From Academic Kids

Missing image
Sarmatian silver earrings from the Hermitage Museum.
An earring is an ornament that is worn in the ear. Earrings are often made out of metal but can also be made out of bone or similar hard material. Earrings are worn by both genders, although they are generally more commonly worn by women.

Earrings are attached to the ear through a piercing in the earlobe or some other external part of the ear, except in the case of a clip earring, which clips onto the lobe. 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 (see Ear Piercing).

Earring components can be made out of any number of materials, including metal, glass, precious stones and beads. Earring designs can range from small loops or studs to large plates or dangling items. Earring size is generally limited by the physical capacity of the earlobe to hold the earring without tearing. People who habitually wear heavy earrings may find that over time, the earlobe and piercing stretch.

Earrings are worn around the world in most cultures, both currently and historically. In many cultures, it is common to pierce the ears of young girls soon after birth. This has become somewhat controversial because of its involuntary nature, similar to, but much less severe than circumcision. Although not as common as with females, ear piercing among males has also become popular in North America and Europe.


Types of Earrings

Modern Standard Pierced Earrings

Regardless of the type, modern standard pierced earrings have two primary means of attachment: posts and wires.

  • Stud earrings - The main characteristic of stud earrings is the appearance of floating on the ear or earlobe without a visible (from the front) point of connection. Studs are invariably constructed on the end of a post, which penetrates straight through the ear. The post is held in place by a removable friction back or clutch. Occasionally, the stud earring is constructed so that the post is threaded, allowing a screw back to securely hold the earring in place. This is useful in preventing the loss of expensive earrings containing precious stones or made of precious metals.
  • Hoop earrings - hoop earrings are circular or semi-circular in design, and look very similar to a ring. They are often constructed of metal tubing, with a thin wire attachment penetrating the ear. The hollow tubing is permanently attached to the wire at the front of the ear, and slips into the tube at the back. The entire device is held together by tension between the wire and the tube. Other hoop designs do not complete the circle, but penetrate through the ear in a post, using the same attachment techniques that apply to stud earrings. A variation is the continuous hoop earring. In this design, the earring is constructed of a continuous piece of solid metal, which penetrates through the ear and can be rotated almost 360o. One of the ends is permanently attached to a small piece of metallic tubing or a hollow metallic bead. The other end is inserted into the tubing or bead, and is held in place by tension. One special type of hoop earring is the sleeper earring. This is a very small continuous piece of (typically) gold wire which essentially hugs the base of the earlobe with the ends connecting in the back. Because their small size makes them comfortable, sleepers are sometimes worn at night to keep an ear piercing from closing.
  • Dangle earrings - Dangle earrings are designed to flow from the bottoms of the earlobes, and are available in various lengths from a centimeter or two, all the way to brushing the shoulders. They are generally attached to the ear by the use of thin wires, which go through the earlobe and connect to themselves in a small hook at the back. A variation is the French hook design, which merely hangs from the earlobe without closure, although small plastic retainers are sometimes used on ends of French hooks. Rarely, dangle earrings use the post attachment design.
  • Slave earrings - A rarely seen type of earring is the slave earring, in which a stud is connected by a delicate chain to an ear cuff (see below) or a cartilage pierce worn higher on the ear.

Body Piercing Jewelry Used as Earrings

Pairs of earrings for sale at a roadside stand in Costa Rica.
Pairs of earrings for sale at a roadside stand in Costa Rica.

Body piercing jewelry is often used for ear piercings, and is selected for a variety of reasons including the availability of larger gauges, better piercing techniques, and a disdain for mainstream jewelry.

  • Ball closure rings - Ball closure rings, also known as captive bead rings, or CBRs, are a style of body piercing jewelry that is an almost 360o ring with a small gap for insertion through the ear. The gap is closed with a small bead that is held in place by the ring's tension. Larger gauge ball closure rings exhibit considerable tension, and require ring expanding pliers for insertion and removal of the bead.
  • Barbells - Barbells are comprised of a straight piece of metal, with a bead permanently fixed to one end. The other end is threaded, either externally or tapped with an internal thread, and the other bead is screwed into place after the barbell is inserted through the ear. Since the threads on externally threaded barbells tend to irriate the piercing, internal threads have become the most common variety.
  • Circular rings - Circular rings are similar to ball closure rings, except that they have a larger gap, and have a permanently attached bead at one end, and a threaded bead at the other, like barbells. This allows for much easier insertion and removal than with ball closure rings, but at the loss of a continuous look.

Clip-on and Other Non-Pierced Earrings

Several varieties of non-pierced earrings have been invented over the years, presumably so that the wearers could avoid the discomfort of having their ears pierced.

  • Clip-on earrings - Clip-on earrings have been in existence longer than any other variety of non-pierced earrings. They are designed with a tension clip that attaches them to the body by pinching the earlobe. Once extremely popular with American women, they began to fade with the rising popularity of pierced earrings in the 1960s and 1970s, and are now relatively rare.
  • Ear cuff - An ear cuff is a curved band of metal that is pressed onto the helix of the ear. It stays on by pinching the ear.
  • Magnetic earrings - Magnetic earrings simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring by attaching to the earlobe with a magnetic back that hold the earring in place on by magnetic force.
  • Stick-on earrings - Stick-on earrings are adhesive-backed items which stick to the skin of the earlobe and simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring. They are considered a novelty item.
  • Spring hoop earrings- spring hoops are almost indistinguishable from standard hoop earrings and stay in place by means of spring force.

Permanent Earrings

Whereas most earrings worn in the Western world are designed to be removed fairly easily to be changed at will, earrings can also be permanent (non-removable). They were once used as a mark of slavery or ownership (e.g., see Ex.21:2-6 (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Bible,_English,_King_James,_Exodus)). They appear today in the form of larger gauge rings which are difficult or impossible for the wearer to remove without assistance. Occasionally, hoop earrings are permanently installed by the use of solder, though this poses some risks due to toxicity of metals used in soldering and the risk of burns from the heat involved. Besides permanent installations, locking earrings are occasionally worn by people of both genders, due to their personal symbolism or erotic value.

Ear Piercing

Missing image
A woman's ear with a large silver earring.

Pierced ears are earlobes or the cartilage portion of the external ears which have had one or more holes created in them for the wearing of earrings. The holes may be permanent or temporary. The holes become permanent when a flesh tunnel is created by scar tissue forming around the initial earring.


Ear piercing is one of the oldest known forms of body modification, with artistic and written references from cultures around the world dating back to early history.

Pierced ears were popular in the United States through the early 1920s, then fell into disfavor among women due to the rising popularity of clip-on earrings. There continued to be a small male following, however, particularly among sailors, where a pierced earlobe often meant that the wearer had sailed around the world or had crossed the equator. There was also a long-held belief that puncturing the earlobe was beneficial to increasing the accuity of eyesight (see acupuncture) or of hearing (perhaps through resonance).

Ear piercing continued to be practiced by Western women of various cultures, e.g., Hispanic, but was less common in Anglo-based cultures until the 1960s. At that time, the practice re-emerged, but since there did not exist a commercial market, most ear piercings were done at home. Teenage girls were known to hold ear piercing parties, where they performed the procedure on one another. Such an event is depicted in the 1978 motion picture Grease, where Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), the leading lady, is pierced by her friends.

Ear piercing became commonly available in physician offices. Some of the earliest commercial, non-medical locations for getting an ear piercing appeared in the 1960s at Manhattan jewelry stores, although the overall commercial market was still in its infancy. By the 1970s, ear piercing was common among many females, thus creating a broader market for the procedure. Department stores throughout the country would hold ear piercing events, sponsored by earring manufacturers. At these events, a nurse or other trained person would perform the procedure, either pushing a sharpened and sterilized starter earring through the earlobe by hand, or using an ear-piercing instrument modified from the design used by physicians.

In the late 1960s, ear piercing began to make inroads into the male population through the hippie and gay communities. In the late 1970s, amateur piercings - often with safety pins and multiple piercings - became popular in the punk rock community. By the 1980s, the trend for male popular music performers to have pierced ears anchored a fashion for men that continues to grow in popularity. Later, professional athletes also promoted it by example. In America, usually only one ear would be pierced. Meanwhile, British male celebrities, such as George Michael of Wham!, were more likely to pierce both ears. Mr. T was a notable early example of an American celebrity wearing earrings in both ears.

Circa 1970, in the United States and, to a certain extent, in other Western countries, male ear piercing was sometimes used to convey sexual orientation, with left indicating straight, and right indicating gay. Outside of the Western world, this symbolism carried no meaning, and even within the United States, was never adopted by many people. According to the entry for gay in The BME Encyclopedia at [BMEZine (http://encyc.bmezine.com/?Gay)], '...today the distinction is essentially meaningless.' A more indepth discussion of this issue can be found at Talk:Earring.

Missing image
The different types of ear piercings.

Multiple piercings in one or both ears first emerged in mainstream America in the 1970s. Initially, the trend was for females to wear a second set of earrings in the earlobes, or for males to double-pierce a single earlobe. Asymmetric styles with more and more piercings became popular, eventually leading to the cartilage piercing trend.

A variety of specialized cartilage piercings have 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 primitive cultures for thousands of years, started to appear in Western civilization in the 1990s, and is now a fairly common sight. However, these forms of ear piercing are uncommon compared to standard ear piercing.

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.

A long-standing home method uses ice as a local anesthetic, a sewing needle as a puncture instrument, a burning match and rubbing alcohol for sterilization, 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. Alternatively, a gold stud or wire earring may be directly inserted into the fresh piercing as the initial retaining device.

Another method for piercing ears, popular in the 1960s, is the use of sharpened spring-loaded earrings known as self-piercers, which gradually push through the earlobe. However, these could slip from their initial placement position, would often result in more discomfort, and many times, would not go all the way through the earlobe without additional pressure being applied.

Ear piercing instruments, sometimes called an ear piercing guns, were originally developed for physican use but with modifications became available in retail settings. Today most people in the Western world have their ears pierced with an ear piercing instrument in specialty jewelry or accessory stores, or at home using disposable ear piercing instruments. An earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is often described as feeling similar to being snapped by a rubber band. Cartilage piercings tend to be more painful.

An alternative and growing practice is to use a hollow piercing needle, as is used for body piercing. This technique is similar to the early sewing needle approach, but when done by a professional body piercer is extremely safe, less painful than an instrument piercing, and produces a piercing with faster healing time. This procedure is available at body piercing shops, and often also at tattoo shops that also offer body piercing.

In primitive cultures and among some neo-primitive body piercing enthusiasts, the piercing is made using other tools, such as bone spurs.

Initial healing time for an earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is typically 6-8 weeks. After that time, earrings can be changed, but if the hole is left unfilled for an extended period of time, there is some danger 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. Cartilage piercings will usually require more healing time than earlobe piercings, sometimes 2-3 times as long. After healing, earlobe piercings will shrink to smaller gauges in the prolonged absence of earrings, but may never completely disappear.

The health risks with conventional earlobe piercing tend to be minimal, particularly if proper technique and hygenic procedures are followed. Earlobes will sometimes develop a minor infection. More commonly, the person will develop an allergic reaction to nickel in some jewelry. Earlobe tearing, during the healing period or after healing is complete, can be minimized by not wearing earrings, especially wire-based dangle earrings, during activities in which they are likely to become snagged, such as while playing sports. Also, larger gauge jewellery will lessen the chance of the earring being torn out.

With cartilage piercing, the blunt force of an ear piercing instrument will traumatize the cartilage in such a way that healing is difficult. Also, because there is substantially less blood flow in ear cartilage than in the earlobe, infection is a much more serious issue. There have been several documented cases of people developing severe infections of the upper ear following piercing with an ear piercing instrument, which required courses of antibiotics and/or surgery to clear up. The use of a sterilized hollow piercing needle tends to minimize the trauma to the tissue, and minimize the chances of contracting a bacterial infection during the procedure. As with any invasive procedure, there is always a risk of infection from blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV. However, modern piercing techniques make this risk extremely small (the risk being greater to the piercer than to the piercee due to the potential splash-back of blood), and it is worth noting that there has never been a documented case of HIV transmission following ear/body piercing or tattooing, although there have been instances of the hepatitis b virus being transmitted through these practices (see CDC Fact Sheet: HIV and Its Transmission (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pubs/facts/transmission.htm)). See Body Piercing Aftercare for more information on the healing process for pierced ears.

Further Reading

  • Holmes, Anita Pierced and Pretty: The Complete Guide to Ear Piercing, Pierced Earrings, and How to Create Your Own, William Morrow and Co., 1988. ISBN 0688038204
  • Mascetti, Daniela and Triossi, Amanda, Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present, Thames and Hudson, 1999. ISBN 0500281610
  • McNab, Nan, Body Bizarre Body Beautiful, Fireside, 2001. ISBN 0743213041
  • Mercury, Maureen and Haworth, Steve, Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification, Park Street Press, 2000. ISBN 0892818093
  • Steinbach, Ronald D., The Fashionable Ear: A History of Ear Piercing Trends for Men and Women, Vantage Press, 1995. ISBN 0533112370
  • Vale, V., Modern Primitives, V/Serach, 1989. ISBN 0965046931
  • van Cutsem, Anne, A World of Earrings: Africa, Asia, America, Skira, 2001. ISBN 8881189739

External Links

es:Pendiente ja:イヤリング


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools