Earlobe Piercing

Advance notice: I have no medical training. This is not medical advice.

At almost 70 years old, I pierced my own earlobes. Why? Decades of life's events, heavy dangly swinging earrings, and minor accidents over the years had resulted in the holes in my earlobes being stretched-out and ugly. There were many earrings that I no longer could wear. In November 2019, I had repair surgery on the earlobes. Total surgery cost was $1,400. Plastic surgeon was Dr. Jennifer Parker-Porter, in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. She was excellent. Surgery was painless and took less than 30 minutes; stiches came out seven days after the surgery. Eight weeks post surgery, the scars were barely visible. Doctor had said that the lobes could be pierced again after eight weeks. She also said not to pierce at or thru the scars.

Basic research had me decide against a piercing "gun" or any device that pushed a stud thru the lobe. That method is harsh on skin and can cause trauma. My skin is old, and there already was a scar in each lobe. Best method for the skin would be needle piercing with a hollow surgical needle that came to a triangular point. Piercing needles are similar to hypodermic needles -- the needles used for injecting medicine. (Perhaps they are the same thing with different names.) Unfortunately, every piercing salon I contacted said, "No piercing until one year after the repair surgery." One year for a 70-year-old woman is a long time; it could be a tenth of my remaining life, or maybe even more than a tenth. I'd worn earrings every day since old Doc Spalding pierced my earlobes when I was 16 until November 2019 when the lobes were repaired. Waiting a year was not an acceptable option.

Thus, because no "professional piercer" would help, after 12 weeks of healing for the earlobes, I decided to pierce them myself. Having opted to birth a baby at home in 1984, deciding to pierce my own earlobes was nothing.

First, a list of the supplies and explanations:

SUPPLIES:

  • Numbing cream: Mithra+ 10% lidocaine cream.

    Why 10% lidocaine?
    Because I don't like pain. I found a few mentions of the product online, and I saw a YouTuber pierce her own earlobes after application of 10% lidocaine. She said that she could not feel anything, and her face showed no sign of any pain. The product is not available over the counter in the USA. I found it for sale online
    HERE. It ships from Asia. It took about 10 days to get to me in Maryland, USA. Cost was $15. My earlobes were totally numb, and I did not feel anything -- not even the slightest pinch. My earlobes were "dead" to any touch.
  • Needles: 20-gauge cannula piercing needles.
    Why cannula needles rather than typical piercing needles?
    Because the cannula-needle system allowed for easier insertion of the ear stud, and because it got the needle out of the picture as soon as possible. A cannula needle is basically a piercing needle inside plastic tubing. The needle pierces, and the tubing goes right along with the needle.
    Why 20-gauge rather than 18-gauge?
    Because I wanted the tiniest hole possible, and because I reasoned that the smaller cut from the 20-gauge would hurt less than a cut from the slightly larger 18-gauge.
    Where does one find cannula needles?
    Online, from several sources. They come pre-sterilized in a sealed package, typically five to a sealed package. (Five for $9, at Amazon.) Inside the package of five, each pre-sterilized needle is inside a hard-plastic two-piece casing that is sealed with a strip of paper tape.
    Note #1: Needles must NOT be reused. One must use a new needle for each piercing.
    Note #2: Once the needles arrived, I used one needle from the package to figure out how the cases opened and to look over the actual needle and tubing, so as to figure out how things would happen, and to figure out how to hold the needle with my fingers to do the piercing.
    Understanding the cannula-needle system was important. Here are photos and words, with an attempt to explain:
    This image shows the needle inside the case. It is sealed in the middle with a paper tape. From end to end, it is five inches long.

    This next image shows the pink side of the case removed. The needle (with cannula) remains inside the clear portion of the needle case. From end to end, it is four-and-one-eighth inches long:

    The next image shows the bottom portion of the needle case removed. From end to end, that is three-and-a-half inches. The needle itself that extends from hard plastic is one-and-seven-eighths inches long. Surrounding the needle is the thin, see-thru cannula tube. It is next to impossible to see that cannula tube in this image:


    In this next image, the cannula tube can barely be seen. It is tight around the needle; however, on the left side of the image, it can be seen where the tube ends and where the needle extends just beyond the tube:

    Examining more closely, here are the three parts, separate. On the bottom is the cannula tube, with a pink plastic piece attached on the right side. Above the tube is the needle, embedded inside a hard piece of plastic; the needle is never removed from that hard piece of plastic; the needle extends one-and-seven-eighths inches from that hard piece of plastic. At the top is a clear, hard-plastic cap. I opted to remove that piece because manipulating the needle felt easier with that cap removed.

    Next image shows the point of the needle itself, on left-side of image. Notice that the needle is hallow and comes to a triangle point. The needle itself works like a surgical knife. It is that knife-like function that is better for the ear lobe than the punch of a piercing gun:
  • Ear studs: unalloyed commercially pure (CP) titanium studs, with extra long posts and "butterfly" backs.
    What exactly?
    I found what I wanted
    sold online, called "Titanium Healing/Starter Post Earrings." They are made of pure grade 2 titanium. They are tiny "dots" (4 mm spheres) on 13 mm long posts: $35.
    Why unalloyed titanium?
    Because it has no nickel. Of all available metals, unalloyed titanium is the least likely to cause allergic reactions.
    Why extra long posts?
    Because earlobes swell in the first days after piercing. The post needs to be long enough to accomodate the swell of the earlobe.
    Why butterfly backs rather than internally threaded screw-on ear studs?
    Because a butterfly back is easier for my slightly arthritic hands to manipulate.
    Why studs rather than hoops?
    I want the healed pierced "tunnel" to be a straight tunnel, rather than a curved tunnel as would result from the curve of the wire on a typical hoop earring.
  • Clamps: disposable slotted Pennington forceps/clamps.
    What do they do?
    The clamp holds the skin in place, front to back, to make for a straighter piercing. Pressure of the clamp might provide additional numbing, but that was not needed.
    Where does one find them?
    Online, from several sources. They arrive pre-sterilized, each in its own sealed plastic bag. (Ten for $10, at Amazon.)
    Here is an image of the forceps:

    Here is an image with a close-up view, showing the opening:
  • Surgical rubber gloves.
    Why?
    Because no one can get her hands absolutely clean.
  • 70% isopropyl alcohol.
  • Individual alcohol prep wipes.
    Why?
    Because one cannot overdo germ killing when puncturing one's skin.
  • Extra-strength Tylenol.
  • Cotton balls.
  • Single-edge razor blades: new, in unopened hard-plastic dispenser pack.
    Purpose?
    Blade was to slice off plastic gizmo on end of the tube, once the tube was thru my earlobe.
    Note: Dispenser pack has one side of the container for disposal of used blades.
  • Markers: new, extra-fine-point, water-soluble markers.
    Note: Use a new marker for each ear.
  • After-care:
    Sterile saline wound wash in spray can.
    Bactine Max.

Additionally, I had a large stainless steel tray, washed and wiped down with isopropyl alcohol. The tray was for holding supplies during the piercing.

FIRST:
The process began 24 hours before the piercing:
No milk or alcohol for 24 hours before the piercing. Why? Milk and/or alcohol can reduce the effect of the lidocaine cream.

SECOND:
Eight hours before the piercing, the ear-studs and butterfly backs went into a container of isopropyl alcohol, making sure that they were completely covered with alcohol.

THIRD:
Two hours before the piercing, I took extra-strength Tylenol, for added pain relief.

FOURTH:
An hour before piercing, the numbing began. Here's how:

  • Tied back hair.
  • Washed area with soap and water.
  • Covered each earlobe with hot washcloth for 5 minutes, so as to open pores to help the lidocaine get into skin.
  • Applied isopropyl alcohol with cotton balls. Dried completely with fresh cotton balls.
  • Covered front and back of each earlobe with 2 to 3 mm thickness of lidocaine cream.
  • Sealed over with Saran Wrap (clear plastic wrap).
  • Waited 30 minutes.
  • After 30-minute wait, cleared off each earlobe with tissue.
  • Applied fresh layer of lidocaine cream.
  • Sealed again with Sarah Wrap.
  • Waited another 30 minutes.
  • Then, wiped off numbing cream with tissue.
  • Wiped front and back of each lobe with alcohol-soaked cotton balls.

FIFTH:
Once totally numb, the steps toward piercing began.

  • Sliced thru paper tape holding together the two parts of the hard-plastic cases holding the two cannula needle. Did not want to be fiddling with that later.
  • Put on rubber gloves.
  • Removed ear studs and backings from alcohol; placed on alcohol-wiped stainless steel tray.
  • Once more, cleaned front and back of earlobes with alcohol-soaked cotton balls.
  • Next, wiped lobes w/ a fresh alcohol prep. (You canNOT do too much germ killing.)
  • Used new marker on each earlobe to put a tiny dot, marking exactly where to pierce lobe.
  • I had scar tissue. I had to be sure NOT to pierce thru the scar tissue. I opted for directly behind the verticle scar.
  • Clamped 1st earlobe, positioning clamp such that dot was inside open area of clamp.
  • Opened hard-plastic case that held new cannula needle. Removed needle.

SIXTH:
The actual piercing.

  • Holding needle in fingers as I'd previously figured out how to do with practice needle, pierced earlobe at mark, inside open area of clamp. There was absolutely no feeling. Understand: It's not that it was "bearable pain." Rather, not only was there zero pain, there was absolutely NO feeling.
  • Pushed needle entirely thru lobe. Actual piercing did not take one second.
  • Then, pulled needle from the tube and left plastic tubing thru earlobe. This is an image of the tube then left going thru my ear lobe. From end to end, this thing is just a hair over two inches long. The amount of tubing that extends beyond the pink plastic end (that is on the right side) is an inch-and-a-quarter long.
  • Pushed tubing thru earlobe until plastic piece on end of tubing stopped tube from going thru lobe.
  • Put needle back inside hard-plastic casing that it came in. Placed it safely aside.
  • Back to earlobe:
    Held tubing in place, and removed clamp.
  • Adjusted tubing so that there was some more tubing on front side of lobe.
    Held tube in position on back side of earlobe.
  • Used new razor blade to slice off plastic attachment at end of tube.
  • While holding tube in place from backside, inserted post of ear-stud into open end of tubing on front side of earlobe.
  • With post of ear-stud inside tube, pushed ball of ear-stud such that tubing went thru earlobe. Stud moved right into place.
  • Pulled tubing off back of ear-stud.
  • Pushed on butterfly backing.

The entire sixth step -- from picking up the needle to pushing the butterfly back onto the ear-stud -- took less than three minutes, perhaps less than two minutes.

SEVENTH:
Earlobe was pierced, and ear-stud was in place.

  • Cleaned earlobe again with alcohol-soaked cotton balls, front and back.
  • Sprayed with Bactine Max, front and back.

EIGHTH:
Repeated exactly for second earlobe.

NINTH:
Needle disposal: For safety, used duct tape to wrap around each container holding a needle. Different areas have different laws regarding needle disposal, but securing each needle inside its hard plastic container was the first step.

TENTH:
Aftercare.

  • Clean piercings twice daily with sterile saline wound wash.
  • For good measure, spritz with Bactine Max once a day.
  • Initial studs stay in place for eight weeks.
  • For the 1st changing, use cannula tube from another needle for an assist:
    Remove butterfly backing.
    Push tube onto stud post on the backside of your earlobe.
    Slide stud out, and the tube will come thru the piercing hole, moving with the stud since the tube is pushed onto the stud.
    From the front side, remove trainer stud from tube. Insert stud of new earring into tube. Push earring in place. Remove tube from back of new ear stud. Secure the earring.
  • As to choice of earrings for the 1st changing, I opted for small hoops with a straight wire going thru the ear. The straight wire is the size and weight of a typical ear stud. The hoops are about the size of a dime (enlarged in this image):

    With the change to such hoops, both the front and back of the earlobes were open for healing. The straight post going thru the lobe allowed the "tunnel" to continue to heal as a straight tunnel. About three weeks later, I changed to gold wires. Why? It allowed complete exposure of the skin and the easiest cleaning possible. The internal scar of the "tunnel" will continue healing and building for about a year. The proper name for that skin tunnel (or "skin tube") is "fistula." My choices at every point were made with the hope of getting a good fistula in each earlobe. For a year, I shall baby that fistula.

Again: I have no medical training. This is not medical advice. This is what I did and what worked for me.

This is a far cry from the method that I used for some girlfriends back in the 1960s: I used a big sewing needle. The only "numbing" was from ice cubes; ice cubes can do things to the skin such that there can be tissue damage while piercing. The sewing needle just punched thru; it did not slice such as a piercing needle does. Once the hole was punched, then I had to work the post of the ear-stud or ear wire thru the hole. Sometimes, it amounted to a re-piercing. It was a crude method of ear piercing, but all of my victims survived.

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