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If you're looking for a new accessory, you may want to consider an ear piercing (or two). The curated ear has been trending among cool-girls and celebrities alike, and for good reason. Whether you're shopping for something subtle or edgy, there are plenty of options to choose from.
One of our favorites is the tragus piercing, which "In terms of history, [is] quite new, probably first seen around the 1980s," says piercing expert Jasmine Howell. Still, the tragus continues to be a popular choice as far as ear piercings go. Celebrities from Zoë Kravitz to Rihanna to Scarlett Johansson have all been seen sporting an adorned tragus. Keep scrolling to find out more about getting a tragus piercing, including the pain level, healing time, and cost.
Placement: The small piece of cartilage over the entrance to the ear canal
Pricing: $30-$40, plus the cost of the jewelry
Pain Level: 4/10
Healing Time: Six to 12 months
Aftercare: Clean twice a day with a sterile, saline-based solution. Avoid putting pressure on the area by not sleeping on the side with the earring until it heals.
What is a Tragus Piercing?
A tragus piercing sits on the small area of cartilage that partially covers your ear canal. In terms of anatomy, the outer ear is made up of cartilage and skin. While the fleshy lobe remains the preferred choice among traditionalists looking to get pierced, areas of cartilage, like the tragus, may entice those interested in something slightly different, or in addition to, their already pierced lobe. According to Howell, "As piercers, we’re looking for a small flat area that will support being pierced. Provided your ear is suitable, [tragus piercings] look great on pretty much everyone."
You may have also heard of a surface tragus piercing, which is placed in the same area as the tragus piercing, except rather than puncturing the cartilage, just the skin is pierced. However, because the jewelry lies beneath the skin, there may be a higher probability of the body rejecting it, deeming it a foreign object that needs to be pushed out.
Pain and Healing Time
Sure, pain is relative—to a point. Generally speaking, how much does a tragus piercing hurt? Howell says, "Most cartilage piercings to me feel like pressure rather than pain. For example, I’ve had both a tragus and helix piercing done, and I wouldn’t say one was more painful than the other. Although, people are sensitive in different areas, so the amount of pain you would feel will vary depending on the person." No pain, no gain, right?
While any ear cartilage piercing is tricky to heal, the tragus, in particular, gets in the way when talking on the phone, listening to earphones/earbuds, or using a Bluetooth earpiece. Germs are likely to be on those ear devices and will stunt your piercing's healing time. It's advisable to avoid anything from coming into direct contact with your tragus for at least a few weeks after getting pierced. "A lot of things will factor into the healing time of a piercing, but generally, we would say anywhere between six to 12 months," says Howell.
Cost of a Tragus Piercing
The price of a tragus piercing will depend on where you're getting it done, less for reasons that have to do with the act of piercing than for the piece of jewelry. The cost of tragus piercings typically falls within a range of $30 to $40. Howell elaborates, "Most inner ear cartilage piercings are roughly the same price. Jewelry choices vary, the only limitation being: How many diamonds?"
When considering getting any type of piercing, proper aftercare is paramount. After all, you don't want the excitement of your new earring to be overshadowed by said earring contracting an infection. In order to avoid such a scenario, Howell recommends, "cleaning your piercing twice a day with a sterile saline solution for the first two to three months. Avoid touching or moving the piercing—any excessive trauma or pressure will prolong the healing process. To put it simply, leave the piercing alone unless you’re cleaning it!"
Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says to avoid "soap, shampoo or any disinfectants for the first day." He also suggests turning the earring once per day during the healing process and applying polysporin to the area. "I would even consider not using earphones/earbuds for the first four to eight weeks after the piercing," he says.
Howell adds, "Applying any pressure onto the piercing while it’s healing will prolong the healing process. We would recommend not sleeping on it for the first couple of months. Travel pillows can come in handy to prevent pressure."
Since the tragus piercing might swell quite a bit more than other ear piercings, a ring would be much more challenging to heal, as it may not accommodate room for swelling. Instead, opt for a bar as your initial ear jewelry.
Side Effects of Piercing
- Infection and scarring: "Note that there is low blood supply to this area of the ear, which makes a tragus piercing at higher risk for infection or scarring," says Sobel. Getting the piercing done by a professional and practicing proper aftercare will lower the chances of these side effects. "If you have any irritation or redness, it’s important to discuss with your dermatologist to find out the best solution for your specific needs," Sobel adds.
- Allergic reactions: It's possible to have "allergic reactions to the type of metal used for the earring," according to Sobel. Common sensitivities include nickel, copper, and lower quality gold. If you're sensitive to any metals, discuss this with your piercer before committing to a piece of jewelry.
- Hypertrophic scarring: While not quite a keloid, hypertrophic scarring is caused by excessive amounts of tissue forming over the pierced area. This type of scarring "is common among cartilage piercings," says Sobel.
- Blisters: "If you have any irritation or see a blister/bump, it could be from hypertrophic scarring, or it could be an infection/abscess fluid trapped under or behind the piercing," notes Sobel. While not all bumps are serious, it's important to see a doctor if you notice anything more than minor irritation in the area.
How to Change Out a Tragus Piercing
Avoid removing the piercing until it's completely healed. Before changing your tragus piercing (or any piercing, for that matter) be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and to clean the area regularly to disinfect and "avoid getting any bacteria in the area," says Sobel. He recommends cleansing the piercing itself with saline or a product like NeilMed Piercing Aftercare Wound Wash ($15).
The individual steps will depend on whether your earring is a stud, hoop, barbell, etc. When in doubt, most piercing salons will change out an earring for free.
What Type of Jewelry Is Used for Tragus Piercing?
- Stud: Small and simple, studs are a great option for tragus piercings, which tend to be tiny. A ball stud, which has smooth edges that are less likely to snag on hair and clothing, is ideal for a new piercing. Once it heals, you can get more adventurous with your studs.
- Barbell: A barbell is an earring with balls on both ends and a bar in the center. Tragus barbells will be smaller than most. This is another great option for a brand-new piercing, as it's easy to put in and keep clean.
- Hoops: Teeny tiny hoops are another option for the tragus, although we suggest waiting until your piercing has healed before you try hoops with any unique shapes or textures.
What Jewelry Material Is Used for Tragus Piercing?
- Stainless Steel: This is a high-quality metal often used for piercings, however, it contains some nickel, which Sobel says is "a very common source of irritation and piercing infection, as many people are sensitive to nickel in even the smallest amounts."
- Gold: While it may be tempting to go for a metal that is at a lower price point, it's worth noting that higher quality metals will encourage healing and are ideal for those with sensitive skin, according to Sobel. Inexpensive jewelry often contains nickel, notes Sobel, who recommends 14 karat gold.
- Platinum: A gold alternative also approved by Sobel, platinum does not contain nickel, but has a similar look to stainless steel.
Association of Professional Piercers. Suggested aftercare guidelines for body piercings.
Association of Professional Piercers. Safe piercing FAQ.
Association of Professional Piercers. Body piercing troubleshooting for you and your healthcare professional.