How to Heal a Helix

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:

swellinghelix

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).

8) AVOID

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

taramosscamping

* 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.

30 Comments

  1. Laura rose

    How long does it take for a helix piercing not to be sore to touch? I really want to get my helix pierced and I absolutely love yours and I’m going skiing in the middle of December and I was wondering if I get my helix pierced sometime soon will I still be able wear a ski helmet comfortably in December or should I wait?
    I do really want to get it pierced but worried about pain/healing time!
    L x

  2. Tara Moss

    Dear Laura Rose,
    I highly recommend that you wait until after your ski trip to get your piercing, as it will be sore for a six weeks or more when you put pressure on it, like a helmet. It takes about 6 months to really heal (or up to a year for some). For that first of those weeks, and months, sleeping directly on it, or wearing a helmet tightly over it will aggravate the healing and will make it feel sore.
    Good luck with your piercing! I love mine.
    Best wishes, Tara

  3. I have been wanting to get a helix piercing for the past few months but I have heard that they are really hard on your ears. I had no idea that there were other methods besides the piercing gun! That is what they have used on my other three piercings so I will have to look into the sterile needle that you talked about. Hopefully I can do the right research and find a great professional to do the job for me. Thanks for sharing this information!

  4. Mrs N

    Great article. I have a double forward helix and whilst I love it has given me trouble since I had it done…3 years ago! As I have small ears the first piercing which sits in the fold of skin, that joins the top of my ear to my head, refuses to heal fully. It’s ok for a while then it’ll flare up and be sore or even bleeds a little. I always go back to the salt baths which does calm it down. Cartlidge piercings can be troublesome and you may be unlucky like me and have to pay it some attention occasionally but I wouldn’t be without them. My little bit of Middle aged rebellion!

  5. Lynne

    Hi. i got mine done 4 days ago and itms still in agony. how long did your pain last? because to me it’s throbbing and seems to be getting worse but that could just be my healing process. any advice?

  6. Tara Moss

    Dear Lynne,
    I’m sorry your new helix is hurting more than expected. I highly recommend salt ear baths, avoiding sleeping on it, or irritating it with pressure, hair products or other germs or catching it on clothes/tight necklines, etc. If the pain is very bad you may wish to have it examined by your doctor. It is common in the early weeks for it to be red and sore. Mine is fully healed now, and I love it, but it did get red and a bit sore for months, particularly if I got hairspray near it or accidentally slept on it. Good luck. Best wishes, Tara

  7. Erika lomack

    Great article !! I got mine done 3 days ago and I haven’t felt pain yet lol .. Maybe I have a high tolerance

  8. Nikki M

    Hi Tara Thanks for the informative article. I had my helix done yesterday for the third time . The first two times were done with a gun. So far so good this time however im still full of anxiety and hoping it wont hurt like hell as the last two piercings did were I was forced to take out the stud just to relieve the agony. Am doing the salt thing soaking cotton pads in the salt water as instructed. Thank again for your sharing.

  9. Stephanie

    Hello,

    I’ve had my helix piercing since December 2014 and I still cannot sleep on it! If I do occasionally sleep on it, it gets slightly inflamed and sensitive. I thankfully do not have a bump, but I have never heard of anyone experiencing sensitivity after a year. Is this normal?

  10. rebekah stephenson

    Heey i got my helix on the 22 of March and I was wondering what type of salt should i use to clean?

  11. Hannah

    Hi Tara,

    Great, informative article! I got mine done on the 5th of March and have had no troubles with it at all! I am going skiing in July and was wondering if this is enough healing time? Also, will my ear be irritated if I change it to a hoop piercing a couple weeks before I go?

    Thanks!

  12. Bex

    I absolutely agree with everything! I had my helix done two weeks ago, stupidly I also got my front helix on the other ear the same day so sleep has been a tad painful!

    I had a bit of…ahem fun a couple of nights ago and my ear bar got caught up in my hair and pulled pretty badly so it’s quite sore at the moment :'( I would say it’s the most painful to heal because it’s so exposed, and can get bashed or hair tangled around it so easily so I would accept up dos for a while to avoid this! Hannah, I was advised to leave at least 6 weeks before changing the piercing so since yours seems to be healing ok, I would say changing to a hoop would probably be fine, not sure about the pressure of ski goggles though :/

    The woman who did mine is a friend with years of experience and loads of her own piercings so I trust her implicitly…Lynne if yours is still that bad now I would suggest you go back to your piercer for advice. Same to Stephanie, I agree doctors can tell if it is infected and provide antibiotics if necessary but a professional piercer also knows what it should/shouldn’t be like after a year. I’ve had friends who’s helix never healed so I guess it is possible that you’re experiencing those types of problems but a piercer will know best…just don’t take it out unless advised to by a professional piercer that you trust.

    Mrs N I still have occasional problems with my first lobe piercings that were done 22 years ago! It was done with a gun and went at an odd angle so it occasionally gets sore and inflamed with thicker earrings…the price we pay for decoration!!

    A very I don’t know where you are but it’s illegal in many places (such as England) to pierce cartilage with a gun now so you may be wise to find a different piercer.

    Anyhoo that’s my two pence (!) thank you for the article Tara xx

  13. Angel

    Hey, i had mine pierced more than a year ago and still it wont heal, i dont wanna remove it as the piercing will close, i dunno what to do really cos it will swell at times and it won’t.. But i really want it healed.. :/

  14. Andrea

    Thanks for the article, it’s quite helpful. I had mine done five days ago and I accidentally slept on it on the third day. At first it was swollen, red and it “bumped”(like heartbeats but on my ear). I did the salt bath mentioned in the article… The bumping disappeared but the swelling and redness won’t disappear (I’m doing the salt baths twice a day). Is it normal to be like that? Red and swollen with no pain? I’m fearing of an infection, but it doesn’t hurt (unless I touch the piercing) and it has no strange liquids coming out of it as some internet articles say it should if it’s an infection… Please help!

  15. Victoria D

    I got my cartilage done almost 4 months ago and it just started hurting again this past week. I’m not sure why, it’s not infected, but I was just wondering what I can do to help because it was feeling fine before. Thank you!

  16. Tara Moss

    Dear Victoria, Every time it becomes red or painful again, try regular salt baths for a few days and it should settle down. It is normal for this to happen for the first 6-12 months as the deeper, internal healing continues. Good luck!
    Best wishes,
    Tara

  17. Tara Moss

    Dear Andrea,
    I would recommend seeing your doctor if you are concerned, but in the early days and weeks a certain amount of redness and swelling is considered normal.
    Good luck!
    Best wishes,
    Tara

  18. Jessica Anne

    I just got my helix pierced 2 days ago and the bar has slid to the front and is longer at the front than the back is this okay? Or should I slide it back?

  19. K

    Hello ladies, I got my piercing done in October this year and all was fine till I stopped caring for it and it started getting swollen. Now both front and back of the piercing is swollen with bumps and hurts a lot too. What can I do ?

  20. Tittah Collins

    Hi, your article is great! I just got my Helix done 3 days ago and been doing the salt baths. Feels great. A tad uncomfortable just sleeping on one side. Really helpful article! Thanks

  21. Jess

    I woke up and my helix was hurting really bad! My mum looked at it and said it looked lightly purple and a little swollen, I’ve had it pierced for 2 weeks now and it’s been fine and I’ve been using the spray they gave me and warm salt water and also proxide. What should I do to help it?

  22. Jordyn

    Hi, I don’t know if this thread thingy is still active or not but what can I lose?
    So 6 days ago, I got my lower back helix pierced as I plan to get my triple helix done. My piercer was confused at first as to what I wanted and eventually realised she had the wrong jewellry at the ready. She shrugged her shoulders and said it should be fine. Anyway, she jabbed me good, I gave the money and left, extremely happy. However, throughout this week the barbell has CONSTANTLY been snagging on clothes, hair, towels, jewellry and even bedding.
    It’s now swollen, throbbing and infected and I’m dying to change the jewllery to a hoop to minimalise any further catching. But I’m worried the curved jewelry will reshape the healing path and stuff it up for later on and I don’t know whether it will just make it worse.
    My daith was also infected within the first week hen I got it done a few months ago, to the point where I could barely think from the fevers and headaches. I just got a q-tip and dipped it in tea-tree oil and lathered it on the jewellery moving it in and out of the hole. I then repeated with colloidal silver. For anyone with infections, pure colloidal silver worked for my infected daith after two days (applied twice daily). So, does magic exist? Yes, it does!
    Please help me if anyone is here!😂

  23. Ali Skye

    Amazing article. I had my helix pierced around 5 weeks ago and it has been perfectly fine up until a few days ago. It started to go back to the initial pain of getting it pierced. Now it is swollen and very sore to touch. I am going to try the salt baths. Should I be worried? Should I leave it and keep spraying it every day?

  24. Ashlee

    Hi everyone
    I got my helix done awhile ago & note looking for earrings to swap, preferably rose gold. Any suggestions for websites to purchase? I live in Darwin so not many options up here. Cheers

  25. Ricky

    I got my helix done with a gun at piercing pagoda…had no problem with it. (I wanted to test if the gun really is as bad as everyone says it is) Just use the cleaner they provide you with twice a day and you’ll be fine.

  26. Renee

    Thank you so much for this article. I stumbled across it while Googling, “healing for helix piercings”. Like Ricky above, I too, went to Pagoda and they used a gun (I did not do the research I should have), however, I’m fine. I had it done a few days ago, and it is doing exactly what yours did (slight redness, slight soreness). Thank you for the salt bath tip — I had no idea! I love my new piercing and will take good care of it now that I’ve read your tips. By the way, you are gorgeous and your helix rocks. Best, Renee in South Florida

  27. Frances

    Grapeseed oil does it best as it has healing properties, very thin consistency, and has natural anti bacterial too. Vegans can opt for Grapeseed instead of Emu.

  28. sara

    I got my ear pierced a month ago and it swelled a little,my syupid doctor told me to clean it with alcohol,and when it swelled I read on the internet that I should remove the earings and clean it n put them back on,I do that sometimes,but when I remove my earings my ear bleeds a little.It’s gonna be summer soon,and I can’t swim because of this stupid thing,I’m really bummed out,don’t do it guys it’s not worth it trust me.

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