As any one of the lovely ladies above illustrates, adorning one's ears (or face) with piercings remains cooler than ever, no matter your typical style aesthetic. But while they're gorgeous, and a fun way to up your edge, a great collection of piercings requires certain responsibility—and to be honest, it's likely that the aftercare instructions you got at the pagoda in your local shopping mall at age 12 probably aren't the best to follow when it comes to taking care of your new body jewelry.
As any one of the lovely ladies above illustrates, adorning one’s ears (or face) with piercings remains cooler than ever, no matter your typical style aesthetic. But while they’re gorgeous, and a fun way to up your edge, a great collection of piercings requires certain responsibility—and to be honest, it’s likely that the aftercare instructions you got at the pagoda in your local shopping mall at age 12 probably aren’t the best to follow when it comes to taking care of your new body jewelry. To debunk any residual adolescent myths, we asked J. Colby Smith—the preferred piercer of models, celebs, and editors alike—to give us his expert guide for pain-free aftercare, and to tell us what we might be doing wrong. (Spoiler: A lot.)
First things first: As a preventative measure, ask your piercer to use a needle, not a “gun.” “The ‘gun’ forces the earring through with pressure, so it causes a lot of unnecessary damage to the tissue. It’s also hard to manage the sterilization of a tool with plastic parts. With a needle, we have more control of accuracy, and it’s totally sterile. It works like a scalpel, making a small incision into the tissue, leaving minimal damage to the area. It’s also a myth that the gun hurts less—if a needle piercing is done properly, the pain is very minor.”
To care for a fresh piercing, wash with soap and water or saline solution—not rubbing alcohol—twice a day. “I find alcohol dries the piercing out. If it gets too dry, it cracks and bleeds, causing the wound to remain open. I prefer oil-based soaps for this reason. They clean the wound, but also provide oils to soften up the healing tissue.”
Yes, you can “turn” the earring—but ONLY when it’s wet.
“Turn it if it’s wet and you are cleaning it. If it’s dry, do not move it.”
Know that a cartilage piercing will require a bit more TLC than a lobe piercing. “Anything in the cartilage area is more temperamental during the healing process. They feel about the same to receive, but can be more difficult to heal.”
Keep an eye out for signs of healing—and know how long you might have to wait. “Ear lobes usually take about two to three months to heal, and cartilage takes about three to 10 months. Once it stops hurting, swelling, and secreting fluid, and any redness disappears, it’s healed.”
And help things along as best you can. “It takes a patient mentality to help piercings heal 100 percent. Your body’s job is to get rid of foreign objects, so it’s a little bit of a dance you have to do. You must be patient and nurse it to health. Sometimes the simple things are the best: Soap and water to clean, and ice for the swelling. If you take your aftercare seriously, you’ll avoid any problems.”
If your piercing is bothering you, don’t panic. “If you notice excessive swelling, redness, or radiating heat, or if the piercing is secreting fluid, don’t stress—nine out of 10 times, your piercing is only irritated and not infected. Any reputable piercer will take a look at your piercing and set your mind at ease. Never panic—worst case we just remove the jewelry. Don’t ask your friends, search online, or go to the doctor. Your piercer should be your first stop if you are the slightest bit worried, no one else.”