From the earlobe up, there are several different kinds of ear piercings you can get. One of the trendiest examples is a helix piercing—more commonly known as a cartilage piercing. This piercing tends to be done on the upper ear and customized with different placements and jewelry styles.
If you're considering getting a helix, we've got you covered with everything you need to know. Ahead, piercers Hannah Ruhga and Claudia Valentini and board-certified dermatologists Joshua Zeichner and Rachael Earnest fill us in on helix piercings.
Placement: The outer cartilage of the ear
Pain level: "I think people in my chair usually give it a four-to-seven in terms of pain," says Ruhga.
Healing time: Three-to-six months
Aftercare: Wash the piercing twice daily with a saline solution or antimicrobial soap and avoid irritating it as much as possible.
What Is a Helix Piercing?
A helix piercing is also called a cartilage piercing because of its location somewhere on the outer cartilage of your ear. There are several variations on the piercing, including the forward helix, double helix, triple helix, and anti-helix (or snug) piercings—what differentiates the types is where they’re located on the ear.
Cost of a Helix Piercing
A helix piercing typically costs between $30 and $75. However, the price greatly varies depending on where the piercing studio is located, how experienced your piercer is, and the jewelry you get. Be sure to find a piercer based on ability and not price; don’t go for one just because it’s inexpensive.
Jewelry Material Used for a Helix Piercing
"Stainless steel or titanium are the best metals to use since they are relatively inert and should not cause a reaction in your body," Dr. Zeichner says.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is a very popular choice for helix jewelry because it comes in various colors and shapes without losing any of its high quality. However, stainless steel does have nickel in it, so stay away from it if you’re allergic.
- Gold: While gold isn’t necessarily the best metal for helix jewelry, it’s not a bad choice. If you’re someone who wants to correspond your piercing to the rest of your jewelry or some other aesthetic reason, gold is a great option. Be sure to get jewelry that’s at least 14 karats, though, to avoid metal that’s too soft.
- Titanium: Titanium is just as solid of a choice as stainless steel is, considering it comes in tons of different appearances. The only difference between the two is that titanium does not have nickel, so it’s safe for everyone.
Type of Jewelry Used for a Helix Piercing
- Stud: A stud is a small piece of jewelry with a thin long backing that is inserted into the hold of a piercing. To seal a stud in place, you attach a small fixture on the other side.
- Hoop/Ring: A hoop, also called a ring, is a popular choice for a helix piercing. It’s a piece of metal in a ring shape, but it’s flexible enough to easily bend. Remove a hoop by simply pulling apart the two ends.
Pain and Healing Time
Ruhga says it's roughly a four to seven on the pain scale, depending on your tolerance. Any piercing is going to hurt, though, considering it's just passing a needle through the skin. To help alleviate some of the pain, you should consider your pain threshold and the experience and skill of your piercer.
Helix piercings generally take around three-to-six months to heal. However, if you don't properly look after your new piercing as it heals, it could take longer—or you could have to get it re-pierced and start all over. "Wound healing can vary from person to person," Dr. Earnest says. "It can take up to a year to fully heal in some individuals."
Aftercare for a helix piercing is as simple as washing it twice a day with saline solution (or antimicrobial soap, says Dr. Earnest). The hardest part of the process isn’t the washing, though; it’s making sure to do everything in your power to avoid irritating your piercing. Limit any friction by avoiding accessories that could snag on it, like beanies or headphones. Valentini also suggests laying on the opposite side from the ear that you pierced if you’re a side sleeper, as sleeping on a fresh piercing can cause a negative reaction.
It’s also important to avoid touching or upsetting your piercing as much as necessary, as irritation could cause inflammation or even, in some cases, infections. Dr. Earnest also says that if you have to touch your piercing, you should wash your hands first.
Side Effects of Piercing
"Infection and scarring are the two biggest risks if you don't properly care for the piercing," Dr. Zeichner says.
- Infection: An infection happens when aftercare isn’t followed properly, or the piercing has become over-irritated. Common signs of an infection include redness, swelling, green or yellow pus, and tenderness. If you see symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
- Scarring: A scar forms if the piercing becomes too irritated during the aftercare process and can leave some unsightly marks around the piercing site.
- Keloids: Keloids are raised scars that form when the skin has healed around a wound, causing extra scar tissue to grow as an over-defense to the physical trauma of a piercing. They can range in size but generally aren’t painful and contain nothing but scar tissue.
How to Change Out a Helix Piercing
A helix piercing is easily changed, but make sure it's fully healed before switching out the jewelry. Valentini suggests making the first change with the help of your piercer, as it's important to be careful to avoid anything going wrong. Plus, your piercer can walk you through the steps of how to change out the jewelry so you can feel confident doing it yourself.
When you're ready to change the jewelry, simply remove the backing from the piercing if it's a stud or slightly separate the flexible metal ring to slide it out. Then, just insert the new one in the same manner. "If you have difficulty, visit your piercing professional for help," Dr. Zeichner adds. "Especially within the first few months, if the piercing is removed, there is a risk that the hole will close up."
Is a helix a good first piercing?
While any piercing can be your first piercing, if you are a novice to ear piercings, you might want to go for something that is generally regarded as less painful. Ear lobes are widely considered to be among the least painful places to be pierced, for example.
How do you sleep with a helix piercing?
Try your best not to sleep on any new piercing until it's fully healed. "Simply using a travel pillow can help alleviate any sleeping discomfort,” professional piercer Sheena Rose told us.
How long after a helix piercing can I swim?
Pro piercer Janeese Brooks advises waiting until at least the end of your healing period before diving in. In the case of a helix piercing, that'll be anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the person. "Anything that is in the water is getting into your piercings, and even in the cleanest of pools, chlorine is going to hurt your piercing as well,” Brooks says. If you simply can't avoid the pool, she says to rinse the area immediately after to wash away any chemicals.LEARN MORE: Can I Work Out With a New Piercing or Tattoo?