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Helix piercings—piercings that are placed anywhere on the upper outer cartilage of the ear—are often the first choice when moving away from the lobe. But they’ve become even more popular now, and piercers and clients are experimenting with multiple helix piercings on one ear. Tempted? We called on Kevin Lamb, head piercer at Maria Tash in Liberty London, and dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FADD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at New York Presbyterian Hospital—Weill Cornell Medical Center to reveal everything you need to know about a helix piercing, from pain to aftercare.
Keep scrolling for our expert guide on helix piercings.
Placement: Upper outer cartilage
Pain Level: 4/10
Healing Time: Three months to a year
Aftercare: Wash with saline solution once or twice a day; avoid touching or sleeping on the area
What is a Helix Piercing?
A helix piercing is located on the upper outer cartilage of the ear, not to be confused with other styles of cartilage piercing such as the rook, which is located on the inner ear. "The helix is a very vast area that covers most of the ear rim, so no matter what shape yours is, we can find a spot that would suit your style and anatomy," says Lamb.
Pain and Healing Time
"If you've ever had your eyebrows threaded or waxed, you've already put yourself through more discomfort than getting a fun little piercing!" says Lamb. "Of course, cartilage is going to pinch a wee bit more than a normal lobe, but if it's the location you want, don't let that side of things worry you too much—most procedures are over and done with very quickly."
The real challenge comes with healing the piercing. "Cartilage piercings can take over a year to completely heal," says Murphy-Rose. At Maria Tash, you can only do a maximum of three piercings at once "to allow for a better healing experience," adds Lamb. Otherwise, it can be extremely tricky—not to mention uncomfortable."
Cost of a Helix Piercing
At a reputable salon, the cost of a single helix piercing should run you about $30-$50. This is not including the jewelry price, which can be highly variable depending on the materials used. While it might be tempting to skimp on an inexpensive earring, the quality of your jewelry will make a big difference in the healing process.
As with all piercings, aftercare is an essential step toward healing your new cartilage piercing. "New piercings should be washed at least once daily with a saline solution," says Murphy-Rose.
Lamb breaks it down for you: "We suggest to clients to spray some sterile saline (most pharmacies stock this) onto a piece of non-woven gauze (cotton buds and pads have microfibres that can get caught on the piercing), and compress it onto the front and back of the piercing for around five minutes. After this, I'd then ask the client to pop a blow-dryer on and gently blow-dry the skin for around 30 seconds. Make sure the skin is dry, as moisture can help bacteria grow. Do this twice a day for around two to three months without picking, playing, or twisting your piercing."
Despite what you might've heard, don't turn your new piercing! "You're actually causing more damage than good by twisting the jewelry in the skin," says Lamb.
Side Effects of a Helix Piercing
- Infection: Every piercing comes with a risk of infection, and cartilage piercings can be among the trickiest to heal. The signs of serious infection, according to Murphy-Rose, include "fever, chills, redness, swelling, and increasing pain." If you experience any of these, see a medical professional.
- Pain and irritation: You might have some residual pain and irritation while healing a fresh piercing. While not super serious, it can be uncomfortable. One thing you can do is avoid sleeping on it. "I always suggest that clients get a travel pillow and just put their ear in the middle of the hole when sleeping; it stops you from putting a prolonged amount of pressure onto the area, and also your body will wake you up if you try roll onto it, so it really helps with the healing process," says Lamb.
- Keloids: "To avoid unsightly keloid formation, which is common with cartilage piercings, keep an eye out for thickening or bulging of the tissue around your piercing," says Murphy-Rose. "Early keloid scars often appear as a pink or purple nodule."
How to Change Out a Helix Piercing
Changing out a helix piercing is similar to that of any other ear cartilage piercing. It's important not to touch the jewelry before it's completely healed, and you may want to go back to the piercer for professional help the first time. "If that is not an option for you and you must change it yourself, always wash your hands well before touching your piercing or jewelry. Wearing gloves over clean hands adds an extra layer of protection," says Murphy-Rose.
What Type of Jewelry Is Used for a Helix Piercing?
- Stud: A stud with a straight post that goes through the ear is a common choice for new cartilage piercings. They are small and relatively easy to avoid touching, plus not as easily snagged on hair or fabric if the decorative portion is smooth.
- Hoop: "It's true that it can take slightly longer to heal a piercing with a ring than with a stud, but as long as the client is aware and is careful during the healing process, they should be fine," says Lamb.
What Jewelry Material Is Used for Helix Piercing?
- Surgical stainless steel: "The best and safest metals for cartilage piercings are surgical stainless steel and titanium followed by gold (14k or 18k, and not gold-plated) and niobium. These are the most biocompatible and hypoallergenic," says Murphy-Rose.
- Titanium: This is the best pick for sensitive skin, according to Murphy-Rose. It's on the pricier side but lacking in potential irritants. "Avoid all others. In particular, nickel is a common allergen that should be avoided. While it may be easy to avoid pure nickel jewelry, a small amount of nickel is very often combined with other metals without appropriate labeling, so unintended exposure is common," she adds.