Bob Ross can transform a canvas with happy little trees, and an experienced piercing professional can transform your ears with a variety of happy little (or not so little) piercings.

An especially artistic place to pierce? Your tragus.

Your tragus is that nubby little outcropping of cartilage that’s right in front of your ear canal. Tragus piercings have become all the rage, and for good reason. If you’re looking to show off a statement hoop or a subtle stud, a tragus piercing always looks cool AF.

While you can opt for a surface piercing (meaning it vertically pierces your skin next to your tragus, creating a double-hole effect), most folks choose the traditional tragus piercing, which creates a single hole through the cartilage.

Want all the deets on this super hip piercing. We’ve got you.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

OK, we’re not going to sugarcoat it: A tragus piercing will hurt. But not as much as you may think. Because your tragus is mostly cartilage, it doesn’t have as many nerve endings as other parts of your ear, like the lobe.

Keep in mind that because the tragus is thick, the piercer has to use some pressure to pierce it. The pressure alone can be uncomfortable and more intense. Also, because it’s closer to the opening of your ear, you’re likely to hear it happening.

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences pain differently — a tiny prick to one person may feel like the slice of a knife to another. Talk with your piercer about any pain concerns.

While your average lobe piercing will usually take 6 to 8 weeks to heal, cartilage piercings — like a tragus piercing — generally take longer, around 4 months to 1 year. You will know when your tragus is fully healed. You’ll experience a lack of pain, warmth, redness or discoloration, swelling, drainage, tenderness.

It’s important to note that changing your jewelry before it’s fully healed can set back healing time and lead to complications. To be safe, wait the full 16 weeks before you swap jewelry.

We can’t stress this enough: It’s imperative to take good care of your new tragus piercing. While your piercer will (hopefully) give you aftercare instructions, you can also refer to this list of do’s and don’ts:

Do’s

  • Clean the area with a saline solution two to three times each day for 2 to 3 weeks, starting the day you get it. The easiest way to do this is by soaking a clean cotton ball in the saline solution holding it against your tragus for 3 to 5 minutes per cleaning.
  • Keep your hair pulled away from the area so it won’t sweep bacteria near the piercing.
  • Wash your sheets and pillowcases more frequently than normal. Once again, bacteria could be living in them.
  • Wash your hands well before touching it. (You shouldn’t need to touch it at all, TBH.)

Don’ts

  • Touch it or play with your jewelry. Your hands are covered in bacteria.
  • Use harsh products like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide. lotions, creams, or scented products.
  • Use ointments like Hibiclens, Bacitracin, or Neosporin, which can hinder healing by blocking oxygen to the wound.
  • Use headphones.
  • Sleep on your side. Hot tip: if changing sleep positions is a nonstarter, try using one of those airline neck pillows that have a hole in the center, so that your piercing isn’t laying against any fabric.
  • Immerse the area in water. Showers are A-OK, but bathtime — not to mention swimming — is going to have to wait for at least 3 weeks.
  • Rub the area with a towel or any abrasive fabrics.
  • Use lotions or creams — including sunscreen — on the area.

You’ll generally pay between $25 to $50 for a tragus piercing.

Several factors can affect the exact cost however, including where the studio’s located and the experience level of your piercer. Depending on studio policies, the jewelry may or may not be included in this cost and can vary depending on your preferred jewelry style or type of metal.

You’ll also want to budget for any aftercare products needed. And, of course, don’t forget to tip your piercer!

No piercing is without risk, and a tragus piercing is no different. While it’s generally considered safe, it *is* possible to experience unpleasant side effects, especially if you don’t properly care for your tragus piercing.

Developing good aftercare habits can go a long way in preventing not-so-fun side effects.

Infection

All piercings are at risk of infection but cartilage piercings, including tragus piercings, are more susceptible because less blood — which contains infection-fighting mechanisms like white blood cells — flows through these areas.

Infections range from mild to serious. Often, you can nip a new infection in the bud by doubling down on your aftercare routine. Here are some symptoms of a mild or new infection:

  • swelling that lasts beyond 48 hours after getting the piercing
  • persistent heat or warmth around the area
  • inflammation and redness or discoloration that does not disappear after 2 weeks

However, if you’re experiencing any of the following infection symptoms, call a doctor.

  • nonstop or increasing pain
  • bleeding that develops days after getting the piercing
  • yellow, dark, stinky pus
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness

Keloids

Keloids are bumps of scar tissue that form on or next to a piercing. While not a health hazard, they can be itchy, red or discolored, and uncomfortable.

Following your aftercare instructions helps decrease your risk of getting a keloid, but you can still get one even if you’re diligent.

Getting rid of a keloid can be tricky business. Sometimes, you can get rid of an early stage keloid by ramping up your cleaning routine. Or, you can try using moisturizing oils or creams to soften the tissue and keep the keloid from growing.

But your best bet is to consult with your doctor. They might suggest one of the following:

  • pressure dressings
  • silicone pads or injections
  • surgical removal

Hypertrophic scarring

While they’re often confused with keloids, hypertrophic scars are flatter and tend to be smaller in size. They can range anywhere from pink to brown in color and can pop up as your skin heals.

Hypertrophic scars can be caused by a reaction to your piercing or by using harsh products at the wound site. They can be itchy, painful, or overall uncomfortable, but luckily they usually disappear over time.

To avoid hypertrophic scarring, be sure to stick to a proper aftercare routine and avoid harsh chemicals or fragrances around the wound until it’s fully healed.

Allergic reaction

It’s common to be allergic to certain metals. Nickel, for example, is especially problematic. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to your jewelry are:

To avoid an allergic reaction, it’s generally stafest to stick with metals like:

  • surgical stainless steel
  • gold (14-karat or higher)
  • titanium
  • niobium

Tragus piercings are popular piercings in the nubby little cartilage flap that covers your ear canal. With the right pieces of jewelry, a tragus piercing can take you from daytime chic to nighttime fun.

Because the tragus is made of cartilage, it’s more prone to side effects than other piercings. It’s important to use proper aftercare techniques to help prevent uncomfortable side effects from your tragus piercing, like infection, scarring, and allergic reactions.