The Earring Era: An Exhaustive Guide to Ear Design

Hannah Finnigan-Walsh

Just as lipstick was the luxury item in a post 2008 world, piercings are the cool girl way to rebel without actually, y'know, rebelling.

Ear piercing is no longer a clunky (and often blunt) gold and diamanté (or worse, your birth stone) stud being gunned into your lobe. Instead, piercing is a design opportunity and studios (not pharmacies) are seeing women getting a well-thought out selection of piercings all at once in an effort to achieve an elegant, edgy look with the jewelry to match.

It's now the norm to see dangling crosses with delicate studs in one ear and offset with a tight conch ring, tragus stud or daith bar piercing in the other. Did I lose you? Thought so. So let's start with the where. Different areas of the ear have different pain points and levels of difficulty and for the purposes of this guide, limits to the jewelry that can be worn.

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The Piercings

1. Industrial

A more edgy and adventurous look. This piercing is a bar that sits diagonally downward on the outer tip of the ear. The jewelry sits through piercings at the top of the ear and the helix. Word from the wise: two piercings for one piece of jewelry is known as an orbital.

2. Forward Helix

The flat folded section at the top inner corner of your ear. The best earrings for here are delicate studs ideally with a flat butterfly to avoid pain while you sleep or wear headphones.

3. Daith

This piercing is at the cartilage fold closest to the inner part of the ear. This is another cartilage piercing and suits a tight ring that sits close to the ear. Often pierced here to combat cluster headaches. Bonus. Also, it's pronounced 'doth' like 'cloth'.

4. Tragus

This is the somewhat flat piece of cartilage that is located closest to the face, in the middle of the ear. Bars, studs, and rings all work.

5. Lobe

Unless you're new to piercing altogether, you've likely had your lobes pierced for the better part of the decade. Lobes are bottommost part of the ear and can be done with a gun or a needle. Lobes are the spot for chandelier or statement earrings and the perfect starting point for the rest of the ear's 'look'.

6. Upper Lobe

The classic 'second hole' spot sitting right next to the lobe. Same pain level as the lobe and ideal for rings or studs. This is the place to start if you're nervous to move beyond the normal lobe piercing.

7. Anti-Tragus

The Anti-tragus sits above the upper lobe. It's another versatile piercing and works with almost any piece of jewelry.

8. Anti-Helix/ Snug

This is the inner counterpart to the helix. The cartilage is thicker than the helix which can affect pain levels but the jewelry is a little more varied: try a small bar, a cuff, or a ring.

9. Conch

Arguably the most popular piercing of the moment, the conch is technically the inner flat part of the ear (in the middle as opposed to the top like the flat) but the earring of choice (a tight ring) means the resulting look is comparable to the helix. Perfect for a cuff, ring or even a delicate but intricate stud. Again, a flat back is preferable for comfort or no piercing at all - no-pierce cuffs are available from most jewelers.

10. Helix

Chances are you already have this one if you went to school in the '90s. It's the outer rim of the ear and includes any part up to the lobe. Cuffs have been hugely popular pieces for the helix as well as the classic ring. A double helix also works as a point of difference.

11. Rook

The inner curvature of the ear at the top. The piercing is angled straight down through the cartilage. Traditionally, a bar is the best piece for this area but rings can also work once the area has healed.

12. Flat

Quite simply the flattest part of your ear at the top. Ideal for delicate studs as a ring would need to be large to fit around the ear and could look clunky.

The Look

Get Asymmetrical

There's something about matchy-matchy looks that shows a distinct lack of originality. Double lobes and upper lobes are fine but the symmetry should end there. No double tragus, daiths, flats, or forward helixes. The rest are a lot easier to pull off but make sure the jewelry varies; rings in one side, studs or bars on the other.

Think about tone

An explosion of colour doesn't look that well thought out. A mix of similar toned metals (gold, rose gold, warm silver) still looks young while maintaining elegance. If you're focusing on bright chandelier earrings for the lobes, stick with simple cuffs and as few jewels as possible to draw the focus to the statement pieces.

Less is More

Ar ear full of jewelry is a fine thing but the thing is, the jewelry should be fine. Simple and narrow gauge gold rings that 'hug' the ear and simple studs will avoid you looking like an experiment.

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Neighbours should be alike. Circle next to square next to diamond is overwhelming. Sticking to the same shape and varying sizes is a simpler way to make a statement.

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The Pain Factor

It's cliché but it's true; pain will vary depending on the person. But there are always some general rules of thumb.

  • To get a rough idea of how susceptible you are to pain in different EAReas(sorry), try pinching the area tightly with your thumb and forefinger. This will help you get an idea of where your nerve endings are.

  • More often than not, the height of the pain is when the needle punctures the ear and then if the piercer needs to thread the jewelry in separately. After the piercing a dull throb or heat may make you uncomfortable but shouldn't continue to hurt.

  • If you're piercing multiple places at once it might be wise to do one side at a time where possible. This way, you aren't restricted to lying on your back while you sleep (which is in no way normal). Lobes are the exception here, Jack Sparrow.

  • After the initial piercing, cartilage piercings are easier to shrink than grow so be wary of the size of your jewelry. Stretching a cartilage piercing is much more painful than the initial piercing. So, don't do that.

  • Most ear piercings cost between $20 - $50 (for lobes) and $30 - $60 for cartilage. If you find someone who will do it for much less, be wary. Infections are a lot more painful than the initial prick and can result in you not being able to wear jewelry at all. And don't let your friends do it - you're a grown up.

  • Professional piercers will go out of their way to make you comfortable and will use sharp, sterile, one use needles that will reduce pain. They will also do it right the first time. More often than not, this cost includes jewelry but do be sure to check. Do not let a piercer pierce you with a gun anywhere other than your lobes (which can also be pierced with a needle).

  • Prevent infection by cleaning twice daily with a saline solution or warm water and dissolved salt. Easy and cheap.