The trend for curated ears isn’t going anywhere – but the more piercings you have, the more chance you have of picking up an infection. Aesthetic doctor (and piercing fan) Dr Sophie Shotter has some great advice

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Admittedly it’s not the sexiest of subjects but infected ear piercings are an undeniable hazard for those whose ears are dotted with glimmers of diamond and gold. And there are a lot of us around – the curated ear trend has been A Thing for about a decade now, since renowned New York piercer Maria Tash opened a pop-up piercing parlour in London and every celebrity and fashion type in town popped in. It has even given rise to demand for plumping ear lobe filler and acupressure ear seeds made not of traditional, and rather ugly brown pips, but curated-ear-appropriate crystals and precious metals.

I have six current piercings, although a couple of others have failed along the way, including one in my right cartilage, a 40th birthday present to self, that never seemed to heal. After two years of on-and-off pain and pus, I finally gave up.

Multiple piercings look very pretty on Instagram but you need to be prepared to put in the work when looking after them – and that doesn’t just mean during the early healing process.

Image: Maria Tash

Piercing maintenance – clean them once a week

Aesthetic doctor Sophie Shotter, who has nine ear piercings, flags the importance of regular maintenance. “I check my piercings regularly, as it can be surprising how easily they can become a little irritated even when you think they’ve healed,” she says. “I use a solution called Clinisoothe (£14.95) to clean them. Clinisoothe is a solution of hypochlorous acid which is very gentle for the skin, yet kills over 99.99% of all bacteria, viruses, fungi and spores.

“I aim for once a week but there are times when it’s less frequent. I use a gauze swab and just wipe the piercings front and back to keep them clean.”

How do you clean a new piercing?

Clean twice a day with good, old-fashioned salt water until fully healed, which can take up to a year for cartilage piercings (or never, if you’re me).

Can you make your own at-home cleaning solution?

“If you’re making it at home then add 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt to warm bottled or distilled water and allow it to dissolve. It’s important the solution isn’t too strong, in order to avoid irritation,” says Sophie.

Or just buy the aftercare product your piercer sells in the salon. I’ve made the mistake before of walking out of appointments without buying it because I’ve felt like I was being upsold… and then failing to get around to making my own salt water each day at home and thus not cleaning my new piercing at all. Don’t be like me. Sophie recommends buying the piercer’s saline solution but to watch out for essential oils on the ingredients list “as these can irritate open wounds”.

How do you know if an ear piercing is infected?

It goes red, it swells up, it oozes pus and it hurts like hell. Believe me, you’ll know.

How to prevent an ear piercing infection?

  • Practise good hand hygiene and try to stop fiddling with your earrings.
  • Watch out for hair products: “If you have fresh piercings pay attention to products which you apply to the hair or ears to make sure you don’t irritate the piercings,” says Sophie. “
  • Try not to sleep on them “If I ever get a slightly sore piercing, it’s definitely related to how I’ve slept and I know about it the moment I wake up," says Sophie.
  • Check your earring isn’t too tight for your ear: “Tight-fitting earrings can compromise the tissue around the piercing and can make you more prone to localised infections. Consider going to see your piercer if the problem keeps recurring to ensure there isn’t an underlying issue with poorly fitted piercings,” advises Sophie.

How to treat an infected ear piercing

Most mild infections clear up by themselves in about a week. Use a salt water solution to gently clean the piercing site and remove any crusting. Sophie recommends returning to your piercer for advice – good ones will provide this kind of aftercare.

But if the infection spreads and you feel generally unwell (e.g. you have a fever), you need to seek medical help – you may need to take oral antibiotics. Have a look at the NHS advice for infected piercings.

If you’re looking for central London piercers, by the way, try Maria Tash’s excellent salon in Liberty – it’s not cheap though. For a more affordable service and earrings, I also like Astrid & Miyu in St Christopher’s Place. Wherever you go, just make sure you are happy with the hygiene protocols. If in doubt, walk out.

Image: Missoma London