In recent years, cultivating a collection of ear piercings beyond the standard punctured lobe has become something of a rite of passage among fashion types, celebrities, and regular girls alike. Having multiple rings, studs, and barbells in your ear no longer carries the stigma it once did, but deciphering exactly what you want so you’ll be able to ask for it when you visit a professional piercer is easier said than done.
If we could hazard a guess, we’d bet that if you’ve recently been bitten by the piercing bug, Instagram has something to do with it. But say you’ve spotted a cool girl in your feed with a few hoops in her cartilage or dainty diamonds trailing up her ears—how do you know what kind of piercings she has, exactly? Well, our guide should help get you started:
“Multiple ear projects—people building on their ears and getting multiple lobes, helix stuff, a rook piercing—that’s really, really popular right now,” says Brian Keith Thompson, owner and chief piercing officer at Los Angeles institution Body Electric, where Rihanna, Beyoncé, and more have gone under the needle. “Overall, I think the lobes of the ear are always going to be the bread and butter—throughout time, what people have decorated are the lobes … but the great thing about piercings is that you can get pierced today and wear what’s relevant right now in pop culture, and then as times change and the fashion changes and the styles change, you can change your jewelry accordingly.”
No two ears are identical, however, so you may not be able to make your ear match Kate Moss‘ precisely. A few years ago, for instance, a much-circulated photograph sent droves of Pinterest fans to request triple forward-helix piercings (that’s three holes through the cartilage by your hairline)—not everyone has the anatomy to do that, explains Thompson. Same goes for the tragus piercing—some people have enough room to get a ring and a stud put in, he says, while others may barely have space for one.
“It’s very rare that I find somebody’s anatomy and I’m like, ‘Yeah you just cant do it,’” he says. “There is usually a way to do it. Now, it may not be exactly what you were envisioning when you came in, but there is usually a way that we can make it happen.”
Healing: The three key ingredients to a quick and successful healing process? They aren’t too far from what your mom told you to do when you went off to college: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, and eat three healthy meals a day. That, and wash regularly with soap and water. (Thompson recommends Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, because it’s all-natural and won’t irritate freshly-pierced ears.) If you keep your hands away from the piercing and resist the urge to fiddle with it throughout the day, you should be fully-healed in just a few months—think eight to ten weeks for a lobe and three to six months for a cartilage piercing like your tragus.
For the most part, you just want to be conscious of how you sleep, since you may not be able to put your head down on the side of your new piercing for a while, and if you wear anything on or in your ears regularly. For instance, a pop star who needs an ear-piece in regularly may have trouble with a conch piercing, Thompson points out, and anecdotally, I can tell you a helix piercing doesn’t always play well with over-ear headphones.