The GQ Guide to Getting Your Ears Pierced

“All piercings in the ear will require roughly the same aftercare, but you’ll definitely be taking more care and healing anything in the cartilage for a longer period of time compared to an earlobe,” Webb says. 

The Best and Worst Metals for Piercings (and Nonmetals, Too)

Another common question that pierced people have pertains to the types of metals used in jewelry (and similarly, which types of non-metal materials are safe). Remember this advice above all: “The skin is very absorbent, so it’s important to use quality materials,” says Webb. “No. Cheap. Metals.”

Good Metals for Piercings

An additional sign of a good studio is in the metals they use: “Professional studios should be using implant-grade titanium, solid gold, and niobium,” Webb says. “All jewelry should be hand polished to a mirror finish. All of these materials have been rigorously tested for their biocompatibility, and it is extremely rare to have an allergy to these metals.” Solid gold or implant grade titanium should never dull. But be cautious when cleaning the wound with hydrogen peroxide if you are wearing titanium. “Titanium oxide and hydrogen peroxide don’t have a good reaction, and it will ruin the polish on the titanium,” he says.

Webb adds that US-manufactured products are also important to seek out, due to national regulations on these materials. “Overseas, the metal laws are much different, and if you’re getting titanium or gold that is manufactured overseas, there’s no guarantee that the titanium will be implant grade, or what materials the gold has been hardened with.”

Inferior Metals for Piercings

As for fresh piercings, it is important to avoid steel, silver, and copper. (Then again, try to stick with the three options mentioned above for your best luck.) “These materials can contain impurities that can be broken down by your body’s pH, and can cause a reaction,” Webb warns. These can be OK to use in healed piercings, but proceed with caution.

Non-Metal Materials to Consider and Avoid

If you prefer non-metal materials, the sole option for fresh ear piercings is glass (either borosilicate or quartz glass). “This would commonly be for a larger gauge piercing,” Webb explains. “We generally start earlobe piercings at an 18g, which is a very small gauge. For example, most glass jewelry or plugs start at 12g. (The lower the number, the thicker the gauge).” Once a lobe wound is healed and stretched (that is, “gauged”), there are a variety of acceptable materials one can use. Examples include stone, wood, horn, bone, and some types of shell. 

Avoid plastics and acrylics across all types of piercings, no matter now established. “These are unsafe due to the possibility of plastic leaching into the skin,” Webb says. 

The Most Painful Piercings (and the Least)

While each of us has different pain thresholds, there are some generally accepted spectrums of agony when it comes to types of ear piercings. “Of course most piercings will only take a second if done by an experienced professional, and your level of discomfort will be minimal,” Webb explains. “Whenever people are nervous about something hurting, I always use the comparison of stubbing your toe: No piercing in your ear is going to hurt more than stubbing your toe, and by the time you’re looking at your new piercing in the mirror, you’re going to be excited and comfortable.” While the same can’t be said for other body parts, the ear has far fewer nerve endings in it, and as a rule of thumb, piercing the fatty tissue in your ear lobe or helix (the perimeter) will hurt less than piercing through cartilage.

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