Infobox Piercing
name = Earring
nicknames =

image_size = 200px
image_capt = 1) Helix/Cartilage, 2) Industrial, 3) Rook, 4) Daith, 5) Tragus, 6) Snug, 7) Conch, 8) Anti-Tragus, 9) Lobe
location = Ear
jewelry = Captive bead ring, barbell, circular barbell, flesh plug
healing time = 6 to 8 weeks

Earrings are jewelry attached to the ear through a piercing in the earlobe or some other external part of the ear (except in the case of clip earrings, which clip onto the lobe). Earrings are worn by both sexes. In western cultures, earrings have traditionally been worn primarily by women, although in recent decades, ear piercing has also become popular among men in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Fact|date=June 2008.

Common locations for piercings, other than the earlobe, include the rook, tragus, and across the helix (see image at right) Fact|date=June 2008. The simple term “ear piercing” usually refers to an earlobe piercing, whereas piercings in the upper part of the external ear are often referred to as “cartilage piercings.” Cartilage piercings are more complex to perform than earlobe piercings and take longer to heal Fact|date=June 2008.

Earring components may be made of any number of materials, including metal, plastic, glass, precious stones, and beads. Designs range from small loops and studs to large plates and dangling items. The size is ultimately limited by the physical capacity of the earlobe to hold the earring without tearing. However, heavy earrings worn over extended periods of time may lead to stretching of the earlobe and the piercing.


Ear piercing is one of the oldest known forms of body modification, with artistic and written references from cultures around the world dating back to early history. One of the early signs of earrings worn by men are from the walls of Perspolis in ancient Persia, the carved images of the soldiers from various parts of the Persian Empire which are displayed on some of the surviving walls of the palace showing the soldiers wearing an ear ring.

Pierced ears were popular in the United States through the early 1920s, then fell into disfavor among women due to the rising popularity of clip-on earrings. Nevertheless, a small male following continued to exist, particularly among sailors, for whom a pierced earlobe often meant that the wearer had sailed around the world or had crossed the equator Fact|date=June 2008. In addition, if a non service member sailor was involved in and survived a sinking ship, they were often seen wearing an earring in the left ear. There was also a long-held belief that puncturing the earlobe was beneficial to increasing the acuity of eyesight (see acupuncture) or of hearing Fact|date=June 2008. Also, it was a common belief amongst sailors that if their ship wrecked and their bodes washed up on a shoreline, the person to find them would take the earring as payment for a chrisian burial. It is because of this belief that many sailors invested quite a bit of money on gold earrings, as they were very superstitious.

Ear piercing continued to be practiced by Western women of various cultures, e.g., Hispanic, but was less common in Anglo-based cultures until the 1960s Fact|date=June 2008. At that time, the practice re-emerged, but since a large commercial market for them did not exist, most ear piercings were done at home Fact|date=June 2008. Teenage girls were known to hold "ear piercing parties", where they performed the procedure on one another. Such an event is depicted in the 1978 motion picture Grease, where Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), the leading lady, is pierced by her friends.Ear piercing became commonly available in physician offices Fact|date=June 2008. Some of the earliest commercial, non-medical locations for getting an ear piercing appeared in the 1970s at Manhattan jewelry stores, although the overall commercial market was still in its infancy. By the 1980s, ear piercing was common among many women, thus creating a broader market for the procedure. Department stores throughout the country would hold ear piercing events, sponsored by earring manufacturers. At these events, a nurse or other trained person would perform the procedure, either pushing a sharpened and sterilized "starter earring" through the earlobe by hand, or using an ear-piercing instrument modified from the design used by physicians Fact|date=June 2008.

In the late 1960s, ear piercing began to make inroads among men through the hippie and gay communities. In the late 1970s, amateur piercings, sometimes with safety pins and/or multiple piercings, became popular in the punk rock community. By the 1980s, the trend for male popular music performers to have pierced ears helped establish a fashion trend for men. This was later adopted by many professional athletes. British men started piercing both ears in the 1980s; George Michael of Wham! was a prominent example. The heavily jeweled Mr. T was an early example of an American celebrity wearing earrings in both ears, although this trend did not become popular with mainstream American men until the 1990s.

In various Western cultures, piercing the left vs. the right ear alone has sometimes been popularly perceived to be associated with a particular sexual orientation (or with an active vs. passive role in a homosexual relationship) [ [http://www.google.com/search?q=left+or+right+earring+gay Google search] ] . However, due to the lack of uniformity, such generalizations are essentially meaningless.

Multiple piercings in one or both ears first emerged in mainstream America in the 1970s. Initially, the trend was for women to wear a second set of earrings in the earlobes, or for men to double-pierce a single earlobe. Asymmetric styles with more and more piercings became popular, eventually leading to the cartilage piercing trend.

A variety of specialized cartilage piercings have since become popular. These include the tragus piercing, antitragus piercing, rook piercing, industrial piercing, helix piercing, orbital piercing, daith piercing, and conch piercing. In addition, earlobe stretching, while common in primitive cultures for thousands of years, began to appear in Western society in the 1990s, and is now a fairly common sight. However, these forms of ear piercing are still infrequent compared to standard ear piercing.


In southern India, most children, both boys and girls, will get their ears pierced in religious ceremony before they are about 5 years oldcite web
title=Piercing babies' ears - the gun replaces tradition, but a lot is lost
] . Infants may get their ears pierced as early as several days after their birth.

In Islam only females can get their ear and nose pierced. As for males it represents 'looking like women' act according to many muslims' traditions over history. Taking it from that point of view many muslim cultures considered it Ḥarām.

Types of earrings

Modern standard pierced earrings

*Stud earrings - The main characteristic of stud earrings is the appearance of floating on the ear or earlobe without a visible (from the front) point of connection. Studs are invariably constructed on the end of a post, which penetrates straight through the ear. The post is held in place by a removable friction back or "clutch". Occasionally, the stud earring is constructed so that the post is threaded, allowing a "screw back" to securely hold the earring in place. This is useful in preventing the loss of expensive earrings containing precious stones or made of precious metals.
*Hoop earrings - hoop earrings are circular or semi-circular in design, and look very similar to a ring. They are often constructed of metal tubing, with a thin wire attachment penetrating the ear. The hollow tubing is permanently attached to the wire at the front of the ear, and slips into the tube at the back. The entire device is held together by tension between the wire and the tube. Other hoop designs do not complete the circle, but penetrate through the ear in a post, using the same attachment techniques that apply to stud earrings. A variation is the "continuous hoop earring". In this design, the earring is constructed of a continuous piece of solid metal, which penetrates through the ear and can be rotated almost 360°. One of the ends is permanently attached to a small piece of metallic tubing or a hollow metallic bead. The other end is inserted into the tubing or bead, and is held in place by tension. One special type of hoop earring is the "sleeper earring". This is a very small continuous piece of (typically) gold wire which essentially hugs the base of the earlobe with the ends connecting in the back. Because their small size makes them comfortable, "sleepers" are sometimes worn at night to keep an ear piercing from closing.

*Dangle earrings - Dangle earrings are designed to flow from the bottoms of the earlobes, and are available in various lengths from a centimeter or two, all the way to brushing the shoulders. They are generally attached to the ear by the use of thin wires, which go through the earlobe and connect to themselves in a small hook at the back. A variation is the "French hook" design, which merely hangs from the earlobe without closure, although small plastic retainers are sometimes used on ends of French hooks. Rarely, dangle earrings use the post attachment design.

*Huggy earrings - Huggies are a popular style of earring where the setting actually 'hugs' your earlobe. These can come in different shapes and sizes, from hearts to rectangles. Many custom jewelers make huggy earrings because of the many varieties of setting that can be used to make a good template for their craft.Fact|date=February 2007 Most times, stones are channel set in huggy earrings.

*Slave earrings - The slave earring is also called a "Bajoran earring", which became highly popular after it appeared on Star Trek. It is a rarely seen type of earring in which a stud is connected by a delicate chain to an ear cuff (see below) or a cartilage pierce worn higher on the ear.
*Ear Thread - Or Earththreader, Ear String, Threader, a chain that is thin enough to slip into the ear hole, and come back out, dangles. Sometimes, people add beads or other materials on to the chain, so the chain dangles with beads below the ear.

*Ear needles - A type of plastic stick 1 mm in diameter and 1.5 cm long that goes into the ear piercing. It does not fall out because it is slightly bigger than the piercing. It is quite popular amongst teenage and preteen girls in Hong Kong, as most schools do not even allow stud earrings.

Body piercing jewelry used as earrings

Body piercing jewelry is often used for ear piercings, and is selected for a variety of reasons including the availability of larger gauges, better piercing techniques, and a disdain for mainstream jewelry.

*Captive bead rings - Captive bead rings, often abbreviated as CBRs and sometimes called "ball closure rings", are a style of body piercing jewelry that is an almost 360° ring with a small gap for insertion through the ear. The gap is closed with a small bead that is held in place by the ring's tension. Larger gauge ball closure rings exhibit considerable tension, and may require ring expanding pliers for insertion and removal of the bead.

*Barbells - Barbells are composed of a thin, straight metal rod with a bead permanently fixed to one end. The other end is threaded, either externally or tapped with an internal thread, and the other bead is screwed into place after the barbell is inserted through the ear. Since the threads on externally threaded barbells tend to irritate the piercing, internal threads have become the most common variety.

*Circular Barbells - Circular Barbells are similar to ball-closure rings, except that they have a larger gap, and have a permanently attached bead at one end, and a threaded bead at the other, like barbells. This allows for much easier insertion and removal than with ball closure rings, but at the loss of a continuous look.

*Plugs - Earplugs are short cylindricals pieces of jewelry. Some plugs have flared ends to hold them in place, others require small elastic rubber rings ("O-rings") to keep them from falling out. They are usually used in large-gauge piercings.

*Flesh tunnels - Flesh tunnels, also known as eyelets or Bullet Holes, are similar to plugs; however, they are hollow in the middle. Flesh tunnels are most commonly used in larger gauge piercings either because weight is a concern to the wearer or for aesthetic reasons.

Clip-on and other non-pierced earrings

Several varieties of non-pierced earrings exist.

*Clip-on earrings - Clip-on earrings have existed longer than any other variety of non-pierced earrings. The clip itself is a [http://www.guyotbrothers.com/jewelry-findings-glossary/ear-clip.htm two-part piece] attached to the back of an earring. The two pieces closed around the earlobe, using mechanical pressure to hold the earring in place.

*Ear cuff - An ear cuff is a curved band of metal that is pressed onto the helix of the ear. It stays on by pinching the ear.

*Magnetic earrings - Magnetic earrings simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring by attaching to the earlobe with a magnetic back that hold the earring in place on by magnetic force.

*Stick-on earrings - Stick-on earrings are adhesive-backed items which stick to the skin of the earlobe and simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring. They are considered a novelty item.

*Spring hoop earrings- spring hoops are almost indistinguishable from standard hoop earrings and stay in place by means of spring force.

*Ear Hook earrings - A large hook like the fish hook that is big enough to hook and hang over the whole ear and dangles.

*The Hoop - A hoop threads over the ear and hangs from just inside the ear, above where ears are pierced. Mobiles or other dangles can be hung from the hoop to create a variety of styles.

*Ear Screws - Screwed onto the lobe, allow for exact adjustment - an alternative for those who find clips too painful.

Permanent earrings

Whereas most earrings worn in the Western world are designed to be removed fairly easily to be changed at will, earrings can also be permanent (non-removable). They were once used as a mark of slavery or ownership (e.g., see , ). They appear today in the form of larger gauge rings which are difficult or impossible for the wearer to remove without assistance. Occasionally, hoop earrings are permanently installed by the use of solder. [cite web | last = BBC Sport Online | title = No earrings give Cordone midas touch | url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/low/football/teams/n/newcastle_united/898287.stm | accessdate = 2000-08-27 ] , though this poses some risks due to toxicity of metals used in soldering and the risk of burns from the heat involved. Besides permanent installations, locking earrings are occasionally worn by people of both sexes, due to their personal symbolism or erotic value. [cite web | last = YouTube | title = Lock Top (personal testimonial) | url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHHlPze13tk | accessdate = 2008-01-01 ]

Ear piercing

Pierced ears are earlobes or the cartilage portion of the external ears which have had one or more holes created in them for the wearing of earrings. The holes may be permanent or temporary. The holes become permanent when a fistula is created by scar tissue forming around the initial earring.

Piercing techniques

A variety of techniques are used to pierce ears, ranging from "do it yourself" methods using household items to medically sterile methods using specialized equipment.

A long-standing home method involves using ice as a local anesthetic, a sewing needle as a puncture instrument, a burning match and rubbing alcohol for disinfection, and a semi-soft object, such as a potato, cork, or rubber eraser, as a push point. Sewing thread may be drawn through the piercing and tied, as a device for keeping the piercing open during the healing process. Alternatively, a gold stud or wire earring may be directly inserted into the fresh piercing as the initial retaining device.

Another method for piercing ears, first made popular in the 1960s, was the use of sharpened spring-loaded earrings known as "self-piercers", "trainers", or "sleepers", which gradually pushed through the earlobe. However, these could slip from their initial placement position, often resulting in more discomfort, and many times would not go all the way through the earlobe without additional pressure being applied. This method has fallen into disuse due to the popularity of faster and more successful piercing techniques.

Ear piercing instruments, sometimes called "ear piercing guns", were originally developed for physician use but with modifications became available in retail settings. Today more and more people in the Western world have their ears pierced with an ear piercing instrument in specialty jewelry or accessory stores, or at home using disposable ear piercing instruments. Claire's Stores inc. has done the most piercings worldwide. Claire's stores and its subsidiary's have done over 80 million ear piercings worldwide. Their stores use either the Studex 75 or Inverness systems. (Source: Claires.com)Two of the most popular systems are the Studex 75 and the Inverness system. An earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is often described as feeling similar to being pinched, or being snapped by a rubber band.

An alternative which is growing in practice is the use of a hollow piercing needle, as is done in body piercing.

In tribal cultures and among some neo-primitive body piercing enthusiasts, the piercing is made using other tools, such as animal or plant organics.

Initial healing time for an earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is typically 6-8 weeks. After that time, earrings can be changed, but if the hole is left unfilled for an extended period of time, there is some danger of the piercing closing. Piercing professionals recommend wearing earrings in the newly pierced ears for at least 6 months, and sometimes even a full year. Cartilage piercing will usually require more healing time than earlobe piercing, sometimes 2-3 times as long. After healing, earlobe piercings will shrink to smaller gauges in the prolonged absence of earrings, and in most cases will completely disappear.

Health risks

The health risks with conventional earlobe piercing are common but tend to be minor, particularly if proper technique and hygienic procedures are followed. One study found that up to 35% of persons with pierced ears had one or more complications, including minor infection (77% of pierced ear sites with complications), allergic reaction (43%), keloids (2.5%), and traumatic tearing (2.5%). [cite journal |journal= Am Fam Physician |year=2005 |volume=72 |issue=10 |pages=2029–34 |title= Complications of body piercing |author= Meltzer DI |pmid=16342832 |url=http://www.aafp.org/afp/20051115/2029.html] Pierced ears are a significant risk factor for contact allergies to the nickel in jewelry. [cite journal |journal= Contact Dermatitis |year=2007 |volume=57 |issue=5 |pages=287–99 |title= The epidemiology of contact allergy in the general population—prevalence and main findings |author= Thyssen JP, Linneberg A, Menné T, Johansen JD |doi=10.1111/j.1600-0536.2007.01220.x |pmid=17937743 |url=http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1600-0536.2007.01220.x] Earlobe tearing, during the healing period or after healing is complete, can be minimized by not wearing earrings, especially wire-based dangle earrings, during activities in which they are likely to become snagged, such as while playing sports. Also, larger gauge jewellery will lessen the chance of the earring being torn out.

With cartilage piercing, the blunt force of an ear piercing instrument will traumatize the cartilage, and therefore make healing more difficult. Also, because there is substantially less blood flow in ear cartilage than in the earlobe, infection is a much more serious issue. There have been several documented cases of severe infections of the upper ear following piercing with an ear piercing instrument, which required courses of antibiotics and/or surgery to clear up.). [cite journal |journal=Journal of the American Medical Association|date=26 February, 2004|title=Risk Of Infection Higher For Piercing Ear Cartilage Than Lobe Piercing|author=ScienceDaily|accessdate = 2008-06-10 |url=http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/02/040226072625.htm] , [cite journal |journal= Canadian Family Physician ¤ Le Médecin de Famille Canadien |date=2006-08-10 |volume=52 |issue=8 |pages=974–975 |title= Case Report: Infected ear cartilage piercing|author= Manca, Donna P, Levy, Michelle, Tariq, Khalida |pmid=17273499 |url=http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1781501]

For all ear piercings, the use of a sterilized hollow piercing needle tends to minimize the trauma to the tissue, and minimize the chances of contracting a bacterial infection during the procedure. As with any invasive procedure, there is always a risk of infection from blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV. However, modern piercing techniques make this risk extremely small (the risk being greater to the piercer than to the piercee due to the potential splash-back of blood). There has never been a documented case of HIV transmission due to ear/body piercing or tattooing, although there have been instances of the Hepatitis B virus being transmitted through these practices. [ [http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pubs/facts/transmission.htm CDC Fact Sheet: HIV and Its Transmission] ]

Further reading

*van Cutsem, Anne, "A World of Earrings: Africa, Asia, America", Skira, 2001. ISBN 88-8118-973-9
*Holmes, Anita, "Pierced and Pretty: The Complete Guide to Ear Piercing, Pierced Earrings, and How to Create Your Own", William Morrow and Co., 1988. ISBN 0-688-03820-4
*Jolly, Penny Howell, "Marked Difference: Earrings and 'The Other' in Fifteenth-Century Flemish Artwork," in "Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Objects, Texts, Images", Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, pp. 195-208. ISBN 0-312-29377-1
*Mascetti, Daniela and Triossi, Amanda, "Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present", Thames and Hudson, 1999. ISBN 0-500-28161-0
*McNab, Nan, "Body Bizarre Body Beautiful", Fireside, 2001. ISBN 0-7432-1304-1
*Mercury, Maureen and Haworth, Steve, "Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification", Park Street Press, 2000. ISBN 0-89281-809-3
*Steinbach, Ronald D., "The Fashionable Ear: A History of Ear Piercing Trends for Men and Women", Vantage Press, 1995. ISBN 0-533-11237-0
*Vale, V., "Modern Primitives", RE/Search, 1989. ISBN 0-9650469-3-1

External links

* [http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/exhibits/online_exhibits/body_modification/bodmodpierce.shtml Bodies of Cultures – Piercing – A World Tour of Body Modification] — Online exhibit of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
* [http://www.safepiercing.org/ www.safepiercing.org] — Association of Professional Piercers (APP) Web site.
* [http://www.bmezine.com/pierce/01-ear/bme-pg01.html BMEZine Ear Piercing Page] — Image galleries of ear piercings, with some emphasis on novelty and exotic piercings.
* [http://larsdatter.com/earrings.htm Medieval and Renaissance Earrings] Depictions & examples of earrings up to the early 17th century.


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