Should I get my ears pierced?
August 18, 2009 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I’m considering getting my ears pierced. Just regular old lobe piercings. Help me decide if I should, then help answer all the probably simple questions about the process, because I seriously know nothing. Before you bring it up – I’m planning on going to a real piercing place, not Claire’s.

I got my ears pierced when I was in elementary school. Once they healed, I took the earrings out and basically never wore any again, so the holes closed up. I could feel the hole through my ear still for a long time, but it’s been gone for maybe 15 years. There are still little marks on the front of my ears where you can see that they were pierced.

I’m considering doing it again. I’m just undecided. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I think I will always be undecided if I keep on this route… so I just thought I’d ask for opinions. My pros are: I think earrings look pretty on people, and I think they would look pretty on me. Also, most adult women wear earrings, and it's often assumed that I do to. People occasionally think it's weird that I don't. These people sometimes include me. My cons are: I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, even when I like it, so I’m a little worried I won’t actually wear earrings either, and they'll close again. Also, I can't help but thinking I shouldn’t be literally mutilating my body for beauty (note: definitely not judging people who have even many piercings; I mostly think they look great and have never had that feeling about other people, just myself). I’m just not sure how reasonable that is – especially given I’ve already done it once, and you can still see the holes.

Once you answer that (or not, whatever), can you help me with answers to the following questions about the process?:

1. Do I bring my own jewelry in or get some at the piercing place? I don’t especially like studs, and don’t plan on wearing them after the healing part of the process is over. How small can they be and still be ok? What should they be made of? (assume gold isn’t an option)

2. Will it hurt? How much? For how long? Is there anything I can do to mitigate the pain at the time of the piercing or later?

3. I really really really don’t want them to get infected. If they do, I plan on taking out the piercings immediately and permanently and not trying again. What are the odds that it will? What can I do to keep it from happening? Where do I buy the cleaning supplies?

4. How much should I expect this to cost?

5. Will I need to make an appointment or is this the sort of thing you can walk in for?

6. Long-term, how often, roughly, do I need to wear earrings to keep the holes open? How do I keep them as small as possible while keeping them open?

7. Can anybody recommend a good piercing place in downtown Oakland or downtown Berkeley (or, I guess somewhere BART-able in San Francisco would work too)?

8. Is there anything else I should know?

Thank you!
posted by brainmouse to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. The piecing place should provide you with a pair of sterile studs. They'll have to stay in place until the holes heal, maybe for a week or so? Mine were gold, but very plain.

2. It'll hurt when the piecing happens, but it'll stop pretty quickly, probably within a couple of hours. Earlobes are not all that sensitive. I'm sure you could take an OTC pain reliever beforehand, and they'll probably ice it.

3. You can keep your piercings from getting infected by following the care instructions they'll give you to the letter. This will include rinsing with salt water every night. While the holes heal, they'll eject some janky crusty stuff-- this is normal.

4. I got my piercings done at a doctor's office, so can't help you here.

5. Or here.

6. I got my ears pieced almost 10 years ago, and they've never closed up. I wear earrings maybe 10% of the time, but I usually try not to go more than a couple weeks without putting something in there.

7. n/a

8. Don't expect to wear cute earrings right away (especially not dangly ones!). It'll take time to heal, and then more time for you to get used to hanging heavy things from holes in your ears.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:58 AM on August 18, 2009

Someone more experienced than I will likely reply with better answers but here is my crack at the low hanging fruit...

1. Ask the piercer, but they will likely sell you a basic set of rings to heal your piercings with. In my case, for my lobes, I healed with a pair of captive bead rings. After it's healed, you can change them to whatever you'd like.

2. Lobes is easy. Seriously, no sweat. I got mine pierced at 8 gauge, which is significantly bigger than what you will do, I'm assuming, and it wasn't all that painful. My now-deceased cartilidge piercing hurt WAY more, and it was tiny.

3. Your piercer should be schooling you on the proper aftercare. If they don't, find a different piercer. As long as your follow the aftercare and keep yer dang fingers outta there, it will be fine.

4. I'm out of the loop on costs, since mine were done almost a decade ago... but I believe I paid in the neighbourhood of $100 - $120 for two piercings plus the jewelry. It will be more expensive than Claire's and it's way worth it.

5. They might be able to do a walk in, but I'd say call and ask them and be prepared to make an appointment

6. I can't comment, I never remove mine.

8. Be prepared for the possibility that you will almost immediately want more.
posted by utsutsu at 8:58 AM on August 18, 2009

I got my ears pierced on a whim - it's a simple piercing, so I'd expect most place you can just walk in. I'd also expect piercing places to either provide studs as part of the cost, or have recommended ones to buy there.

No pain at the time (gun piercing, not what you're looking at). There was some pain when they got infected, but otherwise just a bit itchy.

Infections were nothing serious, and quite likely due to them being a bit neglected!

I wear earrings about once a week and that's enough to keep the holes open.

Anything else you should know - if you regularly hug people who are about the same height as you and have long hair, earrings get caught in the hair. This can lead to embarrassing 'cannot end hug' situations in public!
posted by Coobeastie at 9:00 AM on August 18, 2009

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, even when I like it, so I’m a little worried I won’t actually wear earrings either, and they'll close again.

I wear these hoops whenever I don't feel like wearing bigger or fancier earrings (which is to say, usually). They don't poke the skin behind my ears the way studs do. These are cheaper and look like they would also protect your skin from irritation.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:03 AM on August 18, 2009

1. I've never heard of bringing your own jewelry. In my experience, 14k gold is standard.

2. Hurt a tiny bit, not for long. Ice, ibuprofen/naproxen.

3. This is individual. I've had my ears pierced for 30 years and they have not been infected even once. Isopropyl alcohol.

6. Also varies, I've gone months and months at a time without closing (but they've been pierced since I was 4).
posted by Pax at 9:03 AM on August 18, 2009

There are piercing hoops; I had them when I got my ears pierced. The problem with those is that they're kind of hard to clean around.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2009

I pierce ears. You are thinking A LOT about what is for many people a small decision. It's a small ritual, takes 10 minutes max, of course it hurts a little, but in comparison to menstruation or childbirth, it's not even on the scale, the pain goes away quickly. Don't bring your own jewelry, use the pre~sanitized studs and don't take them out at all for 6 weeks. Use hydrogen peroxide or the solution they give you twice a day for 6 weeks, and in the unlikely event that it starts to get inflamed, don't give up, use cortisone creme or similar. Cost? Ask around. I charge $25 or 35, depending on studs. The studs will probably be made of stainless steel, perhaps with a gold plating. Make sure you look in a mirror after the piercer marks your ears, and that you agree with the placement.

People in every culture mutilate their bodies for beauty, it seems to be a very natural part of being human.

Enjoy this. It does open a small new world of self~decoration.
posted by davoid at 9:10 AM on August 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

Make sure you know if you have any allergies to metals, and that you know whether your earlobes will be thin enough for the standard studs. I knew I was allergic to nickel when I got mine done, lo these many years ago, but I didn't realize mine were especially thick, which made piercing significantly more of a hassle than it would have been otherwise. I ended up letting mine grow in just a few months later.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:11 AM on August 18, 2009

1. They will have sterile, autoclaved jewelry for you, probably small captive bead rings. Surgical stainless steel is the standard.

2. It will be a sharp, quick pain; it will probably be sore for a couple of days. (There's a needle going through your flesh, it's to be expected.) Lobe piercings, since they're perpendicular to the skin and through soft tissue, are really the easiest ever.

3. Don't touch your ears or earrings unless you are cleaning them, and they won't get infected. Your piercer will provide you with aftercare info -- usually sea salt/water soaks and a very mild soap like Satin or Provon.

4. I wouldn't be surprised if they made you a deal of $100 or less for two lobe piercings with the jewelry.

5. Depends on the shop. Most likely, you can just walk in, but you may have to wait. I personally prefer to make an appointment so I know I won't have to kill time waiting.

6. You should plan on wearing something in them most of the time if you don't want them to close. Wearing small-gauge jewelry and not wearing heavy earrings will keep the holes as small as possible. The paradox here is that small-gauge jewelry worn in most lobe piercings (18 gauge) tend to act like cheese cutters if it's heavy at all; if you wear heavy jewelry in a tiny hole for years, it WILL stretch out the holes. Look at the lobes of some older women if you don't know what I mean. Going up a bit in gauge (even to 16 or 14) will make this less likely to happen, but it doesn't sound like the aesthetic you're looking for.

7. Sorry I can't help you on this one :]

8. I'll think about it and post back if I come up with anything. But I think you've got it covered.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:12 AM on August 18, 2009

(Also, post-posting: Good on you for going to an actual piercer; NO hydrogen peroxide on piercings, it's too harsh; and don't let anyone get near you with a piercing gun or those piercing studs. A needle is much gentler and will hurt much less overall.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:13 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know this place might look a little much if all you want is simple ear-piercing, but Body Manipulations (just a few minutes' walk from the 16th St. BART station) is great -the folks are extremely knowledgeable and they have a whole lot of different kinds of things to hold the holes open after healing but while you're still deciding what kind/how often you want to wear earrings. More on their piercing stuff.
posted by rtha at 9:14 AM on August 18, 2009

Hit post too soon: Body Manip uses the needle method, not the gun. Hurts less for sure.
posted by rtha at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2009

Earlobes are easy, don't worry about it. Especially if you go to a professional studio. They will probably sell you earrings and have a variety of options.

As far as bringing your own jewelry -- I would probably go with the piercers jewelry, because one of the perks of going to a professional piercer is that the material is sterilized (via autoclave), which includes the rings and minimizes problems like infections, etc. If you can, you should leave those rings in for a while until the holes are completely healed, which shouldn't take very long for earrings, especially if you go with a small gauge.

With regards to being afraid of the holes closing again, there is really only one way to prevent this: wear jewelry. ;-) Also, going with slightly larger gauges might help here (I'm not talking a lot here, maybe 0.5 or 0.8 mm [18-12ga] diameter).
posted by Bearded Dave at 9:16 AM on August 18, 2009

1. You will most likely have to choose a set of studs from the piercer. Not all studs work, they have to fit in the gun.

2. It will sting quite a bit going in, but the pain will dissipate quickly and in 5 minutes you'll be fine. It might be a little tender for a day or so, but it's not bad at all.

3. Follow the piercers instructions to the letter. Use the ear piercing antiseptic they will try and sell you, rotate the studs as prescribed, and other than that DON'T PLAY WITH THEM!!! Don't even touch them unless you have to! AND DON'T TAKE THE STUDS OUT EARLY!! If they tell you to wait 6-8 weeks before removing them, wait 8 weeks. (It's DEFINITELY longer than a week as mentioned upthread). Yes, you could get away with less, I have, But if you're really worried about infection, this is what is needed.

(And even then, an infection is not the end of the world -- a week of being extra villigent with the antiseptic should clear it up nicely unless it's really bad)

Oh -- Sea salt and warm water also works well.

4. I don't know today's costs, sorry. It's been a while.

5. At a Claire's-type place, you can walk in. At a real piercer, you might be able to walk in, or you might make an appointment when you walk in. Call and ask.

6. Sorry -- I don't know, all mine are so old (5-20? years) they'll take months if ever to close up.

For me, I found that it's just easiest to leave something small in the holes all the time. I use tiny silver hoops. Once in, you never need to think about them again. About every month or so I pull them out, give em a quick clean, and pop em back in. Easy peasy. You'll have to do this more frequently for newer piercings, but after a while you won't ever have to bother with them unless you want to.

(I have 7 ear piercings and 1 bellybutton ring)
posted by cgg at 9:18 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've recommended hydrogen peroxide for years and never had a single complaint. I use a piercing gun with piercing studs, I live in a small town where I see people I've pierced every day and never had complaints, even when I ask (which I do).
posted by davoid at 9:20 AM on August 18, 2009

Thanks for the answers so far everyone, they're really, really helpful. I thought of one more thing: are headphones basically out until they heal?
posted by brainmouse at 9:23 AM on August 18, 2009

Well, the answer to "should you?" is: You only live once. Do you want to be old and wish you had? If you decide you don't like it, you can always remove it.


1. They'll put in sterile studs (or captive hoops, if you ask or want to get a bigger hole pierced) generally for you. Keep these in until they heal. Surgical steel is the standard, from my experience.

2. It'll hurt like a sting for maybe a couple of moments. Mine stung for about 30 seconds, then were just a little tender for the next couple of days. The pain is not bad, really. And when you get it done with a needle, as opposed to a gun, the needle is way sharper, mitigating pain further.

3. If you do what you're supposed to, they will almost never get infected. Soak in salt water made from distilled water twice a day for 2-3 minutes per ear. In the morning, at night, and every time they touch something, wash with Dial soap. That's all you'll need for supplies.

4. I had mine done a little larger than normal, and they were $35.

5. Just walk in. They take literally five minutes to do. Any good piercer will do it off the street.

6. I don't know how often, as I stretched mine and they're not going back, and, really, the secret to keeping them tiny is only wear thinly-gaged jewelry (standard) that isn't heavy (no danglies all the time).

7. I can't speak for experience.

8. Don't worry about it. Ask your piercer any questions, and if they're good, they'll answer them and you'll feel good about it. If you don't, or they don't, they're not your piercer.

Good luck!
posted by General Malaise at 9:26 AM on August 18, 2009

Yes, stay away from headphones for the first couple of weeks. Earbuds should be fine after that until they're healed. I only say no earbuds at the beginning, because the cords might touch.

Trust me, when you wash your ears every time they touch something, you learn relatively quickly to keep things away from them.
posted by General Malaise at 9:28 AM on August 18, 2009

Since so many people are mentioning it, please avoid a place that wants to do this with a stud in a piercing gun. They are bad news for a few reasons which are easily googlable. Also yeah, the professional piercers that I have dealt with all said no to things like hydrogen peroxide. As you can see there are differing opinions, but I'd really recommend going the route of a pro piercing shop with a needle.
posted by utsutsu at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have had my ears pierced 3 times. Once when I was wee and they got so severely infected (due to my mother, but that's a long story) and had to remove the jewelry for them to heal. As long as you follow the aftercare info, you should be fine.

The second time I had them pierced, I was in elementary school still and they haven't closed up at all. Even though I haven't worn earrings on a regular basis in several years. The holes aren't that noticeable though and I have long hair.

I had a set of second holes done in college on a whim. It cost about $50 including jewelry (captive ball hoops, which was a mistake that I'll expand on in a minute). I had to pay for the special aftercare cleaning stuff separately, but the dude at the shop told me to just go to the drug store and pick up a bottle of Bactine (or something named like that), since it was cheaper than the special formulated cleaning stuff they sold. I used that on a q-tip and swiped it around both sides of the holes twice a day and didn't have any problems.

You're going to want to have studs be the first jewelry. They're a lot easier to clean around. Don't bring your own. If you hate them, fine, but just leave them in until they heal and then you can do whatever else. My issue with the captive hoops was that the second holes healed crooked and whenever I would try to put in a stud, it would be very painful and awkward to try and get it to go through the curve that the hole was due to the jewelry.

Seriously, it doesn't hurt much at all. The anticipation is usually what sucks but afterwards it's like 'that was it?' Good luck.
posted by sperose at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2009

I just pierced my ears this past Saturday (so less than 72 hours ago.) 10 gauge, one in each lobe.

I didn't much like wearing my headphones yesterday (over-the-ear, neckband-style) but I've got no issue today. But I wore my IEMs with no issue almost immediately after the piercing.

YMMV of course.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2009

Just to be the lone dissenter, you don't have to pierce your ears, you know. I think it's all perfectly fine and I like the way they look on other people and sometimes I get earrings as gifts from people who didn't realize I've never pierced my ears.

The con for me is that it adds one more decoration to your facial area. This can be a pro! But in my case, I already wear glasses (and tend toward constantly rotating a cast of goofy frames), and I have a beauty mark underneath my lip. I figure adding one more thing would distract from whatever natural beauty I have, not add to it.

But if you're excited about it, go for it! Just keep in mind it's not as weird as you think to not have it done; chances are you're not noticing the people who don't have earrings, you're just seeing "ooh! flashy!" when people do wear them.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2009

Hi, I've had my ears pierces in 2 placed since i was about 3. I love me my earrins! I agree that earrings generally look pretty on people, especially women. Simple understated earrings are elegant and everyso often you can make a statement with big obnoxious earrings (garunteed complements). Also, unlike most jewelry earrings really highlight and frame your face so it seems more personal to me than something like a bracelet. I wouldn't worry about not wearing a lot of jewelry - most days i only wear tiny hoops (which i leave in all the time, including sleeping and bathing) and a watch. Also you are not "mutilating" your body, you are modifying it. Mutilation implies harm and pain and I think you will be surprised at how little a lobe piercing will hurt after putting as much thought into it as you have.

1. You do not bring your own jewelry - they will have sterilized studs or hoops at the piercing place (i was pierced with studs - i reccomend them because they are easier to turn in your earlobe during cleaning). The most important part of the stud is the post (the part that goes through the ear) due to possible metal allergies. Surgical steel is pretty standard, but you can also get gold. Stay away from nickel.

2. Have you ever given blood? It will feel like that when your ears are getting pierced, ecept the prick part you will feel for maybe double the time. Some piercing places have two piercers on hand that could do your ears at teh same time if you are worried about backing out after one ear due to pain. Afterwards they might be tender for a few days and you might need to sleep on the back of your head to keep weight off of the tender earlobes. But in the scheme of life it really doesnt hurt. I'm sure youve been through things much more painful before you were 5 years old (falling on pavement, getting water up your nose, a well deserved ass beating...)

3. If they do get infected it should only last a few days. To avoid infection be sure to wash them 3 times a day with soap from the piercer, alcohol, or seasalt and water solution. when you wash them be sure to turn the posts in the lobes so that they dont get stuck in position and to distribute the cleaning material through the lobe. You can buy cleaning solution form the piercer.

4. How much should I expect this to cost? $60 is a fair price for earlobes with studs. Could be higher depending on the jewelry you choose. More than 100$ and you are being ripped off.

5. Will I need to make an appointment or is this the sort of thing you can walk in for? Your preference.

6. I recommend wearing earrings all the time, but small earrings. Once your piercings heal, you shouldn't even really feel small (about 1/2" diameter) hoops at all if left in all the time. I recommend gold hoops for everyday, as gold does not get tarnished and nasty looking like silver. Less Upkeep. Heavy earrings will stretch your ears if worn everyday, so just keep them for special occasions.

7. I'm on the east coast

8. Make sure you have a shot glass on hand. It makes cleaning easier as you can put your head to the side and dip your lobe into the shot glass full of cleaning solution rather than splashing it on your ear and getting it all over you face / clothes / etc. This is especially handy if you need to clean while using a work / school / public bathroom. I would leave new piercings in for 8-10 weeks to ensure the holes take. If you take them out after the 10 weeks and dont wear earrings for a month, they will likely close again.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2009

I had my ears pierced after finishing several years of ear surgery. For me, it was a big deal at the time.

Funnily enough though, I've now had my ears pierced for 15 years and haven't changed the hoops I wear daily in maybe 6 years. Most of the time I forget they're there.
posted by wingless_angel at 10:02 AM on August 18, 2009

I don't wear much jewelry and my ears are very sensitive to cheap jewelry (thanks, Claires!) so I wear a pair of these endless hoop earrings from Sally Beauty. They're different than typical endless earrings in that they have a nice little hinge and are super sturdy. I've worn the same pair for about ten years and take them out maybe once a year for a thorough cleaning. So if you're strictly no-nonsense and just want something in your earlobe holes to hold the piercing, I really recommend them.
posted by theraflu at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have quite a few piercings. Wanted to elaborate on what some people have mentioned above.

Yep, it will hurt because you are getting poked by a big needle! Good for you for deciding to go with needle piercing. Guns shouldn't be used for any piercings as piercing studs are just marginally sharp and shatter the cartilage of the ear causing tremendous tissue damage which can at the least add to the healing time. Another bad thing about piercing with a gun is you get a stud put in; a ring will heal the hole a lot faster as air and cleaning solution can get to the piercing better than with a stud. The BEST reason to never get pierced with a gun is it is not sterile; it has been near, around or up someone else's nose or ear! As an added bonus needles don't make the big "popping" noise so you are less likely to jump and get holes where no holes should be.

As mentioned a little above, I would go with captive ball hoops perhaps a little larger than you were thinking because sometimes there is some swelling in the beginning, if you go with hoops your ears will have more room to expand without the stud fronts/backs digging into your fresh holes. The hoops are also easier to clean and to rotate back and forth while you are cleaning as recommended. I would go a step further and recommend getting pierced with a hypoallergenic titanium hoop, a little more expensive but well worth it to me. My piercer told me to never go with any sort of "plated" jewelry, as well as I am sensitive to gold and to surgical steel. My ears were really irritated and as soon as we switched to titanium the irritation went away and I have not had any sort of problem at all since.

One thing my piercer reminded me was to not over clean them because that can cause irritation and to only clean them per instructions. It is so important to keep your piercings clean but not over cleaned; twice daily is all you need and always remember: WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE TOUCHING YOUR PIERCING!!!! You'd be amazed at the number of people that sit and play with their fresh piercing just to have something to do. And if you smoke, STOP IT, at least while healing. Smoking causes slower healing time. The crusty stuff on your jewelry is normal. It is the same stuff that comes out of a cut and forms a scab. The most important thing to remember is to never rotate your jewelry if it feels "stuck" because of crusties; remove the crusties first by soaking with water or cleaning solution. If you force it to rotate, you are sandpapering off all the new cells you are trying to form as well as introducing bacteria back into the piercing.

And lastly, there are two different kinds of irritation; affected and infected. Affected is when the holes are red and tender with the normal crusting on the jewelry. This is just the normal healing process. To make it more comfortable you can put 1/2 teaspoon of SEA SALT (found in your grocery store next to the table salt) in 1 cup of water as hot as you can stand it. You can either use cotton balls to soak the piercing or get really creative and stick your ear in your cup. Infected is when the piercing is hot, oozing thick yellow/green pus and is very tender to the touch. If this occurs you need to go to your physician and have him/her take a look at it. One thing you don't want to do is take the jewelry out because if you take out the jewelry and the outer holes close up it will trap the infection inside with no way to escape. If you are determined to take out your jewelry, wait until the infection is gone.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 10:09 AM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Like you, I had my ears pierced as a child, never wore earrings, the holes closed up, and I didn't worry about it. I decided to have them repierced on a whim when I was 26, because I wanted to start wearing some jewelry but I often find necklaces uncomfortable and bracelets are annoying to take on and off. Personally, I love earrings -- as long as they are lightweight and nickel-free, they don't bother my ears the way I remember them bothering me as a kid. I've surprised myself by wearing earrings so regularly ... I have started collecting all sorts, but mostly dangly ones, and get lots of compliments on them.

1. Do I bring my own jewelry in or get some at the piercing place?
They are going to use special piercing earrings (studs) if you go to a place in the mall. If you go to a piercing salon, they will use a needle but you'll probably still have to pick from what they have.

2. Will it hurt? How much? For how long? Is there anything I can do to mitigate the pain at the time of the piercing or later?
It is a quick jab of pain and really won't hurt much afterwards. The first night or two might hurt a bit if you rest with your ears on the pillow, just from the pressure, but some tylenol or something will help. Just keep the piercings clean while they heal, and they won't hurt and will heal up in no time.

3. I really really really don’t want them to get infected. If they do, I plan on taking out the piercings immediately and permanently and not trying again. What are the odds that it will? What can I do to keep it from happening? Where do I buy the cleaning supplies?
Usually you can buy the cleaning supplies wherever you get them pierced. Just keep them clean and don't swap out the earrings you get pierced with for several weeks. Also do not try on earrings anywhere for several months -- only put clean earrings in your ears.

4. How much should I expect this to cost?
I think I paid like $20 or less with earrings at Claire's.

5. Will I need to make an appointment or is this the sort of thing you can walk in for?
I walked in, but again, this was a place in the mall, not a piercing salon.

6. Long-term, how often, roughly, do I need to wear earrings to keep the holes open? How do I keep them as small as possible while keeping them open?
After the first 6 months - year, you can get away with wearing them weekly. The piercings won't get larger unless you are wearing very heavy earrings or ones with super thick posts. Most dangly earrings and hoops have smaller posts than studs, so most likely the holes will get smaller, not larger.

7. Can anybody recommend a good piercing place in downtown Oakland or downtown Berkeley (or, I guess somewhere BART-able in San Francisco would work too)?
I can't.

8. Is there anything else I should know?
If you have Kohls near you, they have an awesome selection of earrings that are always on sale.
posted by tastybrains at 10:31 AM on August 18, 2009

1. As everyone says, you will get it there, it will be sterile. This is not a BYO type thing.

2. No, not really, it won't hurt too much. I have 7 earrings and have had at other times my tongue and my navel pierced; of all of them, I think the cartilage piercings were the oddest, because they sort of crunched. You won't have that issue if you are just doing lobes.

3. Follow directions, and do NOT cheap out on the piercing hoops you choose. Also, as above, hoops are much better than studs.

4. Can't help you here.

5. Varies by shop.

6. I would think at least once a week especially early on, but is very dependent on your body and how fast you heal up. My tongue, for example, didn't really close up for a long time.

7. Can't help you here.

8. DO NOT buy or use cheap jewelry. If you are not allergic to nickel, or you don't know whether you are or not, now is not the time to find out.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:35 AM on August 18, 2009

As far as being afraid that they'll close up because you wont always wear earrings - get tiny tiny hoops made of gold or white gold that wont hurt you while you sleep, ones that you can shower in (gold wont rust or turn funny colors), and won't irritate or infect your ears (once again, gold). I wear those all the time, for months at a time if I'm being lazy about wearing different earrings, they're not fancy, they go with everything, and I don't have to worry about the holes closing up.

When you try them on at the store press into your ear as if you're sleeping and make sure you don't feel anything. If it's a stud, or if you feel *any* poking, they won't be good in the long run.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 10:51 AM on August 18, 2009

I pierced my ears when I was young - probably around 13 or something - and wore earrings all through my twenties. At some point I just sort of forgot about them, and I think the holes are closed up by now. I know the last time I tried to put earrings in, which was years ago, it was a lot of trouble and though I managed to do it, I think it caused some pain and bleeding, so i'm pretty sure at this point I'd have to get them redone if I wanted to wear earrings again. But I basically just don't wear jewelry anymore.

Unless it is very specific to an outfit, like, somehow symbolic of something (the earrings I wore the last time were crucifixes for my 33rd birthday, which was a personal joke about my age) I tend to just feel like it looks silly on me. But I don't wear skirts or make-up much either. I guess what I'm trying to say is, do what you are personally comfortable with, and don't worry about what you think other people expect of you. Even if they are surprised you don't have your ears pierced, who cares? And most people will simply not notice. Get them done if you feel you're missing out not being able to dangle decorations from your ear lobes.

Decorating yourself is perfectly normal - if you wear clothes, make-up, get haircuts, choose eyeglass frames or watches, tweeze hair, shave, dye anything, etc etc, you are altering your appearance. A little bit of pain in order to do that is not a big deal - tattoos, scarrings, piercings and other ritual modifications are a long part of human history because they last longer than things like clothes and haircuts, so seem more meaningful. So all that matters is whether this particular modification is something you actually want.
posted by mdn at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2009

Speaking as someone who's got a fair number of piercings (though oddly enough no earlobe ones) from the most reputable places in Cleveland, Boston, and Munich:

1. Use the sterile, autoclaved jewelry the piercing place will provide. Stainless steel or hypoallergenic titanium are the most common materials. You can generally use either studs or a small captive bead ring for earlobes. I prefer the latter for healing - there will be a bit of swelling at first, and you won't risk the swelling pressing up against the stud, which can be uncomfortable. It's easier to clean, as well. On the other hand, CBRs are larger, and they can get knocked around more easily.

2. It will hurt, a little, but I find that it's no worse than getting a shot or having blood drawn. (Actually, getting pierced feels less painful/unpleasant to me than those.) It will be tender and achey for the next day or two. After that, unless you tug on it, turn it during healing, or otherwise bother it, it won't hurt much. You can probably take an ibuprofen afterwards, but generally I haven't found that to be necessary.

3. As long as you follow basic aftercare rules, you're not likely to get an infection. Basic aftercare these days imeans:
-Touch your ears as little as possible, and clean your hands beforehand when you have to touch them. (Earphones that fit on or over your ears are probably out for the first few weeks, to avoid both infection and pain.)
-A once or twice daily soak for 10min in warm saltwater (.5-1tsp sea salt - non idodine - per cup water). You can either use a shotglass full of the saltwater or soak sterile cotton balls and put them around your earlobe. Don't do much more cleaning than that, as overcleaning can irritate your piercing as much as not cleaning it.
-NO hydrogen peroxide or isopropanol, and generally no soaps. These things will irritate your piercing and make it harder to heal. (Think of a normal wound: do you take off a band-aid and pour H2O2 or isopropanol in the wound daily, or do you sterilize it at the beginning - which your piercer will do for you before inserting the needle - and then leave it alone and let it heal?)
-NO turning the stud or CBR. Piercers used to suggest that you turn it, but in the last few years the consensus has become that it actually does more harm than good: it makes it harder for the new skin to form. You'll get some scab-like stuff around the outside of the piercing; you should gently remove them (with a sterile cotton ball, preferably) once they are softened a little after a salt soak or shower, but other than that, leave the piercing alone for the first few weeks.
-Don't change the jewelry for approximately 6 weeks, because you want the piercing to heal fully. Ask your piercer if it is ready if you want new jewelry earlier.

However: if you _do_ get an infection, taking the piercings out immediately can actually be a bad idea - the piercing closes to some extent, trapping the infection in your ear. Most piercers will tell you to keep the jewelry in until it heals!

4. Probably under $100 for jewelry and piercings together, though prices can vary city to city.

5. Depends on how busy the best local piercer is. If you try to walk in on a Saturday afternoon, they'll probably get to you, but you'll have to wait. Call them and ask whether walking in at whatever time works for you will mean a lot of waiting.

6. This varies a lot, person to person. For some people, piercings close up within weeks; for others, they never do. Given that you had your ears pierced before, your experience now will probably be similar. The longer you have your piercings, though, the slower they'll close up afterwards. Unless you wear a lot of really heavy earrings, the holes won't get any bigger after they heal.

7. No idea, never been there.

8. Don't feel that you have to get your ears pierced because it's considered normal for a woman. If you're excited about how they'd look, though, go for it. If you decide you don't want them any more - or that they're simply too much trouble - they'll almost certainly end up looking just as they do now - a little dimple where the piercing was, nothing else.

If you have any problems (infections, etc.) or questions afterward, call your piercer!
posted by ubersturm at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2009

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, even when I like it, so I’m a little worried I won’t actually wear earrings either, and they'll close again.

I had the same problem as you -- I got my ears pierced when I was younger, forgot to wear my earrings, and they closed up. I got them re-pierced about a year ago.

I wear these studs (mine have an ohm on them) pretty much 24/7. I sometimes change into nice earrings for work, but I sleep, shower, and live in these otherwise. I can't feel them, so I don't have to worry about remembering to take them out or put them in. I'm very, very allergic to nickle, so I have to be careful about what I buy, but these are sterling silver and work perfectly.
posted by canadia at 11:14 AM on August 18, 2009

As you can probably tell, brainmouse, there are two schools of thought when it comes to earlobe piercings: the mall-kiosk method that uses a piercing gun and advocates hydrogen peroxide–based aftercare, and the piercing shop method that uses needles and advocates sea salt–based aftercare. I got my ears pierced as a kid at Wal-Mart, but then I worked at a tattoo and piercing shop as a receptionist. I've had 20+ piercings, and my experience leads me to heartily recommend the latter process.

Before I discuss that great divide, though, I'll answer your questions directly:
  1. Use the jewelry the shop provides, as it will be sterilized; if you're determined to start with your own pair, take it by the piercing shop first to get it checked out and autoclaved first. Most shops will offer both captive bead rings and studs, which are made of stainless steel, titanium, or 14-karat-or-better gold. I'd recommend small studs, as they're least likely to get caught on things.
  2. The piercing pain is minimal for lobes. You might feel a sharp sting, but it certainly hurts less than an immunization. Your ears may be sore later, especially if you sleep on them, but you can take an ibuprofen or two to ease the swelling then.
  3. If you follow proper aftercare, your ears will not get infected. However, if they do get infected, you should not take the jewelry out right away. That can trap the bacteria in your piercing (which is really just a puncture wound), and make the situation much worse. If you do get an infection, wait until an antibiotic clears it up before you take the jewelry out. Note that irritation, from too much movement or low-quality jewelry, is much more common than an actual infection. The shop may provide aftercare supplies like Dr. Bronner's soap or sea salt spray, but you can also pick that stuff up from a pharmacy.
  4. Piercing prices vary greatly from city to city. In Boston, you'd be looking between $40 and $75. Call up shops and ask—but don't believe that you're getting much of a "deal" if you go cheaper.
  5. Each piercing shop handles appointments/walk-ins differently. When you find the shop that's right for you, call up and ask.
  6. The piercers I worked with (who each had 10+ years of experience) were on the conservative side. If you really want to be sure that your holes don't close up, I'd recommend that you leave the original jewelry in for 3 months before changing earrings, and that you don't leave jewelry out overnight for about a year. As long as you're wearing earrings that aren't extremely heavy, you won't have to worry about the holes stretching.
  7. Body Manipulations might be a good bet. Braindrops in SF, Industrial in Berkeley, and Sacred Tattoos in Oakland also seem to know what they're doing. Call around and see who makes you comfortable.
  8. You're doing a great thing by researching beforehand. Go you! Other aftercare information, including reasons to avoid hydrogen peroxide, can be found here and here (but note that lobes are easier to heal than both cartilage piercings and eyebrow piercings).
  9. Earbuds will be better than the over-ear type until they heal. Give 'em a try—if it hurts, stop!
So why should you go to a piercing shop and pay more money, instead of heading to the mall? Good question, since hundreds of thousands of people have gotten their ears pierced at the mall and lived to tell about it. I've found, however, that the healing process is much easier if you get a needle piercing from a well-trained professional piercer, rather than a jewelry-department employee. For one thing, the piercing gun cannot be sterilized and can cause impact damage from forcing a blunt stud through ear tissue. Needles are much sharper and are shaped to slide through the skin with minimal trauma.

In addition, a professional piercer has performed an apprenticeship, often more than a year long, before receiving her license, and her shop is inspected regularly (how regularly depends on municipal laws). She's trained in bloodborne pathogens and human anatomy. She makes her living by keeping her customers happy and doing her job well. And if she's a member of the APP, she's keeping informed of all the research done on new techniques and improving aftercare. Kiosk or jewelry-counter employees rarely have that sort of relationship with their clients and even more rarely have the opportunity to train thoroughly. I've found that my Wal-Mart piercings are still occasionally cranky and crusty, while the piercings I received from professional piercers are much happier and healthier today.

If you do decide to get your ears pierced, I wish you good luck and easy healing!
posted by kwaller at 11:46 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

i agree with 90% of what was already said here, but i just wanted to throw out there the things that struck me funny:

- never, never, never use hydrogen peroxide. i have encountered more people with messed up piercings because they thought they were doing something good when really they were hurting themselves. the hydrogen peroxide kills both good and bad cells, so in a lot of cases, the piercing just isn't going to heal properly. i personally recommend satin soap, which you can get from many piercing shops. and don't forget those salt water soaks!

- pain is a relative question, so you may or may not find that it hurts. it will probably at the very least sting.

- if you are curious about $$, call around to some shops. make sure that you are also asking them about their sterilization procedures. when you go into a shop, you will want to make sure that you are getting a fresh needle and fresh jewelry straight from their auto-clave packaging. you will also want to make note of your piercer and their gloves, often times they will change them multiple times.

- a piercer is the best person to recommend jewelry for you and your needs.

- even if your piercing gets infected, i would have your piercer take a look at it BEFORE you take out the jewelry. sometimes, if you take out the jewelry too soon, the infection can close up inside the skin and then there's a whole new set of problems.

good luck!
posted by itsacover at 1:42 PM on August 18, 2009

regarding 8. Is there anything else I should know?
I haven't seen anyone mention this yet - make sure you eat before you go in - even though the pain will be minimal, piercing can be one of those situations where your mind and body freaks out on you, and you are far more likely to faint on an empty stomach.

Absolutely second all the advice upthread about seeking out a dedicated piercer who does not use a gun. It should be perfectly acceptable to visit and ask all your questions 1-6 and 8, if you get sympathy and patient advice, then you've found your piercer.
posted by Catch at 3:02 PM on August 18, 2009

I have had four holes in each lobe and two helix piercings, all done with a gun long ago. I would highly recommend going to a piercing shop- the helix piercings didn't heal properly for years, until I put captive ball rings in them. It is worth the extra cost to go to a real piercer.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:05 PM on August 18, 2009

Your ear piercings should not hurt at all after they take out the needle unless they got infected. Seriously, it should not be a painful procedure.

Wear the studs. Most places will probably not let you bring your own, and most piercing places will have a large enough selection that you should be able to find something you like.

If you want to get them pierced, just do it. It's not a tattoo. If you let them grow back, the marks will be barely noticeable, possibly not noticeable at all if you hadn't had them long before you let them grow back.

I have three piercings in each ear lobe, ranging from 17 to 11 years in age. For the first few years, you should probably always wear at least some studs. They make tiny tiny rhinestone or ball studs if you want something small. If you let them go for too long, you might have some pain putting earrings back in. I know that times I've let my 2nd and 3rd piercings go for too long, I can feel that I'm kind of "repiercing" through some of the skin when I put in earrings. However, I have gone years at a time without putting anything in my 3rd piercings and can still get earrings in there with some effort.
posted by ishotjr at 3:47 PM on August 18, 2009

Seriously, thanks everyone for all the advice. I feel much better about the whole process, and I think I'm going to try to get it done within the next week.
posted by brainmouse at 4:32 PM on August 18, 2009

Most places will provide you with the jewelry. The earrings used to pierce ears have a pointy sharp end, whereas regular earrings have a blunt, flat edge.
14k Gold is a good way to go, but you can also go for stainless steel.
When I got my ears pierced (I was like 9), the pain wasnt bad at all. Its shocking, of course, but the pain (to me), was probably a 1/4 of what I had built it up to be before hand in my head :) It feels really warm and itchy afterwards.
Most placed will provide you with cleaning supplies. Listen to what the pierces tell you about healing time, and dont take them out before hand. Also, ESPECIALLY if you have sensitive skin, make sure to buy quality jewelry. I had a BIG problem with my navel piercing, as a lot of navel jewelry is soldered together with crappy nickel and other metals. You can find quality studs and jewelry at Claires even. They have stickers that say 14k gold, etc. My ears are by no means sensitive, and I can wear anything in them. BUT make sure that your ears are completely healed before trying all kinds of different jewelry. (I think my navel wasnt completely healed, which was part of my problem).
I think for an ear piercing, most places wouldnt require you to call ahead of time. Its not a long procedure by any means, Im thinking 5 minutes at most? Youre pretty much in and out.

I had my ears pierced when I was about 9, and went through a period of not wearing earrings for a couple years. I think it depends on your body, and how long youve had them for. I havent worn earrings in about 4 months, and I know my earring holes are fine. In the beginning, after the holes have healed, I wouldnt recommend wearing really tiny tiny studs, as I had a friend who (not to freak you out), the stud went into her ear hole, and she had to have it removed. Something like a small stone like CZ, or even the piercing studs will do!
Enjoy! Once your ears are healed, you can wear all kinds of fun funky earrings. Earrings are my favorite accessory, and once your ears are healed, you will have so many fun options :)
posted by shannie-bananie at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2009

I had my ears pierced at Claire's several years ago. I am a HUGE wimp when it comes to pain and the gun really didn't hurt at all.

The only thing that did hurt was that I slept on my side at the time and the sharp piercing-earring backs stabbed into the skin under my earlobe.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:47 PM on August 19, 2009

You said "assume gold isn't an option". Can you elaborate? Is it the price, the general concept of gold mining, or just a color issue?
posted by catlet at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2009

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