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Your Guide to Caring for and Cleaning Newly Pierced Ears

Plus, the mistakes you should avoid.
February 21, 2020

Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been there and done that, getting your ears pierced is a pretty big deal. While your most recent Google search might be along the lines of, “Do piercings hurt?”, there’s more to it than the potential discomfort. Knowing how to properly care for pierced ears is also an important factor to keep in mind.

Just like tattoos, piercings require their own list of aftercare necessities. Being aware of the do’s and don'ts of the aftercare — including how to clean freshly pierced ears and how to treat an infected ear piercing — is essential before going under the needle. Below, we’re sharing the 4-1-1 on how to care for and clean pierced ears so you can finally get to wear those new earrings with an updo.


What To Know Before You Get Your Ears Pierced

Before we talk aftercare, there are certain things you should know prior to even getting pierced. Here are three things to keep in mind before you book an appointment:


1. Research Where You Go

First and foremost, going to a safe piercer is a necessity. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), states that you should make sure the place you go to takes measures to be sterile, your piercer washes their hands and wears gloves and that the earrings used are made of surgical steel — such as, titanium, 14- or 18-karat gold or niobium.

2. Understand It Won’t Be Painless 

For an earlobe piercing, there are two methods that can be used. Per the AAD, if your piercer uses a needle, they will first create the hole in your ear using the sharp tool, then put the earring in. If your piercer uses a gun, they will shoot the earring into your ear, creating the hole and putting in the earring in the process. While it won’t be pain-free, rest assured the AAD says that both methods are fast and will resemble the feeling of a pinch for a few seconds.

Editor’s tip: Everyone’s pain threshold is personal — what feels like a small pinch to one person may feel incredibly painful to someone else, so consider that when you go. Also, getting your lobe pierced is different from, say, a helix piercing, which may cause a bit more discomfort for many people.


3. Be Aware Of The Aftercare

Ear piercings are mighty cute, but it’s important to know that you can’t put holes in your ears and then expect them to heal all on their own. Aftercare is a must. In fact, it’s wise to understand what goes into caring for new piercings before you get them. That way, you can stock up on the necessary supplies you need prior to your appointment, and you’ll know what you’re getting into before you've made a commitment.


How To Care For Pierced Ears

Unfortunately, your piercing won’t heal overnight. It’s going to take time and patience depending on where you got it. According to Dr. Erin Gilbert, an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L'Oréal Paris consultant, “piercings in different areas of the body run into specific kinds of challenges to cleanliness, and their care thus differs.” For example, while soap and water or a disinfectant are typically great methods for sanitizing earlobe piercings, cleaning piercings closer to the ear canal would benefit more from an earwax cleaner. 

That being said, you’ll still want to leave your piercing in your ears at all times for at least six weeks to prevent your hole from closing, per the AAD. Here is everything else you need to about the aftercare:


How to Clean Ear Piercings

1. Wash Your Hands

Be sure to start with clean, freshly-washed hands to avoid bacteria getting near your new piercings since dirty hands could lead to an infection.


2. Use Soap And Water

According to Dr. Gilbert, plain old soap — specifically, a foaming, soap-like cleanser that can be used on the body — and water will do the trick. Carefully use both to wash your piercing at least once a day. 


3. And Rubbing Alcohol

While you might be wondering if it’s okay to clean an ear piercing with rubbing alcohol, it’s actually recommended. Dip a cotton ball, pad or swab in rubbing alcohol before carefully cleaning the skin around your piercing twice a day. This will help keep germs at bay and prevent scabbing. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, Dr. Gilbert says that you can also use hydrogen peroxide instead to clean the area.


4. Twist, Twist, Twist 

It’s important to twist your earrings a few times daily — making sure your hands are clean, of course. This will help keep the holes open.


How to Treat an Infected Ear Piercing

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is possible for your piercings to become infected. If that’s the case, “be aware that any piercing that goes through cartilage needs to be seen quickly since cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply and can be damaged,” explains Gilbert, noting that in these cases, removing the ear piercing, cleansing the area and visiting a doctor ASAP is crucial. Here are three common signs of infection to look out for:


1. Redness

According to the AAD, the metals in some jewelry can bother your skin, leading to an allergic reaction. The AAD recommends looking for a piercing place that uses nickel-free earrings to help avoid infection. Gilbert also recommends continuing to clean the tender area with hydrogen peroxide twice daily and applying a triple antibiotic ointment or bacitracin. If symptoms persist or worsen, she suggests seeing a dermatologist or general practitioner for a prescription-grade ointment.


2. Pus

If you notice a yellowish liquid or pus coming out of your piercing, you likely have an infection. Be sure to consult your doctor if that’s the case.


3. Bumps

Bumps, also known as keloids, can form on the skin. A keloid is a raised scar that occurs as a result of trauma or injury to the skin. According to the AAD, these bumps are hard to get rid of completely, but surgery, medicine and freezing them with a special chemical can help reduce them in size. As a less drastic measure, applying silicone sheets or gels may help too.

Next: Your Skin Care Routine for Tattooed Skin

Edited by: Sophie Dweck, Photography: Chaunte Vaughn

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