Mummified remains from centuries ago reveal the long history of ear piercing. We adorn our ears for spiritual, cultural, and fashion forward reasons. Young girls await the day that their parents consent to let them go "under the gun," so to speak. In fact, it's estimated that about 80% of women in the US have had their ears pierced.

If you're considering having your ears or your child's ears pierced, consider the following facts first:

  • Be advised of the risks to young children. While it's quite common for very young children to have their ears pierced in some cultures, it's simply too easy for earrings to snag and catch on clothing and toys during play. Also, the hygienic practices required to prevent infection can be tricky to maintain with squirmy, active kids. Some organizations recommend delaying ear piercing until the child is old enough to take care of the pierced site themselves.

  • Consult with your doctor before you pierce. People with certain health conditions may be advised against piercing. Those with diabetes, for example, may be at heightened risk of systemic infection via the open wound of a piercing. Also, those with contact allergies or who are prone to developing scars called keloids may not want to invite the risk for the sake of fashion.

  • Let a professional do the work. Though some may tell tales of ear piercings done by friends involving potatoes, corks, ice, and sharp needles, a home piercing significantly boosts your risk of infection and complications during healing. Reputable ear piercing establishments use either a one-use, disposable sterile piercing gun or one with a disposable sterile cartridge for inserting the stud.

  • Choose the right type of jewellery. To lower the risk of allergic reaction, newly pierced earlobes should wear surgical grade stainless steel rather than nickel, brass, or in some cases, gold.

  • Handle healing ears with care. You can expect the healing process to take about 6 weeks. During this time, you will not be able to remove the studs. However, you will need to keep the earlobes very clean and clear of any potential irritants, including shampoo, hair spray, and perfume. Twice daily, gently wipe down the area with rubbing alcohol or clean using chlorhexidine soap. Be sure to get to all areas, including the skin between the stud or earring back and the skin of your ear.

  • Keep your eyes on - but your hands off - your ears. Check your ears regularly, and watch for any signs of redness, rash, swelling, cysts, or nodules. You may be told to twist and turn the earring, but be warned that this can irritate the skin and raise the risk of infection.

Once your earlobes have fully healed, keep up a routine of good ear hygiene. Whenever you wash your face, go ahead and wash your ears, too. Wash your earrings in soap and water before and after wearing.

Always protect your earlobes from potential snag situations, like dangling earrings, tangled hair, and clothes that catch to your jewellery. And look in the mirror to put on earrings, or at least until you get the hang of it! If you suspect an infection, don't hesitate to seek medical attention.

Amy Toffelmire