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Cartilage earrings were once reserved for those with alternative looks, but a plethora of different designs have opened up the possibilities for others to add unexpected sparkle to their ears. If you’re thinking about committing to a cartilage piercing, read all you need to know about what’s involved and how to find a style to suit you below.
What Are Cartilage Earrings?
Cartilage earrings are a generic term for an earring worn on any part of the ear that isn’t the lobe. Cartilage is a type of connective tissue which is what the upper sections of your ears are made of. It’s tougher than skin but softer than bone and a lot thicker than your earlobes which makes it different in many ways to a regular ear piercing.
Cartilage earrings are also different from regular earrings in many ways.
They will generally be thinner, as a smaller gauge bar will be used to pierce the cartilage. Similarly, the wearable length of the barbell that goes through the cartilage is shorter than regular earrings because of the smaller spaces around the upper area of your ears.
Both body jewelry specialists and bespoke jewelers have caught onto the growing trend and have created an array of unique styles that can be worn in your cartilage. But before we get to styles, let’s learn a little bit more about how cartilage piercings are done and where you can wear your earrings.
How is Cartilage Pierced?
Cartilage is stronger than your earlobes which makes it more sensitive to pain. This is why cartilage should only ever be pierced with a needle and never a piercing gun.
A piercing gun shoots an earring through your ear to pierce it. Earrings are sharp, but not as sharp as a needle. The force of the gun and the resistance of your cartilage can result in trauma to the surrounding area. A needle, on the other hand, is sharper and more precise.
Your piercer will use a hollow needle to puncture your ear and insert your chosen earring into the piercing. Once that earring is in, it should stay in until the piercing is completely healed. This can take anywhere between three months to a full year, which is why you must put a lot of thought into the style of earring you purchase.
Cartilage Ear Piercing Placements
Below are the most common cartilage ear piercing locations going anti-clockwise from above the lobe.
This piercing is located on the bump of cartilage directly above your earlobe towards the ear canal.
2- Snug Piercing
Snug piercings are directly above the anti-tragus on the inner section of your ear. They fit snugly into the outward curve of that section.
3- Inner and Outer Conch Piercings
Inner conch piercings rest in the dip in the ear beneath the snug piercing. An outer conch piercing is located on the exposed cartilage under the curl of your upper ear. Like the Auricle, it is placed so that a stud earring can lay flat.
Auricle piercings are about halfway up the outer edge of your ear, however, the piercing is done just beside the curl so that a stud earring can lay flat inside your ear exiting at the back of your ear. It’s similar to the outer conch piercing.
Helix piercings are located on the part of the cartilage that curls up along the top outer edges of the ear. Standard helix piercings pass through the cartilage once while industrial helix earring passes through the ear once at the helix and through the opposite inner curl of the ear. Helix piercings are higher and closer to the edge than an outer conch piercing.
Your rook is the highest ridge of your inner ear and connects at the bottom of your ear to the inner conch. The piercing goes through the rook and both the front and back end of an earring is exposed.
These piercings are in the small area of cartilage that juts out of the middle of your ear above the earlobe and close to the face.
Types of Cartilage Earrings and Where They Suit
Here are the most popular type of cartilage earring jewelry and the specific types of piercings they best suit.
- Hoop Earrings
Hoops designed for cartilage piercings have smaller diameters to fit into the tight spaces higher on your ear. They are available patterned, plain or encrusted in stones. Hoop earrings are well suited for all cartilage piercings except the rook, outer conch, auricle and orbital. Although a small hoop earring can fit the snug or inner conch location, they face upward so the hoop will fall back down onto your ear.
- Captive Bead Rings
Captive beads are hoop earrings with a design focal point in the middle of the hoop. Traditionally this is a bead, however, modern designs showcase the focal point with exquisite soldering and metal work. Captive beads suit the same cartilage piercings as hoops.
- Labret Studs or Posts
Labret studs are similar to those worn in earlobes but are generally shorter and have a flat back for comfort. They come in a variety of designs from a ball of plain metal, precious stones or quirky shapes. Posts or studs are well-suited to all cartilage piercings, apart from rook or orbital piercings as these showcase the back of the post.
- Dangling Cartilage Studs
Dangling cartilage studs are the same as regular posts or studs but feature a small dangling charm at the front. They achieve the same look as dangling hook earrings worn on ear lobes, but a post fixture secures them to upper ear placements.
- Wide Cartilage Studs
If you like the look of multiple earrings but only want one piercing, wide cartilage studs are a great choice as they feature long crawling designs to mimic the look of multiple piercings. They perfectly suit piercings on the outer and upper ear such as outer conch, auricle, and helix piercings.
- Cartilage Shields
Cartilage shields have the same look as a cuff but pass through an ear-piercing. They are more secure than a cuff and can be worn lower along the helix as they won’t slip off. Cartilage shields are best suited for the helix area.
- Cartilage Chain
Cartilage chains are two separate earrings, either studs or hoops connected with a chain. A cartilage chain can be used to connect any two piercings depending on the length of the chain but work best on outer ear piercings as the chain will fall away from your ear canal.
- Barbells (Straight, Curved, Circular)
Barbell jewelry come in three variations – straight, curved or circular are studs or posts that are designed to show at both ends. There is either a stone, ball, or charm on one end and a threaded ball on the other. Barbells suit most type of ear piercings, depending on the variation you choose.
- Multiple Piercings (Constellation Piercings)
Constellation piercings are multiple cartilage piercings that come together to create one cohesive look. They can consist of upwards of four cartilage piercings in one ear, all with different but complementary earring designs. Constellation earrings tend to be more minimal as the main focus of the design is how all the earrings look when worn together.
Curated cartilage piercings on the other hand, are more focused on how earrings and piercings compliment a specific person’s ear shape.
While constellation and curated piercings look beautiful, getting more than three cartilage piercings at one time is generally not recommended. This is especially true if you are a first timer as too many piercings at once can irritate and confuse your immune system – which remember, will be dealing with new foreign material in your body and the trauma of a piercing. It’s also a good idea to stagger even two or three piercings if you haven’t had your cartilage pierced before, or if the piercings are close together as this will be much more painful than getting only one.
Cartilage Earrings for Different Styles
Cartilage earrings are often thought of as alternative or edgy, but the variety of earrings available has made them well-suited to different styles. Anyone that likes the look of cartilage earrings and can bear the healing process can find a style to suit them.
Minimalist: If you’re unsure of what style to choose, minimalist designs are a good choice. They are timeless and will complement a wide variety of changing jewelry and fashion trends. This is important for the long healing period. Simple bar studs or very fine hoops will add just a hint of glimmer without changing your overall look too much. Minimal cartilage earrings also tend to be lighter and smaller which makes them a good choice for first-timers who may be extra sensitive to pain.
Boho: Bohemian styling is typically layered, exotic and unexpected which makes cartilage earrings perfect for this look. Cartilage earrings gives you more opportunities for layering jewelry. Captive bead designs are quintessentially bohemian, but if hoops aren’t your style you can look for dangling studs, wide studs or a cartilage shield with a free-spirited design.
Elegant: Those that prefer a more elegant and refined look should opt for a single cartilage earring with a classic diamond or baby pearl stud. This is just enough to make a stylish statement while keeping your overall look refined.
Where to Buy Cartilage Earrings
Cartilage earrings are available from specialty piercing and tattoo parlors. When you are shopping for the earring that you will wear during the healing period, look for earrings that are made of hypoallergenic metals such as high karat gold, surgical stainless steel or titanium as fresh cartilage piercings are sensitive and prone to infection.
If you aren’t sensitive, then you can experiment with other metals and the boundless choices available on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Etsy which offer more variety. Just be sure to purchase from a reputable seller with five-star reviews – ideally for the actual product that you are purchasing.