How to Change a Captive Bead Ring

Actress Zoe Kravitz with a CBR piercing.

Getty Images / Byrdie

From traditional studs to contemporary barbells, the world of piercing offers endless options when it comes to bodily adornments. An accessory and a form of self-expression, the type of jewelry you don is just as important as the kind of piercing you get and where you get it. The choice is completely personal, but there are a few body piercings that remain popular among those looking for their first—or next—jewelry fix, and the captive bead ring is one of them.

Odds are, you've seen someone with a captive bead ring and wondered exactly how it was put on and taken off. If you're new to piercings or don't have piercings that require CBR, it can be a bit puzzling—the name isn't a lie, the bead is "captive." Since this can lead to issues—including susceptibility to infection—when trying to change your jewelry yourself, we turned to pro piercers Janeese Brooks and Cozmo Faris, as well as Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, to show us how it's done.

Meet the Expert

  • Janeese Brooks is the head piercer at Stone and Strand. She is based in New York City.
  • Cozmo Faris is a professional piercer with over 12 years of experience. He is also a member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Board.
  • Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist in NYC and the Hamptons.

Keep scrolling to learn everything there is to know about captive bead rings, including how to change them, which is not as straightforward as you might think.  

What Is a Captive Bead Ring (CBR)?

A captive bead ring (CBR), ball closure ring (BCR), captive hoop, or captive ball ring is a common example of body piercing jewelry. lt consists of a hoop with a captive bead that can be inserted and removed to open and close the ring.

How to Open a CBR Ring

First things first: Before you can open your CBR ring, you'll need the right tools, namely, a pair of ring-opening pliers and a pair of ring-closing pliers. If you don't have ring opening pliers, no sweat, needle-nosed pliers will do just fine. Just keep in mind that needle-nosed pliers aren't made for body jewelry and can scratch metal, making it susceptible to bacterial infection. To avoid this, wrap the needle-nose with a soft tape like electrical or masking. Check that the tape is clean, but know that this still isn't quite as sterile as visiting your piercer would be.

"Most people want the look of a hoop in their septum (or cartilage) but off the bat, this isn't the best idea for healing. The CBR or even better, the FBR (fixed bead ring) gives a similar look without quite so many issues," says Brooks.

Next, place the wrapped needle-nosed end into the center of the CBR and slowly pry the ring open. Hold your other hand under the ring to catch the bead when it falls out. Once it does, there will be a little space in the ring. If the gap doesn't look large enough to remove the piercing, pry it open a little more with your pliers, but be careful not to warp the shape of the metal. Eventually, once you have enough space, the ring will reach a point where it can be turned and then carefully pulled away from the skin. If the space still isn't big enough, turn it back, open it more, and try again. Never force it out.

How to Insert a CBR Ring

closeup of ear with piercings


To put a captive bead ring in, first, make sure both the jewelry and your hands are clean. If you bought the jewelry from a piercing studio and kept it in its package, it should be fine. Open the new CBR using the same method you did the last one. Place the ball somewhere clean that it will not roll away (a tray is preferred) while you insert the ring. Carefully touch one end of the ring to the piercing hole and rotate the ring, being careful to allow it to slide through the piercing. This may take some practice and gentle prodding. Again, don't force it. If you feel your captive bead ring catch or think it's not going in the right direction, remove the ring and try again. Generally, the less you think about it, the easier it is.

Use your pliers to gently close the ring, leaving just enough room to allow the bead to snap in place. The bead will either have a hole all the way through or indentations on both sides, which is where the ring holds the bead. Grab the bead, line up the indentations up with the ends of the jewelry, and firmly push to pop the bead between them. If the bead is correctly inserted, you shouldn't be able to pull it back out, but it should still rotate on the axis of the ring itself. 

If this is proving to be too difficult, Faris notes that an even easier method is to place one indentation/hole on the ring and slide/rotate the bead down until the second indentation/hole clicks into place. "This method takes a lot less force than attempting to insert both at once, and helps to prevent accidental ring warping," he explains.

When to See a Professional

If you ordered your jewelry from an online store and don't know if it has been autoclaved (a fancy-sounding world for something that has been professionally sterilized), it's imperative that you take it to a local piercing studio and ask them to autoclave it for you. There will probably be a small charge, and it will probably take overnight so you might as well ask them to change your piercing when you pick it up.

Opt for high-quality metals, too, when picking out your jewelry. "The best and safest metals for piercings are titanium and implant-grade stainless steel followed by gold (14k or 18k, and not gold-plated). These are the most biocompatible, hypoallergenic, and least likely to lead to infection. Titanium is the very best choice for anyone with sensitive skin," says Murphy-Rose.

Try to avoid facial and body piercings altogether if you're prone to keloid formation. Also, anyone with an underlying medical condition causing poor wound healing or immunosuppression should discuss with a medical professional before getting a piercing.

The Final Takeaway

When changing captive bead rings, it's important to know what you're doing so you don't end up hurting yourself. Regardless, if the piercing is infected or not yet healed, don't do this outside of a piercing studio. "Some common side effects of piercings include pain, bleeding, keloid scar formation, and allergic reactions. It is important to look out for signs of infection like redness, swelling, oozing yellow liquid, fever, chills, and increasing pain and to seek medical attention in these cases," advises Murphy-Rose.

And despite your DIY spirit and can-do attitude, it's typically best for a CBR to be put in by a professional piercer. Brooks explains: "The little bead that holds the ring together is loose and easily can be dropped or lost during the process. Outside of that a lot of the time you may need tools like hemostats or pliers to hold the ring while you wriggle the little bead out." If you do this wrong, you could get an infection or tear your skin. Most piercers will do it for you for free, just a quick trip to the studio and you're in and out with no charge.

  • Can you remove a captive bead ring without pliers?

    If you don't have pliers, you absolutely need to visit a piercing specialist to change out your captive bead ring. Otherwise, you could hurt yourself.

  • How do I know if a piercing is infected?

    If the area around your piercing is swollen, red, or painful (or if you notice any blood or pus), you need to see a doctor. Don't try changing it out until you address the problem with an expert.

  • How do I clean a captive bead ring?

    To clean your captive bead ring, use a soft cleaning cloth dampened with a mild product (like Dawn liquid detergent mixed with warm water). Gently wipe the jewelry and pat it dry. This will ensure you don't scratch or scrape the jewelry.

Related Stories