I recently had my ear pierced in what is most commonly known as a ‘Helix’ piercing (to denote the outer ear) and is sometimes also called a ‘Pinna’, or the more anatomically specific ‘Scaphoid Fossa’. This type of piercing goes through the cartilage of the ear, and therefore takes much longer to heal than the ear lobe. Cartilage piercings are notoriously tough to heal on some, while others do well with this type of piercing.
As I am being asked a lot about this piercing and my experiences with healing, I thought I would share some of the best pre-piercing and aftercare advice/research I’ve come across so far, in the hopes of good healing. I hope the following info is helpful for those of you who are considering a new piercing or are having troubles with old ones:
1) GO TO A PROFESSIONAL
All piercings should be carried out by professionals – including the common ear lobe piercings – but it is especially important that cartilage piercings, and piercings on other sensitive body parts are carried out by trained professionals who do such piercings for a living. As a professional, your piercer should be able to explain the pros and cons of your choice and all aspects of aftercare, and you should be able to return if you encounter any problems or need to change the jewellery for any reason (which is not recommended during healing, ideally, as changing the jewellery can re-traumatise the wound).
2) SAY NO TO THE GUN
Ear piercing guns are often inaccurate and are known to cause unnecessary blunt trauma, forcing a blunt-ended stud earring through your ear, resulting in tearing and scar tissue. (Or leaving you with a very sharp, pointed backing on your earring, which for obvious reasons is also problem.) They also commonly give you a shorter length studs, which in some cases can cause the earring to be ‘swallowed up’ by your ear when it swells during the healing process. (Reports also suggest ear piercing guns may have sterilisation issues, and can therefore potentially spread serious infections.) In short, they are not recommended for this type of piercing. If you go to a piercing professional, they will not use a gun. If they want to use a gun, think again about how experienced they are.
A professional should make your piercing using a sterile hollow gauge needle. (They look like this.)
3) CHOOSE YOUR JEWELLERY WISELY, AND DON’T CHANGE IT
A professional piercer will have a range of appropriate jewellery available for your fresh piercing, and will put the jewellery in once the piercing is made. You will not need your own jewellery. The jewellery should be high grade piercing jewellery. The jewellery the piercer places in your fresh piercing will keep it from closing up again, and should not be removed during the (long) healing process. There are various views on the best style of jewellery for a Helix, so tell your chosen piercer what you like the look of, and take their advice on board. Some prefer the round ‘sleeper’ style that hugs the edge of the outer ear, as it is less likely to catch on hair and clothing, while others advise against a curved earring in a straight healing piercing and instead like the straight bar or long stud style, making sure it is long enough to give the piercing room to breathe and to avoid problems during the expected initial swelling.
I went with a straight bar with a screw on pearl-look bead to match the pearl studs my late mother Janni got married in, as I wear them often. The bead in my piercing is not a real pearl, as genuine pearls, being organic, do not survive cleaning well. As the bead screws off, I can replace it with another bead of a different colour if necessary, though I would wait a while to do that as it would irritate the area. While the piercing is fresh, I am clipping my hair back on one side with hair pins behind the ear, to keep the hair out of the way (and show it off.)
Once your piercing is fully healed, enjoy experimenting with different jewellery.
4) GET ONE DONE AT A TIME
A Helix will take a long time to heal, and you will not want sleep on it for some time. Personally, I like the asymmetrical look, but if you intend to get both ears done to match, I recommend doing one at a time and not doing the other side until the first one is as healed as possible. Multiple piercings up one ear can look great, but again I would personally recommend playing it safe by doing one at a time, and letting each heal before getting another, so you can get a handle on any swelling or other issues that may arise for you.
5) KEEP IT CLEAN
Keep your piercing clean, always clean your hands before touching it, use only clean pillows and bed linen, and do not use any cosmetics or makeup on the area of your piercings under any circumstances. Expect some redness and localised swelling. This will pass. Cleanliness is key, and as with everything else, clean living will also help your healing time and general health.
6) TREAT YOUR PIERCING TO REGULAR SALT BATHS
Salt or saline baths are generally agreed to be the best tried and tested technique for keeping piercings clean. Most piercers will recommend soaking your piercing in this way every day while it heals. It is not recommended that you use drying or harsh cleaners like peroxide, alcohol, etc.
To make a salt bath: boil water and pour it into a small bowl or wide mouthed mug, and stir in one tablespoon of salt. (I have been using pure rock salt). Allow the salt to dissolve in the water and wait until the hot water to cool enough that it won’t burn you. I test with my finger, or even my other ear to make sure it is comfortable enough. Once it is a good temperature, dip your piercing into the water and keep it there for 2 minutes. (For me that involves resting my right ear into the water and waiting patiently for the 2 minutes to pass.) You may feel it sting very gently in the piercing after about a minute. Have a towel on hand as the hair around your ear will be soaking wet.
I bought a saline spray for piercings as a back up because of my frequent travel for work, and though it was probably better than nothing I found that it did little.
Have 2 salt baths a day for the first month if at all possible. If your piercing takes a turn and starts to swell again and feel hot (some of which is to be expected initially) salt baths will likely again help.
Here is an image of my piercing looking a bit red, and swelling up across the outer ear around day 4. I’d been using the saline spray instead of salt baths due to travel and once I stuck to the twice daily salt baths again it settled right down:
7) CONSIDER EMU OIL
Emu Oil is a anti-inflammatory that has been used for centuries by Australia’s Aboriginal communities as a natural remedy. Some piercers swear by it (The Piercing Bible, among others, calls it a miracle product) for healing new or troubled piercings. If you want to try this oil, make sure the product you use is 100% Emu oil (no substitutes). It should not have a smell. To use, once you have gently cleaned your piercing, take a small amount of 100% Emu oil and massage it around the area with clean fingers (or gloved hand), without directly touching the piercing. The oil will soak into the skin and lubricate the piercing wound, helping the healing process. I use a small amount twice a day.
It is not appropriate for vegetarians. (If you know of a safe vegetarian alternative, please let me know in the comments).
Avoid tight necklines that will pull on your ear. Avoid swimming in pools. Avoid submerging your piercing in a bath as baths can harbour bacteria (Showers are preferred). Avoid sleeping on top of your new piercing. Avoid playing with it or touching it except when cleaning. Protect your new piercing from being bumped against because trust me, it hurts.
9) GIVE IT TIME
Cartilage ear piercings may take up to a year to fully heal, but generally take 3-6 months (as opposed to the ear lobe, that takes just 4-6 weeks). They heal from the outside in, so even if it looks fine on the outside, you should not assume it is fully healed. Having said all this, everyone heals differently and some piercings don’t work out on some people. If it doesn’t work out for you, make sure you seek professional help, and don’t blame yourself.
I am thrilled with my piercing so far, and it is healing extremely well. Wish me luck with the ongoing healing process.
I hope this info was helpful for those of you who are considering a new piercing or are having troubles with old ones. Always speak with a professional about your piercings.
Good luck x
* For more information on piercing aftercare, check out the Body Art Association of Australia and New Zealand.
* For more images of Helix piercings, check out my Pinterest page.
* There are many good, qualified piercing professionals. Check your local listings and ask around. I went to K at Pierced Off and found her to be very professional.