Guide to Conch Piercings

What You Need to Know Before You Pierce This Tough Area

Captive Conches
sayhedgehog/Flickr

As you might've noticed, your ear's shaped a little like a conch shell, especially when it comes to the rounds of cartilage toward the middle. That's what gets the jewelry when you have a conch piercing. Most people have both inner and outer conch areas, and both can be pierced.

Know the Risks of Conch Piercing

Conch piercings give you a stylish, funky look, especially if your hair is short or you wear it up or back.

Before deciding to get a conch piercing, though, you should be aware that it's one of the riskiest of all ear-cartilage piercings, mainly because:

  • It can be painful. We're not talking just soft flesh like the earlobe. Cartilage is tough stuff.
  • The incidence of infection is greater than in other areas. A piercer has to take more time and effort to pierce cartilage, making it easier for bacteria to infiltrate the wound.
  • It takes longer to heal. Expect complete healing to take no less than six months. You're more than likely to encounter some problems along the way, such as bleeding, oozing, and pain.
  • Permanent damage can happen. The conch is a popular location for large plugs, and it can't be stretched. Your piercer has to actually carve and cut to make the opening for a plug. If she gets it wrong or you change your mind, only surgery can fix it. That makes your piercer's expertise very important.
  • It might bleed a lot. Don't be surprised to see some blood during your conch piercing. That's especially true if you're going with a large opening for a plug, which requires your piercer to use a dermal punch.

The Process

Conch piercings are relatively simple to do for an experienced piercer with the proper tools.

Before you make an appointment, ask around and read reviews for piercers you're considering. Once you narrow your choice down, call or email the piercer to ask about his experience and the precautions he takes to maintain good hygiene. Book an appointment only when you feel confident that he knows what he's doing.

The actual procedure takes only a few minutes and usually goes like this:

  1. Evaluation. Your piercer talks with you to confirm what you want and looks over your ear to make sure it's possible. He doublechecks the size of the opening you want and chooses the appropriate tools. For safety's sake, needle piercings should be no larger than 14 gauge. If you want a larger hole, your piercer should use a dermal punch.
  2. Prepping. The piercer swabs your ear well with a disinfectant solution. This removes bacteria on the surface of the skin that otherwise could be pushed into the wound.
  3. Marking. She'll use a surgical marker or nontoxic pen to mark the spot for the piercing. Ask to take a look in a mirror so you're sure that he has the placement right, especially if you're getting conch piercings in both ears. Make sure they look even!
  4. Piercing. The piercer lines the needle up with the mark and pops it through the tissue. Don't sweat this: It's over in seconds, and your anticipation is more than likely worse than the actual pain.
  1. Placement. Your piercer gently inserts the jewelry you've chosen and might give that mirror back to you again so you can admire your new look. Don't be surprised if you feel a little woozy at this point—both from being nervous and from the shock of the piercing itself.
  2. Instruction. Keeping the site clean and taking good care of your conch piercing is important, so you should get some detailed pointers from your piercer. You'll probably get a handout, which you should follow to the letter. The good thing about a conch piercing is that its secure location near the center of the outer ear makes the chance of rejection or migration very slim.

Choosing Jewelry for Your New Conch Piercing

A conch is usually worn one of two ways: with a ring that encircles the outer rim of the ear, or with a stud that rests inside the ear only.

Depending on the style you choose, you'll need an appropriately sized captive-bead ring (CBR) or labret stud. 

Conch Orbital Piercings

A variant of a conch piercing, the conch orbital piercing runs perpendicular to the standard conch piercing and actually requires two holes to be pierced instead of just one. This allows the ring to "orbit" the ear's cartilage. Recommended jewelry is usually a CBR. Again, rely on your piercer to determine the gauge and size that are best for you.