from their first ear lobe piercing. This and other asymmetric looks, where the right ear and the left ear deliberately do not match are frequently requested. I will say, though, that the most important spacing on an ear, is that between earlobe hole number one and hole number two. I always assume that a woman will want to wear, at some point, a large stud in her first holes (not so much with men). So, I assume that such a stud could be as large as 12-13mm in diameter. Therefore, the stud will take up 6-6.5mm on each side of the piercing hole. So the second piercing should be at least 8mm away from the center of the first hole, so the jewelry in the first and second holes do not touch. Even spacing between ear lobe holes two and up the ear is a matter of style. The real complaint about spacing is when there is a misalignment between holes. For example, if lobe hole number two is lower than hole one, the wearer may be annoyed because it is more aesthetically pleasing to climb up the lobe. Another non-ideal spacing is where the back angles between two piercings do not match, so one ring sits at a different angle than another next to it. Our brains frequently interpret facial beauty as symmetry, and the parallel lines between rings going up the ear correspond to a deliberate good piercing angle match.
Ultimately, I think the important thing is to be deliberate about what you plan for your ears. If you are going asymmetric, as long as it is deliberate and both ears look quite different, the effect is interesting and artistic. Same note with symmetry: creating a completely even and balanced appearance on both the left and right ears is a challenge since our bodies and ears are not symmetric and a well done job is impressive.
Guess Who? How To Style Your Ear
We asked some friends to show us how they layer their earrings.
Is there anything to be done if there’s too much space between piercings, or if you have any piercings that you regret?
It’s worth noting that sometimes people covet a misaligned, non-ideal piercing for social or ritual reasons. Their best friend may have done the piercing in college and that memory and person means more than the slightly off placement of the piercing. The converse may be true as well—someone may want to abandon a piercing if it holds negative attachments to someone they may have gone through the experience with. From a jewelry designer point of view, there are visual tweaks to jewelry that can mask faulty alignments or spacing. For example, one can mount the post on a stud off to the side, in order to create space farther away or closer to a piercing next to it. So, we can change the jewelry (via a custom order) instead of moving the piercing and re-healing. There are also some tricks with rings—it is sometimes possible to bend the post going through a piercing in a hoop earring in the shape of a Z. This can compensate for a non-ideal back earlobe placement and change how the hoop earring sits forward. There is also the trick of using a large earring back for studs that are low down on the ear or point down in general. A jumbo earring back can force a stud to sit up straight.
The only cases where there should be surgical intervention is where earlobe piercings are way too low and are in danger of tearing though the tissue. This situation requires the piercing to be cut and stitched back up, to be re-pierced later after the internal tissue has healed. Even this line scar is easily hidden with a stud. Any piercing freshly done in a non-ideal spot can be removed to heal and be re-pierced later. Usually jewelry will hide or distract the eye from any abandoned piercing entrances.
What are things to look for in a good piercer?
Look for a professional piercer with a confident and comfortable demeanor, who answers any and all questions you have competently. Ask how the piercer sterilizes their jewelry, and how many pairs of gloves are part of the procedure. Ask to view the autoclaves and assess the cleanliness of the studio. You can even ask to see the spore tests that prove an autoclave’s efficiency that are usually run on a monthly basis. But I would use rating sites as well, like Yelp, to wean down the choices and then interview the top selections based on reputation. There should also be quite a few jewelry options to choose from for any given piercing when you go into a studio. If there is only one or two, you might have hit upon a competent piercer whose boss does not invest in many quality jewelry options. You can also get a referral from us at Venus by Maria Tash, or the Association of Professional Piercers.
THE GOOP SHORT LIST OF PIERCERS
Maria Tash at Venus by Maria Tash
Shelby Smith at Prix Body Piercing
A. Adir Abergel; B. Jennifer Meyer (wearing pieces from her own line); C. GP (wearing from top to bottom, Lena Wald, Jennifer Meyer, Maria Tash, and Gabriela Artigas; D. Lena Dunham (wearing the Lena Wald Initial Stud Earring and Gabriela Artigas Pave Infinite Tusk Hexagon, E. Nicole Richie (wearing her House Of Harlow Plateau Earring Set); F. Crystal Meers (wearing the Gabriela Artigas Pave Infinite Tusk Bar and Grace Lee Shield Flip)