Help me save my ear-holes.
June 5, 2007 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Is there any point in re-piercing my ears properly, 20 years after they were pierced with that damn gun they use in the mall?

I have 3 piercings in one ear and one in the other. The first two are about 20 years old, the other two are more like 10-12. There have been times when I could wear earrings 24/7 for years with no problem, but lately I'm lucky to get one evening out of them, even with all the elaborate cleansing and neosporin-ing and everything else I've read about to try and prevent that hot, itchy, painful reaction (presumably due to nickel, so I've given up on cheap jewelery).

My question is essentially, is there any benefit from just starting over? They've never healed shut, even though there have been periods of a year or more where I haven't worn a single earring, so I wouldn't really be re-piercing them. But from all I've read about how awful the mall process is and how you really should heal piercings with titanium barbells or what have you, I'm wondering if there's any benefit to going to a real studio and having them treat them like brand new piercings. Maybe buying some more appropriate, sterile jewelery to wear for a few solid weeks to see if I can heal them properly this time. Or even having them re-done with a needle, since I've heard that the wonky angle caused by those mall guns is sometimes a problem in healing.

Has anyone else had this experience? I'd like to have some simple non-cheap non-nickel hoops I could just leave in all the time. What has worked for you, in terms of getting to the point where you can wear earrings properly again? Can I reverse any of the damage presumably done by exposure to cheap metal? Are my ear-holes a lost cause?
posted by ultraultraboomerang to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had the same problem as you - two sets of holes in each ear, all done at the mall many years ago, never able to wear any sort of earring even with massive sterilization of all surfaces.

A few months ago I went to a piercing parlor to get a brand new (industrial) piercing with a titanium rod. Since then, *none* of my piercings have given me any problems. I still wear sensitive earrings, but I can leave them in 24/7 and have no issues whatsoever.

I don't know if that would work for you, but that's my experience.
posted by Lucinda at 8:55 AM on June 5, 2007

If they haven't closed, why would you want to repierce them? As a fellow cheap-metal-allergy-sufferer I can tell you that all you need to do is get some good earrings.

Oh, and you don't have to go to the studio to treat them like new piercings... If you're in the middle of a nickel reaction, switch/take out the jewelry and keep your ears clean with Spectro Gel. They should heal up just fine.

If you want a no hassle guarantee, get something like these to put in your ears. That's what they would pierce you with- surgical grade stainless steel!
posted by sunshinesky at 8:57 AM on June 5, 2007

yup - head over to any professional studio and have them put some closed seamless SSS hoops in, and just leave 'em alone. no need to re-pierce.
posted by wayward vagabond at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2007

I used to work as a receptionist at a busy body-mod shop, and my understanding is the following:

You don't really need to repierce your ears. Unless they are pierced at a visibly wonky angle -- and you probably would have noticed by now -- you would just be putting yourself through the six-week-plus healing time (as well as the cost of piercing) without really needing to. After a decade, your ears have healed. Lobes typically take two months to a year to fully heal (though helix piercings can take twice that long, as cartilage is a bitch). The fistula, it be formed.

It sounds to me as though you do indeed have a nickel allergy. Repiercing would not rid you of the allergic reaction to the nickel in silver and low-karat gold. AFAIK, allergic reactions are not reversible. I'd recommend just finding stainless steel or titanium jewelry to wear. Alas, this will limit your options for jewelry a bit. The stainless steel piercing studs, while often kinda sharp on the back, are high quality metal and come in many cute varieties. I also like wearing captive bead rings (CBRs, also called "ball closure rings," or BCRs) on occasion. Anatometal and Industrial Strength both make great stuff.

It's worth noting that Neosporin is not generally recommended for body piercings. Most reputable piercers suggest using a simple sea salt soak to treat irritation and aid in healing. Petroleum-based antibiotics tend to be 1. harsh, and 2. gunky to the point that lymph cannot drain as part of the normal, healthy healing process.

All this said, I would recommend you go see a reputable piercer. He or she will be glad to spare you a moment for a consultation, likely at no charge. Describe your symptoms and ask for help picking out some bling that won't make your ears all itchy and sore.

I just popped my MeFi posting cherry. I hope you find this useful!
posted by weatherworn at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2007

Or, what sunshinesky said, though maybe with sea salt soaks instead of Spectro Jel.

I'm still learnding.
posted by weatherworn at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2007

I've got the same allergy. I have four holes in one ear and three in the other. This is what's worked for me.

I have a set of "neverending" hoops that I wear nearly all the time. They are sterling silver. Sterling doesn't bother me, so this works. Basically, the end fits into the body of the earring and there is no back. If I wear studs, they have to be high-quality (so SSS, sterling, or 18kt gold or higher, white gold is okay too, for me) and I have to wear small backs or wear them relatively loose. I can also wear french hooks. This all just basically boils down to one thing - air ciculation. You don't want to be trapping moisture next to your ears, because that just exacerbates the original problem.

If your ears haven't healed over by now, they're not going to. You need to wait out any allergic reaction, heal up the damage, and start over. I still have issues on occasion, but you can wear earrings comfortably. Just start simple.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:16 AM on June 5, 2007

even with all the elaborate cleansing and neosporin-ing and everything else I've read about to try and prevent that hot, itchy, painful reaction (presumably due to nickel, so I've given up on cheap jewelery).

Giving up on the cheap jewelry = good.

Elaborate cleansing rituals and neosporin? Sounds like you may be exacerbating the irritation. Take it easy on that little flap of skin.

Nthing no need to repierce.
posted by desuetude at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2007

I have the same problem, compounded by scar tissue in my right earlobe. My ears have been pierced three times each, but I have only one set of holes.

The second time (age 8), I had a reaction to cheap earrings, which wound up later causing a big infection. The first doctor pulled the earrings, but left the backs on and skin started growing over them. They were removed later by a different doctor.

In the last two months, I've had severe reactions to certain earrings (I know better, but they were pretty) that my holes closed when I let them heal.

I had to reopen them myself using piercing studs (yes, the ones they used in the mall my third time out) I had left over. Since yours haven't closed, I don't see having to get them repierced.

I've left the piercing studs in and my ears have healed up, with no cleaning or maintenance necessary. I have been in the market for some nice sterling silver lately.

Sterling silver, stainless steel, and good gold all work for me, though a pair of gold-plated silver hoops I picked up in Italy were the cause of one of my recent irritations. I used to have a lovely pair of stainless steel hoops for everyday wear that cost me about $5.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:53 AM on June 5, 2007

Keep in mind, if you do take the earrings out, let them close completely, and then get them redone with a needle, you may not be able to get them in the same place again due to scar tissue, etc. So, depending on the size of your earlobes, two earrings may no longer be an option.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2007

God, how could I forget sea salt soaks? Definitely use them if the reaction you had has opened the skin and turned all gucky.

Other than that... any piercing enthusiast worth their salt will tell you to LITFA!!! (aka LITHA)
posted by sunshinesky at 10:12 AM on June 5, 2007

I have the same problem. When I had my second holes pierced on each side, I had to dig the posts out of swollen earlobes and replace them with sterling hoops, and let them heal with those. Even that took a while.

I find that if I stay away from super cheap earrings and posts, I'm fine. Maybe my earlobes are too fat, I thought at one point, and they need more air around the earrings. So I stick to hoops and dangley things. Generally though sterling silver hoops are my best bet.

I even tried platinum posts with no success. They were too tight, though.

Metal also makes me break out on my wrists, neck, etc. Stainless steel watches leave small raised bumps on my skin.
posted by routergirl at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2007

Response by poster: This is the greatest place ever. Thanks for those links! One can google "body jewelery" all day long but a recommendation from an actual person is priceless.

I actually just tried the sea-salt soak for the first time last night, because it's the only thing I hadn't tried before, so we'll see how that turns out. Once they've calmed down I'll start over with some real live professional steel and treat them like brand new holes.

I know that the older I get, the more stuff I'll be allergic to, and I know that yes, you almost always do get what you pay for, but man, that "I growed up poor" gene is hard to override.

Re: "sterling silver," is it true that there is nickel mixed in there? I thought the nickel was for strengthening up soft metals like gold, but that silver was okay. Perhaps I will play it safe and stick with the stuff a surgeon would use. And, of course, LITFA. Always good advice.

Thanks so much!
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2007

Usually the other metal added to sterling silver is copper, but it can vary a little. I don't think nickel is used though. Stainless steel is usually the most hypoallergenic, but silver tends to work for a lot of us who are allergic.

I can't quite resist cute, cheap earrings sometimes either, even when I know better. I've been browsing here lately. Fits the inexpensive angle, and it's silver. Only caveat is it's imported and shipping takes a couple of weeks.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:02 AM on June 5, 2007

Sterling silver isn't pure; as the linked article mentions, the typical purity for most sterling jewelry, including earrings, is 92.5 percent silver to 7.5 percent what-have-you. (That's why you can see a little imprint of "925" on much of the silver jewelry you buy!) It's often copper, and yes, occasionally nickel. That's why those cute silver earrings are so inexpensive.

I'm actually pretty surprised to hear above that some people with sensitivities can still comfortably wear sterling silver. In my experience, that's been the biggest culprit for irritated, itchy, uncomfortable ears, including my own!

Oh! If you find that the salt solution is overly drying, dilute it with more water or switch to something premixed like H2Ocean.

And if you're treating it like a new piercing, make sure you really do LITHA. Don't turn it, don't move it, don't twist it; implant-grade steel will not "stick" to your body. You're just introducing bacteria to the area and making the skin swollen and unhappy. Do the salt soak once or twice a day (more than that, and you risk drying out the piercing), wash it once a day with a gentle soap like Johnson and Johnson's baby wash or Dr. Bronner's Crazy Hippie Soap, and if you're worried, call your piercer.

Can you tell I still have the script memorized from my days at the shop?

posted by weatherworn at 11:21 AM on June 5, 2007

FYI: Please do not get it done with a piercer gun thing at the mall. They are not autoclavable and are not particularly safe.

I did my cartilage in my ear with a gun first, and it got nasty and infected, even with proper care. After taking it out, I had it redone with a surgical needle in a piercing studio, and have never ever had a problem with it. I won't go back to Claire's Boutique to get my ears pierced again.
posted by santojulieta at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2007

Ooh. Sorry... I didn't catch your whole post. Duh.
posted by santojulieta at 3:19 PM on June 5, 2007

Weatherworn: I know, I don't understand why silver doesn't make my skin swell and itch, but it just doesn't. No, that's not quite true. Sterling silver bought from a street kiosk, a head shop, or an art fair often breaks me out, where sterling bought from more reputable stores is lovely.

Someone told me once that cheaper silver is often coated with something to make it look shinier. Could that be the culprit? I don't know.

Also loving LITFA/LITHA. Thinking about getting my third hole done again on the side that's always been one short due to infections. Esp after reading all of this.
posted by routergirl at 2:40 PM on June 6, 2007

« Older Songs about a bad man/woman   |   Career confused college grad wants money in NC Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.