sensitive earrings

I Tried A Bunch of Tricks for Wearing Earrings in Sensitive Ears. Here’s What Worked.

DIY
sensitive earrings
Image by Individual Design, provided under a CC BY 2.0 license.

I have a LOT of earrings, some of them decades old. In the 27 years I’ve had pierced ears, I’ve collected more than I’ve thrown away. For a while, in my 20s, earrings were the only jewelry I wore. In the last year, however, I haven’t worn any of them.

It all started a few years ago with the cheapest earrings; the ones I bought from crafters and street vendors. I’d put them in and by the end of the day my ears would be a hot, itchy mess. So I’d wait a few days, swab them with alcohol or peroxide and put them in again. Things would be fine for a few hours before the burning started. So those got thrown in a drawer.

Slowly, other earrings followed them into the drawer. When I had my son a few years ago, I stopped wearing earrings altogether for a while because babies and earrings don’t mix. By the time he was old enough not to be grabby, I’d given up. Why bother even trying to put on a pair of earrings if my ears are going to feel awful within the hour?

Turns out, sensitive ears are a common problem, and in many cases are caused by base metals in the jewelry. A lot of people are allergic to nickel, brass, and copper. I don’t exactly what my specific problem is, and I will probably never know exactly unless I get tested by a doctor. (I choose to believe this is just part of the slow, inevitable process of my body rejecting the world as I grow old and die, but that’s just me.)

I miss my earrings. I want to wear the cute geeky jewelry I see on Her Universe. (It’s killing me to miss out on the Guardians of the Galaxy cassette studs.) So I read a bunch of message boards, watched a lot of beauty Youtubers, and went on a quest to try every trick I could in order to wear my earrings again.

Here’s what I tried, and here’s what worked (for me. Your mileage may vary):

• Only wear the good stuff: My mother also has sensitive ears, and she can only wear gold and silver. So I dug out my fine jewelry and tried them on, one a day. Well. It turns out some of my jewelry isn’t quite as fine as I thought it was. My sterling silver bothered me immediately. My old pearls (which I thought had gold posts) are a recipe for instant deep hurting. My gold (full disclosure: I don’t know how many karats I’m working with here – these earrings are old) worked better. I had one pair in for about an hour, but then the burning started. Another pair, however, stayed in all day with no problem, and that was kind of cool.  But there is one more issue: I don’t like gold jewelry, and my fine jewelry bores me. I like the cheap stuff. It’s more my aesthetic. And geeky cheap stuff is easier to find than geeky fine jewelry. And, well. It’s cheap, which is a bonus.

The verdict: 14K and higher gold is a winner if you like gold and don’t mind spending money on it.

• Wear ear cuffs instead: Last year I started wearing ear cuffs to get my dangly ear jewelry fix while avoiding pain. (Clip-ons and screw-backs bother me, too.) I love my ear cuffs, but they’re not earrings. For one thing, they fall off easily; I wore an ear cuff to a show recently and eventually had to just take it off. For another, I wear glasses and it’s hard to wear an ear cuff with glasses. So I do like them, but they are their own thing, and they aren’t really a replacement for earrings.

The verdict: Ear cuffs are ear cuffs, not earrings.

• Use vaseline on problem earrings: Here’s the trick: you peroxide your earrings then coat them with Vaseline, put them in and wait. Seemed like an easy solution that would let me wear my existing earrings without replacing the hooks on everything. So I pulled out a pair of pterodactyl earrings my husband’s aunt gave me and liberally smeared the hooks with Vaseline. (Easier said than done, by the way.)

The verdict: I happily wore my dinosaur earrings for five minutes before my ears started hurting. So much for that trick.

• Use Neosporin: This is exactly like the Vaseline trick, but without the peroxide step and using Neosporin instead of Vaseline. Okay. This seemed sensible to me. I use Neosporin for everything. So I slathered the hooks of my favorite cheap earrings with Neosporin and popped those suckers in. I slathered my earlobes too, just to be safe.

The verdict: OW. It didn’t work. The burning began almost immediately.

• Clear nail polish:  “Put clear nail polish on it” is one of the most oft-given earring advice on the internet. A lot of beauty Youtubers swear by coating problem earrings in clear nail polish, I’ve even seen some piercers recommend it. I didn’t want to do this one. Putting nail polish (a product which, depending on the manufacturer, contains toxic ingredients) on something that’s going through a sensitive, prone-to-allergic-reaction part of my body seemed like a bad idea. But here’s the thing. While there are products on the market that look like clear nail polish and are designed specifically to coat jewelry, most people who wear earrings probably are more likely to have access to clear nail polish than a container of Jewelry Shield. Especially people with limited funds or access to stores. And look, I get it. As a teenager I did plenty of stupid, unhygienic things in the name of beauty. I shared mascaras, used a No. 2 pencil to fix my braces, used someone else’s lipstick as an eyeshadow, and used a Bic pen as makeup. (DON’T DO THESE THINGS.) So because this is such a popular trick, I painted a pair of earrings I don’t love with clear polish and let them sit overnight.

The verdict: This caused me instant pain. I thought that maybe it was because I put the earrings in right after the Vaseline trick, so I waited and tried again later in the day and it hurt. Also, more alarmingly, some of the polish seemed to have rubbed off as soon as I put the earrings in. I even tried different clear polish with the same result. So, speaking as both a geek and a mom, please, kids, don’t do this. Or at least go get some nontoxic nail polish.

• Jewelry Shield or other jewelry coatings: This product, which looks just like clear nail polish (different ingredients, though) is under $10 and available online. I put mine on a pair of silver studs and wore them for hours. Then one ear really began to bother me. The other wasn’t terribly happy, but it was bearable. Finally, I could not take it anymore with the left ear.

The verdict: You have to order it, it’s a pain to put on, and you’ll need a couple coats, but it’s better than the nail polish.

• Hypoallergenic (steel) earrings: Time to solve this problem with steel. But not in the high fantasy way. I’m talking about surgical, or stainless, steel. If it works for surgery, it should work in my earlobes, right? In order to do this, I went to a craft store, bought a bunch of surgical steel hooks, and replaced the hooks on my pterodactyl earrings. I wore them all day, and one ear still bugged me. By now, I’m thinking I’m dealing with two issues: a metal sensitivity and an ear that healed up wrong at some point.

The verdict: Cheap and effective, but you will have to learn some jewelry repair skills, and you may also want to pick up jewelry repair pliers. In my case, the up-front investment of about $16 (hooks and jewelry repair kit) has been worth it.

• When all else fails, consult an expert: My ears were pierced as a coming-of-age present when I turned 13, and they were done with a piercing gun. It may be time to call in the calvary, and make an appointment with a local body piercer — someone who works with needles — to ask a little advice and possibly get my ears redone. I’m having another milestone birthday this year, turning 40. It seems fitting that I should get my ears re-pierced now.

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38 thoughts on “I Tried A Bunch of Tricks for Wearing Earrings in Sensitive Ears. Here’s What Worked.

  1. Titanium hooks seem to work too. I’ve had this problem since I first got my ears pierced in my teen (when the cute silver unicorn earring turned out to be so not silver). Sometimes I’ve had some luck asking crafters at fairs exactly what they use for hooks (if they can guarantee the metal is stainless or titanium I’ll purchase, otherwise I’m not wasting my money on something I can only wear two hours every other month). You’ve got to be careful with silver–one of the aforementioned crafters explained that a lot of silver is mixed with nickel.

    1. I never considered titanium hooks – thank you for suggesting them! Yeah, silver has not been good to my ears. I have plenty of sterling silver earrings that I can’t wear any more.

  2. I found that Neosporin has zinc oxide in it. So that is another metal base that you can be allergic too. I learned at point that Swatch watch brand is nickel and zinc free, which makes me think the zinc can be more of an issue. But it is the one watch I have never had issues with.

    1. I did not know that about Neosporin, but I found out while working on this post that one of my friends is allergic to it, so that makes sense. Good to know about Swatch. I will pass that on to some of the Facebook commenters, who said they’ve been unable to wear watches.

  3. What’s the verdict, 5 months later, after getting pierced again? I think my issue could be medication and/or autoimmune related as I have Crohn’s disease. I have considered getting my ears pierced again—correctly! So I would like to hear about your results? ❤️~Linz the Librarian aka #MOMMAMCCARTER

    1. I am so sorry – your comment completely slipped through the cracks and I never answered. To answer your question, life got in the way and I never went to the piercer. I have been wearing titanium studs for a month, though and that has helped me a lot.

  4. A.J.

    This is a great article and I went through every single one of these hacks as well trying to figure out how I could wear earrings again. Finally I found that Titanium and Niobium are really the only metals that will work because they are non-reactive with the human body. I founded my company, Tini Lux in November and I sell ONLY earrings made with medical grade titanium and niobium so they are guaranteed to not cause any pain or irritation. Please check us out and feel free to email me at info@tinilux.com if you have any questions!

    tinilux.com

  5. My wife and daughter have the same problem. They found that plastic posts and hooks do the trick.

    My daughter Emma started a business out of it called Earrings by Emma.

    If you’d like, we can send you a free pair AJ.

    EarringsbyEmma.com

    1. I would love to have a pair of the plastic hooks. I can’t wear anything else that I know of. I even spent 30. on a pair of 14K gold that breaks me out.

  6. Thank you for a great post, and for actually trying all these options before giving opinions. Ouch your poor ears!

    I’ve purchased high quality nickel-free silver and 14k gold earwires and just put my dangly of the day on them. When I’ve been able to, I’ve replaced posts too.

    But some of my favorites are made so the wire is part of the drop setting–and there’s no reasonable way to fix that, unless I maybe take them to a jeweler to have the wire part plated?

    There is one pair that was a gift (and the Amazon description said 14k gold setting and wires) that I LOVE. I have had my best luck with Neosporin but they’re still uncomfortable from the start, and painful after a couple hours; if I wear them all day they become unbearable and my holes will hurt for days after.

    So I’ll try the paint-on stuff you get online. Maybe it will help a little.

  7. Thank you for the reviews! I’ve been wondering if the nailpolish trick will work…
    I can wear sterling silver so, for dangly earrings, I found a jewellery supply store that sells 925 sterling silver hooks, bought a bunch, and just replace the hooks. That way, at least I can still wear all the cute high-fashion options, although it did cost a bit. Maybe you can find hooks of titanium or one of the other hypo-allergenic metals.
    I was hoping nail varnish or one of the other ‘hacks’ would allow me to wear stud-type earrings but at least I now know not to waste my money!

  8. I’ve had this problem for a long time as well! I have a grand total of 9 piercings, all of which now have something that stays in 24/7. I’ve learned that the highest quality jewelry I can find for each of my peircings comes from a tattoo/peircing based shop. If it’s not gold based, I can wear the surgical grade (plus, they are GORGEOUS!) The peices are a bit pricey, but for being able to wear daily with no pieces falling out, worth the price. The second I’ve found has been primarily artisan based jewelry. Oh, Hello Friend jewelry has a lot of cute peices that are made of high quality materials that don’t hurt my ears. I wear them just as much as my high grade ones! This lets me have more for less and be able to have a fun, unique pair of earrings.

  9. You absolutely must try Simply Whispers.Go to their website.I have extremely sensitive ears and these are hands down the very best earrings for sensitive ears!!!!

  10. I’m in my late sixties and have always had sore ears when wearing my earrings. I had my ears pierced when I was 18. If I press my lobe it feels like a small lump inside the hole. I only wear gold or silver. Have never thought of alternatives as I presumed gold or silver to be the best. If and when I do wear earrings it can only be for a short time. Interesting posts so will look into suggestions. I can wear silver or gold jewelry so feel there is no allergy there.

  11. I’m in my early 60s and had my ears pierced when I was 17. I also feel a small bump where the holes are. I believe one was pierced badly the nurse, I went to a doctor’s office, where she got stuck half way through and then continued and it seems to be angled badly. My ears hurt with any earrings that have any weight to them and will be sore for days. I didn’t know you could re pierce eats.

  12. I’ve had the same problem since I was a teenager. I’m 55 now. Nothing worked. I started only wearing earrings for special occasions, accepting the fact that I would be dealing with raw, itchy, weepy earlobes for the week following.

    If anyone reading this is from Canada, I urge you to try the earrings from the “Sensitive Ears” display at Shoppers Drug Mart. I’ve only tried the sterling silver ones (they have surgical steel and gold as well) and it is like a miracle. I’ve had the same pair of sleepers in my ears for months now without a single sign of trouble. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to wear earrings again until I found these. Would love to know if they work for anyone else.

  13. I have the same problem. First time I was pierced my ears got infected and I let the holes close. Few years later pierced again & could wear anything with no issue. Years later I got the itching, red, burning irritation. Tried re-piercing myself; then re-pierced at a store, no luck. Gave up & threw away most of my earrings. Had my nostril done a couple of years ago, no problems so I decided to have my ears re-done at the body piercing shop. They use medical grade stainless steel & I had no problems – even when I tried ‘regular’ earrings for sensitive ears (vs. body jewelry). I got greedy & tried a brand I thought was for sensitive ears & the problem returned. Wore no earrings for several days, then bought a pair of stainless steel (Steel by Design, I think) & no issues! I will also try the titanium & plastic options. If anyone with this problem has not tried stainless steel I would give it a try!

    1. I am 61 and had my ears repiersed by a professional piercing shop.When I was young I had my ears pierced and have always had a hard time wearing earrings like sterling silver, etc. for more than a day at a time. My right ear was very hard to get an earring through. I think it was scar tissue or pierced right. Getting my ears repierced at a professional piercing shop made all the difference. It started when my daughter wanted a helix and I ended up getting a small titanium one also. This shop literally turned her down my daughter getting a bar as the anatomy of her ear was not correct. Could not have found a more honest and great shop. I will try some of the earring suggestions here.

  14. I’m 65 and have had the sane problem all of my life. I recently rent to a tatoo and piercing shop to get my ears pierced (for the 3rd time in my life as the hiles close up in a couple of weeks if i don’t wear earrings). Person told me to use titanium because i am even allergic to surgical grade stainless steel. In 4-6 months I can remove my posts. I can get more earings in different colored titanium, and/or put my 14k gold ones in that don’t bother me for short times but whem I’m at home, he said to keep titanium earrings in. Hope this helps.

  15. I’ve actually had really great success with the clear nail polish option. I’m bummed it didn’t work for you!

  16. Neosporin is an antibiotic cream that fights bacteria. If you are using it as a lubricant it may have some value but unless you have an infection it is only acting as a lubricant.

    The problem is very likely a local allergic reaction to the materials in the post / wire.

    If you want to try a cream that might actually have some value at addressing the problem, something like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) cream or a similar antihistamine cream may help.

  17. Hi. I can only wear sterling silver earrings and I’ve tried other earrings like gold ones and they all give me a rash. Usually, I have my ears pierced at a shop at the mall, but they never have the earrings I need. Any other options?

    1. My solution for all of my earring allergy woes were titanium posts and hooks. You can buy them in bulk online (just make sure it’s a reputable place) and replace the findings that give you a reaction with these.

  18. Thanks for this article. I realize it is from a while ago but my youngest is dealing with issues with her ear piercing. My pediatrician suggested the more expensive earrings, like gold, but I was looking for what else would be safe, ie sterling silver. The plastic option intrigues me. Thanks again.

  19. Sterling silver jewellery doesn’t cause allergic reaction as its nickle free. i always apply vaselin to the metal, it works for so many people.

    Thanks for the post!

  20. So glad I found this article! I was having trouble with my original gun pierced ears and I let them close up. I later got them re-pierced with a needle, and they were fine at first but over the years I became so sensitive I can’t wear earrings, even with my needle pierced ears. I also gave up but recently I’ve been really missing them! I’m so excited to try some of these tricks, and maybe purchase a few gold or titanium hooks. Thanks for putting your lobes on trial for us!!

  21. Hello, what do you do when you have a stud with screw in back.. I have my upper ear Pierced a long time ago. It’s made of sterling and gold.. but it hurts after a week or so.. They are 2 k each..

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