Everything You Need to Know Before You Get That Piercing

First of all, don’t take a cue from “The Parent Trap”

Katherine Singh
Ear piercings from Mejuri
(Photo: Courtesy of Mejuri)

In the seminal coming-of-age classic The Parent Trap, twins Annie and Hallie (played by Lindsay Lohan), away at summer camp and reunited, partake in a bonding ritual many a youngster has considered but probably never attempted: piercing their own ears. Tucked away in a cabin and planning to switch places after camp ends (not so relatable), Hallie instructs Annie that she needs to pierce her ear. What ensues involves a (super not sterilized) needle, an ice cube, an apple and ample screaming from both the twins and the audience.

And that screaming was warranted. Because, professionals agree: We should not be doing that at home.

“Though we have all seen The Parent Trap, piercing is an invasive procedure that can have significant health risks if not done correctly,” says Sandi Graham-McWade, the founder of Dragon Ink Tattoos & Piercings in Ajax, Ont. “Piercing your own lobe may seem easy; however, safety, anatomy and the procedure itself requires learning through proper apprenticeships. The risk of damage or transmitting a potential pathogen to yourself or someone else during an untrained piercing can have very serious health risks and consequences.”

In addition to nixing the personal pierce, another no-go when it comes to your precious earlobes is the piercing gun. I’m sure many of us have had the experience of trembling in anticipation and fear as the mall piercer inched towards our lobes with what looked like a nail gun, and it turns out we were right to be nervous. “Yeah, you want to stay away from those,” Vancouver-based piercer Michael Bilinsky says. Both Graham-McWade and Bilinsky—who pierces at Adrenaline Kitsilano—say that the biggest issue with these guns is sterilization. Or lack thereof. “There’s no sterilization involved in the actual gun itself,” Bilinsky says, “so contamination is a huge concern.” If the possibility of having someone else’s bacteria on your ears isn’t enough to turn you off piercing guns, this will: Because guns are sprung loaded devices, the impact from the gun can cause *actual* trauma to your ear tissue, Bilinsky says. And, because piercers are literally ramming the earring into your ear,  guns don’t allow for the same precision as needle—which is maybe why those of us born pre-aughts have uneven piercings.

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How do I know what piercing’s right for me?

Short story: Go to a professional who will pierce your ear with a proper needle and tools that wont tear your earlobe tissue. But before you even get there, you need to decide which type of piercing is the right one for you—which involves an honest assessment of your pain tolerance, because not all ear piercings will feel the same both during and after the procedure. Bilinsky recommends Google as a great place to start your research, in order to figure out which style and placement you like. (Just don’t look up a Christina piercing at work like I did, seriously.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect (pain and $$ wise) per piercing:

Lobe

Pain level out of 10: 2

Healing time: Six weeks

Average price: $50–$100 per lobe, depending on jewellery

Type of jewellery you can use: Studs or rings

High lobe

Pain level out of 10: 2–3

Healing time: Six weeks. “Depending on how high the lobe is; if it gets up into cartilage, we jump up all the way to three months minimum,” Bilinsky says of healing time. “Everyone’s anatomy is so different that a second or third piercing on someone could be just lobe, but someone else it could be cartilage.”

Average price: $50–$100 per lobe, depending on jewellery

Type of jewellery you can use: Studs, ring or barbell

Rook

Pain level out of 10: 4–7

 Healing time: 3–4 months

Average price: $80, including jewellery

Type of jewellery you can use: Curved barbell

Helix

Pain level out of 10: 4–5

Healing time: 3–4 months

Average price: $70

Type of jewellery you can use: Flat back barbell or ring (with discretion)

Tragus

Pain level out of 10: 5–7

Healing time: 3–4 months

Average price: $80

Type of jewellery you can use: Flat back barbell

Conch

Pain level out of 10: 4–6

Healing time: 3–4 months

Average price: $80

Type of jewellery you can use: Barbell

Daith

Pain level out of 10: 4–6

Healing time: 3–4 months

Average price: $70

Type of jewellery you can use: Ring

Next step: Speak to an actual piercer or stylist. With a growing desire for more curated earlobes, some jewellery brands like Mejuri now have in-house consultants who can talk you through your decision. Mejuri founder Noura Sakkijha says that more than ever it’s important to consider what you’d like your final stack to look like. “Before you sit down to get pierced, you can curate your ear with one of our stylists…[and figure out] what studs and placement would look best.” When it comes to planning you stack, “there is no right or wrong way,” Sakkijha says, “But, we do love to mix simpler designs with more playful ones—like [Mejuri’s] Spheres Bar Stud and the Moon Stud,” she advises.

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Just be aware that not *everything* you see on Pinterest is going to look the same for you IRL, says Ion Nicolae, owner of Black Line Studio in Toronto. “A lot of [social media photos] use Photoshop, so they’re not actually showing the real piercing or the jewellery has been [digitally] replaced,” he says. “But at least knowing what you want to achieve [helps] to prepare for you appointment.”

Ear piercings
(Photo: Instagram/@coevalpeople)

And if you’re excited to stat filling up your ear, the good news is that you can do it ASAP. “At our piercing pop-ups, you can get as many piercings as you want, so long as they’re on your lobe!” Sakkijha says. “We have many customers who get two to three new lobe piercings at once.”  Just make sure you’re taking into account the healing time!

What type of metal is best to use?

Another way to be prepared is to be up to date on the best metal for your piercing. “There are regulations and guidelines that speak to what type of alloys are allowed to be utilized for an initial piercing,” Sakkijha says. “These include all materials that meet the standards set by the highest regulatory bodies such as the Association of Professional Piercers.” Mejuri, for example, uses solid 14 karat gold for all their piercing studs. In doing so, Sakkijha says, “we ensure that you’ll want to wear your stud long-term and they’re comfortable to wear 24/7.” Also a great excuse to buy gold, TBH. In addition to 14 karat gold, several of the piercers recommended Implant Grade Titanium (a biocompatible metal, meaning your body won’t get irritated by it).

How else should I prepare for a piercing?

When it comes to planning for your piercing, like many things in life—communication is key. “The most important thing you can do is speak with your piercer and be honest about any questions or concerns that you may have,” Graham-McWade advises “We’re here to answer them all!” And day of your piercing, there’s a few additional things you should and *shouldn’t* do, according to Graham-McWade. “You should ensure that you don’t have any health concerns beforehand [and] are not on any medications that may be a risk,” she says. “And do not consume any alcohol beforehand.” (FYI, alcohol thins your blood and depletes nutrients. This can cause you to bleed more than normal during the piercing, and can cause your piercing to take longer to heal).

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Finally? Have a snack. “The biggest thing I can recommend is having something to eat before you come in,” Bilinsky says. While lobe piercings are not that painful, he says, you *will* release endorphins, and mixed with the excitement and heightened energy of the moment, “it can be a little overwhelming and people can get lightheaded.”

What’s the best way to take care of my piercing?

Post-piercing, it’s *super* important to make sure your piercing is well-taken care of; that means ensuring that unclean hands, unwanted germs and harmful bacteria stay far away from your piercing. Graham-McWade recommends dipping your ear in sea salt for minimum three to five minutes two times a day. (Fill an 8oz cup with warm filtered water and add a ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized sea salt (food grade or organic), stirring until the salt is completely dissolved.) You can also use a cotton swab to gently remove crust around your piercing in the shower, and wash your piercing with clear glycerin soap, making sure to rinse well. “Do not use antibacterial soap or any soap containing colour, fragrance or animal products on your piercing,” she advises. And definitely, don’t over clean your piercing. Finally, leave it alone!  Graham-McWade advises to refrain from turning or spinning your jewellery for any reason, as it can cause micro tears…which we can only assume is not super fun.

Ear piercings
(Photo: Courtesy of Mejuri)

What should I do if my piercing gets infected?

Even with all that A+ aftercare, there is the chance that your piercing can get infected. So how do you know if something is “off” with it? “The ‘obviousness’ of having an infection can vary from person to person,” Graham-McWade says. Common signs of an infection are: extreme redness, puss and a “hot-to-the touch” area around your piercing.

Often, infection can come from where you least expect it. “Transmission of bacteria is usually from handling a fresh piercing with unclean hands, as well as styling products, like hair spray and perfume,” Graham-McWade says. (So put away that Curious by Britney Spears for now.) While healing in general can include redness, soreness and swelling, if it extends beyond a few days, or starts getting in to puss territory, make sure to contact your piercer or a healthcare professional to help clear the infection.

And Nicolae points out, its important to continue to take care of your piercing even after it heals and you remove the jewellery. “If you get an infection because the jewellery is too tight [for example], you definitely have to change or remove the jewellery in order to save the piercing,” he says. “But you need to keep on taking care of [your piercing], which a lot of people don’t do. They remove the jewellery and say, ‘Okay, that’s the problem,’ but you still have to keep taking care of it so no scar tissue forms.”

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And when it comes to healing, it’s not one-size-fits all. While Nicolae, Bilinsky and Graham-McWade all said six to eight weeks is the standard period for healing, “It’s [different] for everybody, depending on your lifestyle” Nicolae says. Meaning for those of us who are veggie (or just straight up obsessed with Beyond Meat Burgers), we could have a slight upper hand. “If you have a good diet, let’s say you eat a plant-based diet, your body can heal faster [and] you might be able to change [your earring] faster,” Nicolae says. “But the longer you wait, the better it is.”

Ear piercings
(Photo: Instagram/@caroline.chagnon)

So we’re going to bet The Parent Trap‘s Annie got a pretty bad infection. Unsterilized piercing, incorrect earring type and probable lake submersion the next day? Ouch.

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