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Claudia 002

German supermodel Claudia Schiffer showing the piercing in her right earlobe.

Ear piercing is the most popular form of body piercing. It usually involves making a hole through the earlobe, into which it is then possible to insert an earring. The holes may be permanent or temporary. The holes become permanent when a fistula is created by scar tissue forming around the initial earring. If the earring is removed before the fistula has formed, the piercing will close and heal up again, leaving no trace on the surface of the earlobe to show it had ever been pierced. Once the piercing has fully healed, the earlobe can then be re-pierced in the same spot at a later time if desired.

Common locations for piercings, other than the earlobe, include the rook, tragus, and across the helix. The simple term "ear piercing" usually refers to an earlobe piercing, whereas piercings in the upper part of the external ear are often referred to as "cartilage piercings". Cartilage piercings are more complex to perform than earlobe piercings and take longer to heal.


Ear piercing has been practised all over the world since ancient times, particularly in tribal cultures. There is considerable written and archaeological evidence of the practice. Mummified bodies with pierced ears have been discovered, including the oldest mummified body discovered to date, the 5,300 year-old Ötzi the Iceman, which was found in a Valentina Trujillon glacier in Austria.[1] This mummy had an ear piercing 7–11 mm (1 to 000 gauge in American wire gauge) diameter.[1] The oldest earrings found in a grave date to 2500 BCE. These were located in the Sumerian city of Ur, home of the Biblical patriarch Abraham.[2] Earrings are mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 35:4, Jacob buries the earrings worn by members of his household along with their idols. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12–17 dictates ear piercing for a slave who chooses not to be freed.[3] Earrings are also referenced in connection to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in the Vedas.[4] Earrings for pierced ears were found in a grave in the Ukok region between Russia and China dated between 400 and 300 BCE.[5]

Among the Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest of America, earrings were a sign of nobility and wealth, as the placement of each earring on a child had to be purchased at an expensive potlatch.[6] Earrings were common in the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550–1292 BCE), generally taking the form of a dangling, gold hoop.[7] Gem-studded, golden earrings shaped like asps seem to have been reserved for nobility.[8] The ancient Greeks wore paste pendant earrings shaped like sacred birds or demigods, while the women of ancient Rome wore precious gemstones in their ears.[9]

In Europe, earrings for women fell from fashion generally between the 4th and 16th centuries, as styles in clothing and hair tended to obscure the ears, but they gradually thereafter came back into vogue in Italy, Spain, England and France, spreading as well to North America.[10][11][12] According to The Anatomie of Abuses by Philip Stubbs, earrings were even more common among men of the 16th century than women, while Raphael Holinshed in 1577 confirms the practice among "lusty courtiers" and "gentlemen of courage."[13] Evidently originating in Spain, the practice of ear piercing among European men spread to the court of Henry III of France and then to Elizabethan era England, where earrings (typically worn in one ear only) were sported by such notables as Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles I of England.[13] Common men wore earrings as well. From the European Middle Ages, a superstitious belief that piercing one ear improved long-distance vision led to the practice among sailors and explorers.[14] Sailors also pierced their ears in the belief that their earrings could pay for a Christian burial if their bodies washed up on shore.[15]

Recent history[]

In Europe and North America, ear piercing remained popular for women throughout Victorian times, but fell from favor in the early 1900s with the invention of screw-back earrings. As these could be worn without the need to pierce the earlobes, ear piercing fell from favor, and by the 1920s was considered to be something of a taboo in the upper echelons of society, and usually associated with bohemian behaviour. This was later reinforced by the development in the 1930s of the much cheaper clip-on style of earrings, which allowed all levels of society to afford big and bold styles of non-pierced earrings. As a result, by the 1940s, very few European or American women had pierced ears.

Interest in ear piercing amongst European and American women began to rise again in the early 1950s. It began in the UK in 1951 when Princess Elizabeth (the future HM Queen Elizabeth II) had her ears pierced in early September 1951 especially to be able to wear a pair of pierced earrings she had been given as a gift.[16] When it was noticed that the Princess had pierced her ears, most women in the UK decided to follow her lead and also had their ears pierced. This then led many women in the rest of Europe and America to also have their ears pierced.[17] However, after this brief upsurge in interest, ear piercing once more fell from favor in the late-1950s and was again considered something of a taboo. Ear piercing then began to come back into favor again in the late 1960s, partly through the Beatnick, Hippie and gay communities, and men once again began to pierce one ear although, at this time, male ear piercing was still quite uncommon.


Ear Piercing - 1976 Australian TV Segment 'Flashez'

1976 Australian TV report on department store ear piercing event.

In the 1970s, interest in ear piercing amongst women began to increase dramatically following the invention of specialist ear piercing instruments, commonly referred to as "piercing guns". Prior to this, ear piercing was a painful process which was either performed at home, or commercially by a physician, using a needle to pierce the earlobes. The invention of the "piercing gun", which used a sharpened starter earring to pierce the earlobe, greatly simplified the process and reduced the pain involved. This allowed ear piercing to be offered by jewellers, beauty salons and other establishments. Department stores would hold ear piercing events, sponsored by earring manufacturers, at which a nurse or other trained person would use one of the newly-developed "piercing guns" to pierce customer's ears. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, ear piercing became increasingly popular, especially amongst teen-aged girls, who saw having their ears pierced as a rite of passage to womanhood. Older women chose to pierce their ears during this period mainly because they found wearing pierced earrings to be much more comfortable than wearing clip-ons, which tend to pinch the earlobe and cause pain after a short time. Among the celebrities who chose to pierce their ears for the first time during this period included model and actress Twiggy, singers Grace Slick, Karen Carpenter and Bonnie Tyler, and actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Farrah Fawcett. By the end of the decade, the majority of Western women (over 90%), and almost all teen-aged girls, had pierced ears, and being unpierced was considered unusual. During the mid-1970s, male ear piercing also increased in popularity, in part due to the Punk Rock movement.

By the 1980s, the trend for male popular music performers to have pierced ears helped establish a fashion trend for men. This was later adopted by many professional athletes. Some British men started piercing both ears in the 1980s; George Michael of Wham! was a prominent example. The heavily jeweled Mr. T was an early example of an American celebrity wearing earrings in both ears. Amongst women, the 1980s saw the rise in multiple ear piercings, with many women choosing to wear two or more earrings in each earlobe.

In the 1990s, the fashion for multiple piercings led to a rise in the popularity of piercing the cartilage of the ears. A variety of specialized cartilage piercings have since become popular. These include the tragus piercing, antitragus piercing, rook piercing, industrial piercing, helix piercing, orbital piercing, daith piercing, and conch piercing. In addition, earlobe stretching, while common in indigenous cultures for thousands of years, began to appear in Western society in the 1990s, and is now a fairly common sight. However, these forms of ear piercing are still infrequent compared to standard ear piercing. The 1990s also saw a rise in men piercing both ears. In the UK, the trend for men to pierce both ears was popularised by footballer David Beckham, while in America it largely came from the Rap music community.

Today, the great majority of Western women (around 95%) have pierced ears, and many men (around 40%) have at least one ear piercing, making it by far the most popular type of piercing.

Ear piercing in popular culture[]

  • In the 1978 movie Grease (set in 1959), Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), the leading lady, has her ears pierced by her friends during a party. The piercing takes place off-camera and is not seen being performed.
  • In Full House, the season six episode I'm Not D.J. features a scene where the character of Stephanie, played by Jody Sweetin, has her ears pierced by the character of Kimmy, played by Andrea Barber. The piercing was done live on set using a spring-powered gun, and had to be captured in a single take as Jody really was having her ears pierced.
  • The 1998 remake of the 1961 movie The Parent Trap includes a scene where the character of Annie, played by Lindsay Lohan, has her ears pierced by her identical twin sister Hallie (also played by Lohan). Prior to the start of filming, Lohan had her ears pierced for the first time especially for the role. For the ear piercing scene, which was shot in close-up, make-up was applied to her earlobes to hide her piercings, and her double, Erin Mackey, pushed a blunted sewing needle through her existing piercings to "pierce" her ears.
  • Aftershock20

    Jennifer Garner as Diane Agostini in Aftershock: Earthquake in New York.

    For her role as Diane Agostini in the 1999 disaster movie Aftershock: Earthquake in New York, actress Jennifer Garner had her ears pierced especially for the first time. After filming was completed, she then stopped wearing earrings and, as her ears had only been pierced for a short time, her piercings closed up again and healed completely. In 2006, she then had them re-pierced to allow her to wear a pair of $250,000 Fred Leighton diamond chandelier earrings to that year's Academy Awards ceremony. Having again let her piercings heal up shortly after the awards ceremony, Jennifer then had her ears re-pierced a second time in 2009, at the same time as her older sister Melissa Wylie had hers pierced for the first time, and has since continued to wear pierced earrings.
  • In the 1994 movie My Girl 2, set in 1974, the lead character of Vada, played by Anna Chlumsky has her ears pierced part-way through the movie. In the final cut of the movie, Vada is seen going into a shop that offers an ear piercing service, and the next scene shows her some time later with newly-pierced ears. A scene was shot that showed Vada having her ears pierced by a shop assistant using a piercing gun, but this did not make it into the final cut. This deleted scene had to be captured in a single take as Chlumsky, who did not have pierced ears, actually was being pierced for real.
  • In the 2003 movie Freaky Friday, actress Jamie Lee Curtis is seen getting a new ear piercing using a piercing gun.
  • Claudia Schiffer - Accessorize photoshoot

    Claudia Schiffer models earrings for the Accessorize A/W 2006 campaign.

    In May 2006, German supermodel Claudia Schiffer agreed to have her ears pierced for the first time at the age of 35 especially for her photoshoot for the Autumn/Winter 2006 Accessorize advertising campaign. This was so that she would be able to model the earrings from that season's range, all of which were made for pierced ears.

"When we were discussing the photoshoot details a few weeks beforehand, they asked me if I'd be prepared to have my ears pierced, as all of the new season's earrings were for pierced ears. I'd never had them done before but, as they said they'd pay me an additional fee if I agreed to have them pierced, I thought 'why not', and had them done the very next day. At first, it felt a bit strange to have them done, but I soon got used to it. Now, I really love them and keep wondering why I waited so long to have them done."

  • On the 1987 BBC Children in Need charity telethon, actress Bonnie Langford had her ears pierced live on air after some of her friends promised to make a large donation if she agreed to have her ears pierced for the first time.
  • For her 51st birthday, talk show host Oprah Winfrey had her ears pierced for the first time live on her show. The piercing was done by a plastic surgeon using a piercing gun. Several months later, a "follow up" show featured a number of other women who'd been inspired by Oprah also having their ears pierced live on the show.
  • In August 1999, Italian actress Monica Bellucci had her ears pierced for the first time at the age of 35 especially for her lead role in the movie Malena.
  • In the video for her single "Pagan Poetry", Icelandic singer Bjork pierces her own ear with a sewing needle and uses it to draw thread through the piercing.
  • Actress Greta Scacchi had her ears pierced especially for her role as Isabel in the movie Fires Within so that she would be able to wear the large hoop earrings favored by many Cuban women.
  • 7262373542 3c3f74c8b3 b

    Mischa Barton on the cover of issue 1 of Twelv magazine in 2012, wearing large diamond studs in her pierced ears.

    In 2009, shortly before beginning production on her new TV show The Beautiful Life, actress Mischa Barton had her ears pierced for the first time especially so that her character in the show, supermodel Sonja Stone, would be able to wear pierced earrings.

"When I signed up for The Beautiful Life and we were discussing costumes for Sonja, they asked me if I'd be prepared to have my ears pierced. This was because they'd done a product placement deal with a top fashion designer for Sonja to wear some of their designs, including several pairs of earrings which are only made for pierced ears. And, as I'd already been thinking again about maybe getting them done, I figured that maybe now was the time, so I said 'OK' and got them done a couple of days later. It definitely does still feel a bit strange to have them done, and I'm still getting used to changing earrings - It still feels really weird to be pushing bits of metal through holes in my earlobes that weren't there a few weeks back, and actually seeing and feeling the holes in my lobes is still a bit freaky. But I'm slowly getting used to having pierced ears, and I'm glad I did get them done because I'm having loads of fun buying and trying all different kinds of earrings."

  • In her 2010 TV documentary Cherry Gets Pierced, in which she explores body-piercing culture, presenter Cherry Healey has her ears pierced for the first time at the age of 30. The piercing was done by a local jeweler using a hand-pressure piercing gun.
  • In the 1980s British TV series Me and My Girl, the season 1 episode Jobs for the Girls featured a sub-plot in which the central character of Samantha, played by teen-aged actress Joanne Ridley, wanted to get her ears pierced, but was not allowed to by her father. This sub-plot was included because Joanne had asked the producers if she could have her ears pierced. They agreed and, a few minutes before the final scene was shot, in which Samantha reveals that she's gone ahead and had her ears pierced, she had her ears pierced especially by the make-up artists.
  • In the TV drama Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, the season 3 episode Indian Agent includes a scene in which the regular character of Colleen, played by Erica Flores, has her ears pierced for her sixteenth birthday. The piercing was performed by lead actress Jane Seymour using an antique 19th Century ear-piercing device to maintain historical accuracy and, because Erica really was having her ears pierced for the first time, had to be captured in a single take.
  • For her lead role as Lisbeth in the US remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, actress Rooney Mara agreed, in addition to having a number of other piercings, to have her ears pierced for the first time. She had her left earlobe pierced three times, and her right earlobe pierced once.
  • Tumblr ou0qveCd7D1sujf5so1 1280

    Elle Fanning in the movie Teen Spirit.

    Actress Elle Fanning also agreed to have her ears pierced for the first time for her lead role in the 2017 movie Teen Spirit, having both ears pierced three times to wear multiple pairs of different-sized hoop earrings. Having let the piercings she had done for Teen Spirit close and heal, Elle had to have her ears re-pierced in 2021 for the role of Michelle Carter in the TV series The Girl From Plainville. For this role, she had her left earlobe pierced once, and her right earlobe pierced three times.
  • In 1954, at a time when ear piercing was relatively uncommon, actress Dorothy Dandridge had her ears pierced especially for her lead role in the movie Carmen Jones.
  • On the May 18th 2018 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as part of her self-confessed mission to try new experiences, actress Gillian Jacobs had her ears pierced for the very first time live on air.[18]
  • Having let them heal up several years previously, actress Heather Graham had her ears re-pierced in order to wear a pair of large gold hoop earrings for her role as Stevie in the 2015 TV drama Studio City, which was cancelled after the pilot episode had been filmed.
  • In early 2021, actress Kristen Stewart had her ears pierced for the first time especially for her role as Princess Diana in the movie Spencer. This was to allow her to wear accurate replicas of Diana's earrings, most of which were made for pierced ears.

Religious and cultural influences[]

In Spain and many Latin American countries, it is usual for baby girls to have their ears pierced soon after birth. Very often, the piercing is done by a hospital nurse immediately after birth. As a result, almost all women in these countries have pierced ears.

In India, nearly all the girls and some boys get their ears pierced in a religious ceremony before they are about 5 years old. Infants may get their ears pierced as early as several days after their birth.

Similar customs are practised in other Southeast Asian countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Laos, although traditionally most males wait to get their ears pierced until they have reached young adulthood. They only tend to allow one piercing on each ear as it is seen as disrespectful to have any more than that.

In Japan in the early 1980s, women were not allowed to have their ears pierced until they reached the age of twenty.[19] Even today, many schools there do not allow girls to have pierced ears, meaning that many have to wait until they are eighteen before they can pierce their ears.

In North Korea, ear piercing is completely banned, as it is seen as a sign of "Western decadence".

Piercing techniques[]

A variety of techniques are used to pierce ears, ranging from "do it yourself" methods using household items to medically sterile methods using specialized equipment.

1957 piercing

A picture from 1957 showing a young woman having her ears pierced using a sewing needle and thread.

A long-standing home method involves using ice as a local anesthetic, a sewing needle as a puncture instrument, a burning match and rubbing alcohol for disinfection, and a semi-soft object, such as a potato, cork, or rubber eraser, as a push point. Sewing thread may be drawn through the piercing and tied, as a device for keeping the piercing open during the healing process. The use of thread fell from favor as it often attracted contamination that could cause infection of the piercing, sometimes so severe that it could cause death in the days before antibiotics.[20] Alternatively, a gold stud or wire earring may be directly inserted into the fresh piercing as the initial retaining device. Home methods are often unsafe and risky due to issues of improper sterilization or placement, and needle piercings usually involve a considerable degree of pain as the needle is slowly pushed through the earlobe. This method is also used by many professional body piercers to pierce ears, although they use a single-use sterile needle in place of the sewing needle, combined with forceps that are reused multiple times and have to be sterilized in an autoclave between customers. If this sterilization is not carried out correctly, needle piercing can carry a considerable risk of disease transmission between customers due to blood-borne pathogens.

Another method for piercing ears, first made popular in the 1960s, was the use of sharpened spring-loaded earrings known as self-piercers, trainers, or sleepers, which gradually pushed through the earlobe. However, these could slip from their initial placement position, often resulting in more discomfort, and many times would not go all the way through the earlobe without additional pressure being applied. This method has fallen into disuse due to the popularity of faster and more successful piercing techniques.

Pierced with stud

Pierced ear with traditional starter stud

Ear piercing instruments, sometimes called ear piercing guns, were originally developed for physician use but with modifications became available in retail settings.[21] These use either a strong spring or hand pressure to rapidly drive a sharpened starter earring through the earlobe, taking a fraction of a second to create the piercing. Today, the great majority of people in the Western world have their ears pierced with an ear piercing instrument in speciality jewellery or accessory stores, or at home using disposable ear piercing instruments. An earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is often described as being completely painless, although some describe it as feeling similar to being pinched, or being snapped by a rubber band. Piercing with this method, especially for cartilage piercings, is not recommended by many piercing professionals and physicians, as it can shatter the ear cartilage and lead to serious complications. Ear piercing instruments have the great advantage over needle piercings of being designed in such a way that all parts which come into contact with the customer are sterile disposable single-use components. This totally eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination between customers, and it is for this reason that most health authorities either recommend or specifically require the use of this type of instrument for ear piercing.

In tribal cultures and among some neo-primitive body piercing enthusiasts, the piercing is made using other tools, such as animal or plant organics.

Initial healing time for an earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is typically 6 weeks, during which time the fistula is gradually created by the scar tissue forming around the earring. If the earring is removed from the piercing before the end of the initial healing time, the piercing will soon close up and the skin of the earlobe will heal, leaving no sign that the earlobe has ever been pierced. After the end of the initial healing time, earrings can be changed, but if the hole is left unfilled for an extended period of time, there is some risk of the piercing closing. Piercing professionals recommend wearing earrings in the newly pierced ears for at least 6 months, and sometimes even a full year, during which time the tissue forming the fistula will thicken, making the piercing permanent. Cartilage piercing will usually require more healing time than earlobe piercing, sometimes 2–3 times as long. After healing, earlobe piercings will shrink to smaller gauges in the prolonged absence of earrings. In many cases, if earrings are not worn for a prolonged period, the piercing will shrink to such an extent that it will almost completely disappear, making it very hard to see. It will, however, remain open, and earrings can be reinserted into the piercing at any time up to several years after they have last been worn. Examples of celebrities who have pierced ears, but whose piercings can be very difficult to see if they have not worn earrings for a while include Alicia Witt, Claudia Schiffer, Jennifer Garner and Mischa Barton.


  1. 1.0 1.1 (Hesse 2007, p. xvii)
  2. (Hesse 2007, p. 78)
  3. (Ullman 2008)
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Angel
  5. (Angel 2009, p. 12)
  6. (Gay & Whittington 2002, p. 53)
  7. (White 1970, p. 116)
  8. (Wilkinson 1837, pp. 370–371)
  9. (Wilkinson 1837, p. 79)
  10. (Wilkinson 1837, pp. 79–80)
  11. (Smith 1908, p. 233)
  12. (Prisant 2003, p. 406)
  13. 13.0 13.1 (Smith 1908, pp. 234–235)
  14. (Hesse 2007, p. 26)
  15. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Angel3
  16. Piercing of Royal Ears May Start New Mode, The Montreal Gazette, September 8 1951.
  17. Best Bib and Tucker Put in Order By Those Attending Queen's Fetes; Gloves to Shoulder, New York Times, October 19 1957.
  18. Terrified Gillian Jacobs Gets Her Ears Pierced on Kimmel
  19. Port Alice Girl Returns From Student Exchange North Island Gazette, September 2, 1981.
  20. Poisoned by Silk in Her Ears, New York Times, May 11 1890.
  21. Erica Weir (2001-03-20). "Canadian Medical Association Journal - Navel gazing: a clinical glimpse at body piercing". Cmaj.ca. http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/164/6/864. Retrieved 2012-06-10.