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I got my ears pierced when I was seven at a mall pagoda with my parents. I remember the day vividly: It was right around Christmastime, and the staff gave me a stuffed bear to hold while they punched a piercing gun through each lobe. My dad, ever the documentarian, filmed the whole experience on our camcorder. I barely flinched and skipped off with my new earrings—two modest gold studs per my mom's orders. Things started to go south, however, when I entered teenagehood and treated my piercings poorly by wearing cheap, heavy earrings that eventually stretched out my earring holes to the point where hoops and studs would hang so low, I feared they would rip right through the bottom of my lobe. 22 years after my inaugural piercings, my once pinhead-sized holes appeared more like tiny gauges, so I began to explore my options.
One solution came by way of an infomercial for a product called Magic Bax. On the screen, women with the same stretched piercing issue I had instantly lifted their sagging earrings with a large, heart-shaped earring back that serves as a supportive anchor for the earring. I ordered them and had some luck, but only for a few hours in the beginning of the day before they eventually loosened, drooped, and I was back to square one. The other solution—a more permanent fix—was recommended to me by a fellow editor friend who had a consult with a plastic surgeon. She was told that a common remedy is to cut into the skin surrounding the hole and stitch up the entire incision. This provides a clean slate, so to speak, for you to then get your ears re-pierced. Intrigued by the prospect of having fresh new earring holes, I paid a visit to Dara Liotta, MD, FACS in Manhattan.
Meet the Expert
Dara Liotta is a dual board-certified facial plastic surgeon practicing in Manhattan. She specializes in a wide variety of facial cosmetic and reconstructive procedures, including laser treatments, BOTOX® Cosmetic, facial fillers, and cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.
Here's my stretched earring hole before the procedure. As you can see, it's quite low and elongated, and, according to Liotta, a perfect candidate for this type of minor surgery.
Despite the fact this was an invasive surgery, the procedure was super quick (about 15-20 minutes total) and barely hurt whatsoever thanks to a bit of local anesthesia injected into both lobes prior. I couldn't feel the scalpel cutting into my lobes, just a bit of light pressure—same goes for the stitching process. (I could feel the sensation of being sewed, but ever so slightly.) When all was said and done, I had only a slight bit of pain after the anesthesia wore off and had to wear bandaids over the stitches overnight (I had a birthday party that evening, so I just wore my hair down and kept my lobes covered).
Following the procedure, I was told to keep the area dry for 48 hours (aka you may want to shower right before your appointment because you won't be able to wash your hair for two days). Once the bandages came off, I needed to apply an antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin) with a Q-tip twice a day until the stitches were removed six days later—another painless process that was over before I could blink. I was left with a faint line on both lobes after the incisions healed, but it's barely detectable and only noticeable if you're really looking for it.
According to Liotta, the most obvious and common side effect is faint scarring. She also notes that if your lobe has been ripped and repaired before, or if your lobes are gauged, the size of the lobe may be smaller after repair. If only one lobe is gauged or injured, you may need an earlobe reduction on the other lobe to make them appear more symmetrical.
Is there anyone who isn't a candidate for this procedure?
"Everyone is a candidate," says Liotta. "If the earring hole is stretched or ripped, it’s very easy to fix. Gauged holes, no matter how large, can be repaired too, but expect a longer incision and scar on both the front and back of the earlobe." While a simple earring hole reduction takes about 10 minutes per ear, gauged lobes require 20 minutes each.
How long do you have to wait to get your ears re-pierced?
Liotta tells her patients to wait up to three months before re-piercing. She also recommends getting them done by a professional with a needle for less trauma to the ear rather than by a potentially inexperienced tech with a gun at a mall pagoda like I'd done when I was a kid. I personally chose to get my ears pierced by Rowan, a subscription box earring company that also offers in-home piercings by registered nurses to guarantee accurate, clean, and safe piercings. They also use medical grade materials and hypoallergenic earrings to make sure that you don't have a reaction or possible infection.
When it's time for your new piercing, Liotta recommends re-piercing the ear in an area that's slightly different than your previous hole, "Just so that the new piercing is not directly in the incision line of the repair," she explains.
How can you avoid getting stretched earring holes again?
After getting this procedure, you'll want to avoid falling back into the same habits that landed you in the doctor's office. Liotta says it's important to avoid heavy earrings or earrings that can get caught and pulled on clothing. If you're a fan of hoops and dangly earrings (we know it's hard to resist these), Liotta says to take them off before pulling clothes off over your head. Also, if you're going to be around little ones, it's probably best not to wear any earrings at all. "Know that babies love to grab and pull shiny things!" says Liotta. "Babies are the number one cause of torn earlobes in my practice."
Several months after the surgery, here's my beautiful new piercing, a simple faux diamond from Rowan on a 14 karat gold stud. I'm so excited to finally be able to wear earrings that don't sag on my lobes—and vow to keep those heavy, cheap pieces to an absolute minimum.