Changing My Cartilage Piercing for the First Time

It has been awhile since I had my cartilage piercings done: I had the first one done in July of last year, and the second done in August. I still love them. The only thing I don’t love is that I’ve continued to sleep on my side, which mashes the earrings. Every morning when I wake up, the area around the piercings looks a little puffy, and one of the earrings is tipped up diagonally. I think the tipped one must also have been pierced a little crooked, but maybe not, maybe it’s that the cartilage is softer or I sleep more on that side or something.

Either way, I felt uneasy about squashing them like that, and I don’t like how one keeps being tilted, so I went back to the piercing place and asked if there was anything I could do. They recommended flat-backed earrings, which have little discs on the backs instead of the familiar curly nubbin. I bought six of them, because they were on a buy-2-get-1-free sale.

I went home and I braced myself for the unknown and possibly gross. I was nervous about changing them: I’d read that it was more challenging to change a cartilage piercing than an earlobe piercing. I got everything I’d need: the saline spray, some rubbing alcohol in a soda-bottle cap to sterilize the new earrings and clean the old ones, some little cotton pads to wipe the ear clean.

I took out the first of the old earrings, which was hard to do. I know how to take out ear-piercing earrings, which snap-lock in place, but the cartilage is so much more rigid than the earlobe, and there was less room to get my fingers into position, and I was nervous it would hurt, and I was nervous I’d do it wrong. But I got ready, and then I pulled, and the earring came unsnapped as expected. What was not expected was that the ear around the piercing immediately puffed up both front and back: an alarming little lump on both sides. Hm. That doesn’t seem right. Or was that lump already there, and I hadn’t seen it because the earrings was there? It was hard to say.

I chose one of the new earrings, and tried to take the flat backing off of it. I tugged and nothing happened. I twisted and nothing happened. Finally I thought to twist the STUD part of the earring—and it unscrewed. Uh oh. This meant that the earring post needed to go into the piercing from the BACK, and then the stud would get screwed back on. I didn’t know how that would work, but I know people change their own piercings all the time, so I proceeded on faith.

I got the new earring ready. I bent my ear-shell forward and…it was clear I was not going to be able to put an earring in from the back. No way. I couldn’t even see where to put it. And the earring post was SHARP, so I was not inclined to start stabbing it around hopefully. And the whole thing seemed gross and scary, and I was worried something was going to hurt. But the earring was out, and a new earring had to go in, and no one else was home, and I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be willing to do it even if they’d ALL been home. I was on my own. Like Indiana Jones, basically.

The first solution my panicky brain came up with was to forget the whole thing. Never mind! Let the piercing heal up! Failed experiment! But I didn’t WANT to. I LIKE those piercings. I am not really a badass in any way, but I have badass aspirations if I can ever stop crying and cringing at everything, and those piercings feel like a step in the right direction. Plus I think they’re pretty. So here was my next thought process:

1. An earring has to go into that hole.
2. It has to be the kind of earring that goes in from the front.
3. I could put the original earring back in, but that’s discouraging and solves nothing.
4. What I wanted originally was SMALLER gold balls, like the ones in my second earlobe piercing.
5. I DO HAVE more of those smaller gold balls.
6. They do go in from the front.
7. Seems to me that we have a plan and it is time to stop dithering and spring into action.

Like Indiana Jones, I sprang to my room and got a pair of the earrings, which are sterile until unwrapped. I unwrapped them. Should I put them in the rubbing alcohol, even if they’re sterile? I mean, they’re unwrapped now, so are they still sterile? For how long? Well, let’s not sit here fretting about it, let’s just pour a little rubbing alcohol into the palm of my hand and give the earrings a quick dip.

I was worried that the earring wouldn’t go in: as I mentioned earlier, I’d read that it could be more difficult than with an earlobe piercing. I was further worried that the post would be shorter than the freshly puffy width it needed to bridge. I got the post through with only a little stabby fumbling: ouch, ouch, ouch, okay there we go. But only a teeny bit of the post stuck out of the back of the ear. I took the backing, I put it against that little point, and I shoved it on; it snapped into place with only a slight and brief pinch. It was in. It did not continue to hurt; it felt fine.

Now I had one large gold stud and one small. The question was: proceed, or leave well enough alone? It bugs me to have things uneven, and the first one had gone fairly well, and so INTO THE FRAY. Indiana Jones would have done the same with HIS cartilage piercings. I will stop mentioning him now.

I prepared to remove the second earring. I braced. I winced. I applied the pull-apart pressure. Nothing happened, and I felt like I didn’t have a good grip on it; the angle felt weird. I tried again, with more resolve and a better grip, and this time it snapped out. The ear had a lump like the first ear did, but this one looked less like it was new and more like it had been there all along: smoother and the skin looked more normal. I’d thought I seen a lump when that earring was still in, but I hadn’t been able to tell for sure. I know that can happen with cartilage piercings, and that the lump can linger for kind of a long time (like, a year), and it didn’t look scary in any other way so I’d figured that was the situation.

I put the new earring in, and got the back into position. But this time I couldn’t seem to get a good grip: the stud part kept slipping to the side as I tried to hold it steady, and I was nervous to apply a lot of pressure and then have it slip. I tried various things: using a bit of paper towel to hold the stud part steady, changing the angle of the ear flap, switching hands around. At one point the earring slipped out and I had to put it back in again. I was getting nervous and sweaty. And then I did get it, and it snapped into place. Huge relief.

I still have my saline spray from last time. It is surprisingly expensive, but it helps: I first bought the H2Ocean from the piercing place because I didn’t want to argue with them about it (it’s one of their huge mark-up items, so they really push it), and when it was all used up I tried the kind of saline they make for contact lenses, which I was sure was exactly the same stuff. I don’t know WHY it didn’t work as well, and maybe it’s because I’m suggestible, or maybe it’s because the ocean spray is literally better in some way, or most likely it’s because the cheaper saline wasn’t a propelled spray so I dribbled most of it down my shirt, but anyway I ended up buying a larger bottle of H2Ocean from Amazon. (The piercing place sold me 1.5 ounces for $7; Amazon has 4 ounces for $10-12.) And when I brought it out to use it in this story, for my fresh cartilage earrings, it didn’t work: it just wouldn’t spray at all. I tried removing the nozzle and cleaning it, squiggling into the crevices with a toothpick. I tried turning the nozzle different directions. I tried pressing really hard while clenching my teeth and saying “SERIOUSLY??” Nothing worked. I used the cheaper saline instead, getting saline all in my hair and down my shirt. Later I had Paul look at the H2Ocean, and he said he didn’t know why it was broken (we suspect a child tampered with it) but it WAS broken. It is a testimony to my H2devotion that I ordered ANOTHER $11 bottle of it, to have on hand in case the fresh earrings caused the piercings to go south.

But they have NOT gone south. They are still a little puffy, but not alarming-looking. They don’t hurt. No fluids are emerging from them. The one that seemed to puff as soon as I took the old earring out is still kind of shiny and the earring looks pressed in because of the swelling, but the other one (the one that had seemed to have a little lump all along) looks the same as normal. And even the first one doesn’t look bad or scary, just a little puffy and pink as if maybe I squeezed it and disrupted it and poked it and squeezed it again, and as if it were a little puffy to begin with and that’s why we started this whole thing.

The new earrings don’t really Solve The Problem per se, since they still have the regular non-flat backings. But the gold-ball part is about half the size of the ones I had before, so although they do still get squished when I sleep on them, there is less metal to press into skin. And I prefer the look of them: I thought the old ones were too big. So I am basically happy, though a little squinty about the $20+ I spent on six flat-backed earrings I can’t use on my own.

The last time I went to the piercing place and asked for advice about earrings, the clerk gave suggestions and then said something like “Unfortunately our piercer is off today, so he can’t change them for you.” So my IMPRESSION is that if I ask, the piercer CAN change them for me? I don’t know if there’s a cost to this, and I don’t know if he can change them for me if I bring back earrings I bought on another occasion. But when I had the piercings done I noticed a Tip Jar in his room, so perhaps it’s the kind of thing where he does it and there is an understanding that I will leave a little something in the jar? Do speak up if you know how this goes. Also do speak up if you have figured out how to change a flat-backed earring yourself.

20 thoughts on “Changing My Cartilage Piercing for the First Time

  1. Stimey

    Gosh, I adore you. Way to go, Indiana Jones! I, too, have had issues that need another person when there is no other person around and it is terrible. Cringey badasses, unite!

  2. Slim

    Could I point out that if you had that Alternative Blogher gathering you once mentioned, you could include “help change earrings and other grooming tasks that are hard to do to oneself” as an activity? Maybe before the fudge tasting.

  3. Jean

    I don’t even have a cartilage piercing, and I found this really interesting and reassuring. I don’t suppose you’ve done a sleep study for sleep apnea and have written a reassuring summary of the experience? … no?

  4. a/k/a Nadine

    When I decided to change my conch piercing from hoop to bar, I went back to where I had the piercing done (tattoo parlor). They changed the hardware for free, although I did tip . The flat back stud was much more comfortable than the hoop (side sleeper!), but I eventually took it out myself because it never healed and continued to ooze for years. Gah.

  5. Suzanne

    I smiled at the first Indiana Jones reference, snorted at the second, and laughed loudly at the third.

    I relate SO HARD to this: “I am not really a badass in any way, but I have badass aspirations if I can ever stop crying and cringing at everything”

    H2devotion also made me laugh loudly.

    And this WHOLE (I avoided the “hole” pun that initially occurred to me) STORY had me tensed up. I have no piercings anywhere, so the concept is bewildering and scary and, yes, Indiana Jones INDEED.

  6. Jane Duncan

    Just a suggestion–the saline spray that is sold for sinus issues. They make in a mist kind and a “pump it into your nose” kind. Probably much less expensive and easier to get (Target has their own).

    1. Julia

      There’s also a generic one you can buy at any grocery store. It’s saline spray in a can just like the kind sold at piercing salons. That’s where I’ve gotten all of mine.

  7. Marilyn

    I feel pretty sure that yes, they should change earrings for you for free, especially if you bought them there, even if not right then, and always a small tip would be appreciated but probably not shamed for the lack thereof.

    I switched out my own navel ring a few months after that piercing, and it got a bit pink and puffy. (I was not as prepared as you, and doubt I even used alcohol, like a young 20-something traveling might not.) I went back to the super-devoted-to-piercing guy who had pierced it so carefully and got a small lecture, a cleaning, and a switch-out of the jewelry all for free!

    If the piercer is not always in, though, I wonder whether you would want to call beforehand (ha) to see whether he is there? Or I guess if you’re in the mall anyway, you could just swing by to see.

  8. Chris

    I also have a double upper-cartilage piercing. My original piercing earrings are flat-backed, so that is nice. I’m surprised yours weren’t. A while back, one my mine was bothering me after playing with it too much, so I took out the earring to clean it better. I was also surprised by how the earring worked! My husband had to put it back in for me. I have an inner-ear cartilage piercing on the other side, and the jewelry pretty much must be changed out by a piercer because of the location. I had to have it taken in/out for sports in college a few times. I returned to the shop I had it done and they were happy to help. I think that’s very common.

  9. MomQueenBee

    “I am not really a badass in any way, but I have badass aspirations if I can ever stop crying and cringing at everything” is me, to the core. Good job, you!

  10. liz

    What MomQueenBee said. Also, I would get a tattoo if I thought I would still be fond of whatever it was and where I’d had it placed even 6 months later.

    1. vanessa

      That is why I had mine placed on my back. I can’t see it therefor I am not sick of it and/or its placement. I thought long and hard before I had it done, had the same worries. Getting a tattoo was something I always wanted to this was my solution. No regrets, looking to get another.

  11. Britni

    Usually when my cart piercing puffed up like that it was because the earring was too tight against my ear. I kept the backs pushed as far to the end of the posts as I could to allow breathing/wiggle room.

  12. Grace

    Might I speak up just to tell you I love you? I laughed at myself when I realized I was quite literally on the edge of my seat and even leaning forward, eyes wide, while gulping this post? Hilarious how you manage to make earring changes and pants shopping riveting!

    1. Adrienne

      This! I’m constantly wondering how I can be so entertained by a stranger’s trips to the TJ Maxx clearance aisle and boxed candy selections.

  13. Shawna

    When my daughter got her ears pierced (just the lobes), the piercer specified that she would change them for free once, and after that there was a charge. I’d call your piercing place and ask what their policy is and if there is a charge for changing, how much it is. Even if there is a charge, it might be worth maybe getting them to do it once so they can teach you how to change the flat-back kind.

    I was surprised when she told me that some people NEVER change their own piercings, even regular earrings.

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