Looking to spice up your accessory game with some new ear swag but think a traditional lobe piercing is too boring? Try a tragus piercing

Tragus piercings are a stylish type of body modification that’s been around since the 80s. But thanks to celebrities like Rihanna and Scarlett Johansson, they’re gaining popularity as a unique alternative to the usual cartilage piercings we more commonly see.

In this article, we’ll cover all your burning questions about tragus ear piercings from how cartilage piercings work, tragus piercing pain, and the different earrings you can rock once it’s all healed.

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What Is A Tragus Piercing? 

So what exactly is a tragus? The tragus is the little flap of skin that partially covers the entrance to the ear canal. More specifically, it’s the bit of flesh that holds your earbuds in place. These fashionable piercings can be as subtle or as loud as you like, especially compared to more prominent cartilage piercings like a helix or industrial. 

But beyond the fact that these piercings look rad as hell, there are a few (disclaimer: non-scientifically proven) tragus piercing benefits. The idea is that, like acupuncture, tragus piercings stimulate the vagus nerve, which has been known to help with conditions like epilepsy and depression. However, medical studies are still pretty scarce and the benefits are usually anecdotal. Don’t let that stop you from wearing these chic body piercings, though!

Types of Tragus Piercings

So you’re ready to get your new piercing, but you’re not quite sure if inserting a foreign object into your cartilage is the way to go. Fret not, dear body mod newbie, because tragus piercings are pretty flexible. Here are the two ways your piercer can adorn your ear with a bit of jewelry.

Top different types of ear piercing

Cartilage Tragus Piercing 

Known as the “traditional” option, a cartilage piercing on your tragus is the most popular method of bedazzling your ear. This involves an earring passing horizontally through the flap of cartilage in front of your ear canal. The healing time associated with most cartilage piercings is relatively long and can be painful for the first couple of weeks to a month. 

Vertical Tragus Piercing

Like traditional tragus piercing, a vertical tragus piercing still passes through the cartilage. But instead of the jewelry passing through the flap from back to front, it comes through from the top to the bottom – if your anatomy allows it.

Surface Tragus Piercing

While cartilage piercings are pretty cool by themselves, they can be painful and the healing process takes time. Because of this, it really isn’t for everyone. 

Luckily, your piercer can bypass your ear cartilage altogether with a surface tragus piercing. While this piercing itself is in the exact same place as a standard tragus piercing, the needle never actually punctures the cartilage, and dips in and out of the skin covering it instead. There is one downside to this option, though: a higher likelihood of your body rejecting your new piercing. 

Professional placing the jewel of piercing on the ear with bal

Tragus Piercing FAQs 

By now you may be feeling a little gung-ho about getting your new cartilage piercing, but preparedness is still key. Here’s everything you need to know before booking your piercing appointment with a trusted professional.

How Long Does It Take A Cartilage Piercing To Heal?

Here’s the truth about the healing process: it’s a little different for everyone. However, piercings like on your tragus and antitragus can be particularly problematic as they heal. This is especially true when you compare them to piercings on your ear lobes or other fleshier parts of your ear. That said, it can take anywhere from 3 – 6 months before your tragus piercing is fully healed. 

As with any open wound (which is basically what a cartilage piercing is), you’ll need to avoid touching it while it heals, but this can be difficult when taking phone calls or wearing headphones. These common daily tasks can cause irritation on your outer ear or even introduce bacteria. All of this can result in your studs taking a longer time to heal, but with the right aftercare, this may not always be the case.

Professional holding the jewel of piercing just before screwing the ball

How Much Is A Tragus Piercing?

Cost is one of the biggest questions people have when getting pierced. The truth is that price can vary quite a bit based on a few factors. The first is how experienced your piercer is, with some professionals charging up to $50 or more per piercing. On top of this, the earring you choose may also skew the overall cost, especially if you want to wear a fancy gold hoop or something similar. 

TL;DR: you can expect to pay anywhere from $25 – $50 for just the cartilage piercing.

How Bad Does A Tragus Piercing Hurt?

Generally speaking, cartilage piercings hurt more than your typical earlobe piercing. However, a tragus piercing’s pain level isn’t all that different from getting a helix piercing or any other type of cartilage-based body mod. 

Some folks describe the process of getting pierced as more of a “pressure” on the external ear tissue than a sharp pain. That said, everyone’s bodies are different, and getting a cartilage piercing may be more painful for you than for other people.

What Are My Options For Tragus Jewelry?

Like any other cartilage piercing, you have a few options for tragus earrings and jewelry, although some types may speed up healing time. Here are the three most popular styles you can choose from when getting your tragus pierced.

Set of piercing jewelry, metal pierce rings, barbell with balls and cones for face and body decoration


A hoop tragus piercing can be extremely cute, but it does come with some trade-offs. For example, the piercing itself is more likely to get caught on hair or be moved around, which can impact healing time and result in irritation or infection. 

We recommend switching over to a hoop once the piercing is fully healed to avoid any complications. For the best possible results, ask your piercer what they think!


When getting a tragus piercing, a stud is usually the most popular option. That’s because this small piece of metal is unobtrusive enough not to get in the way of daily life. We recommend getting a stud and sticking with it while your piercing heals, as the smooth outer ball doesn’t get snagged on hair and clothes. 


Like studs, barbells are popular because they don’t get in the way of your daily activities. This type of jewelry is mostly used for a vertical tragus piercing, and they tend to be much smaller than the barbells used for a helix piercing.

Types Of Metal

  • Surgical stainless steel is the most common and inexpensive option for fresh piercings. It does contain trace amounts of nickel but it’s still safe for most folks with a mild to moderate nickel allergy. However, people with severe allergies should stay away. 
  • Titanium is more expensive but completely hypoallergenic, which makes it a great option for those with severe allergies to other alloys.
  • Solid 14 karat gold can be pricey but it is peak aesthetic if you love the look of yellow, rose, or white gold. Just make sure it isn’t gold-plated, which can flake off.

Close up of a woman's ear with multiple earrings

Are There Any Side Effects?

Since getting a piercing literally involves pushing a needle through your ear cartilage or flesh, there are a few side effects that you may have to contend with. Here are some of the most common side effects that you’ll probably encounter.

  • Allergic reactions: Some types of jewelry can cause allergic reactions, especially if they’re fashioned from nickel, copper, or low-quality gold. If you experience any allergic reactions to your piercings, we recommend contacting your dermatologist to identify better alternatives.
  • Infection: Cartilage piercings are more susceptible to infection, so being extra-diligent with your aftercare routine is key. Infection can range from mild (swelling, warmth, or redness that lasts more than 48 hours) to serious (increasing pain, smelly yellow pus or discharge, bleeding, fever). If you’re experiencing any severe symptoms, contact a doctor.
  • Keloids and hypertrophic scarring: Keloids, or bumps of scar tissue, are another type of infection that can develop at the site of a piercing. They’re not serious, but they can be uncomfortable and grow quite large. 

Hypertrophic scars are smaller and can be caused by harsh chemicals or fragrances irritating the site. Follow your aftercare instructions to avoid developing these scars; if they do, you can always seek a doctor for treatment.

  • Blisters: Another type of infection is a pustule or blister, which looks like a pimple. You can usually treat these at home with a warm compress in addition to your aftercare routine. If the blister is recurring, multiplying, or extremely painful, consult a doctor.

Close up of man opening sterile dual process indicators equipment for piercing

What To Expect When Getting A New Piercing

So, are you ready to pierce your ear? Great! Here’s what to expect when you walk into your appointment. 

How Is The Piercing Done?

The approach may differ depending on your piercer, but the process itself is pretty standard. It’s worth noting that a professional should always, always use a sterile piercing needle. (A piercing gun is a big red flag.) 

This is what you can expect your piercer to do:

  1. Disinfect the site.
  2. Mark the exact spot where the piercing will go using a non-toxic pen.
  3. To protect your ear canal from the needle, they may place a cork in it.
  4. Pierce through the tragus with a needle.
  5. Insert the jewelry into the piercing.
  6. If there’s any bleeding, they’ll apply some light pressure to stop it.
  7. Clean the freshly pierced area.

For the record, this is what your piercer will expect you to do: come in well-rested, hydrated, relaxed, and sober. Make sure you eat a snack beforehand, too!

Healing Process

Earlier we covered what we don’t want to see when we get a new piercing (i.e. infections). But as we said, any piercing is an open wound. So what is normal during the healing process? Here are a few things to expect while it recovers:

  • Some tenderness and swelling
  • A little bleeding and some itching
  • White-ish or clear fluid that dries “crusty” on the skin

woman getting her ear pierced

Tragus Piercing Aftercare

Once you’ve got your earring in, your piercer will go over aftercare instructions with you. It’s very important you follow them so that your cool new piercing can heal!

How To Clean Your Tragus Piercing And Keep It Clean


  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean the site twice a day with saline solution.
  • Use a cotton bud and saline to gently clean away any crust or discharge.
  • Check your jewelry to be sure it isn’t loose.
  • Rinse away hair products. This is optional, but your piercer may recommend using a mild non-antibacterial soap after you shower. Then, flush the site with clean, running water and gently pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Sleep on a clean pillowcase (and on your back if possible).
  • Clean your phone often, or just use it on your non-pierced ear.


  • Don’t touch your piercing. We know it’s hard, but it’s important you don’t let your hair, earbuds, or anything else near it to avoid irritation and introducing bacteria. The only time you should be touching your piercing is to clean it.
  • Don’t remove your earring. Let the site heal first.
  • Don’t use harsh ingredients or irritants like hydrogen peroxide, lotions, make-up, or fragrances near the site.
  • Don’t sleep with wet hair. Too much moisture can irritate your piercing.
  • Don’t over-clean your piercing. Although it sounds counterintuitive, it may actually slow healing!

How To Care For An Infected Tragus Piercing

If you think your newly pierced ear is showing signs of infection, reach out to your piercer or a doctor for recommendations on what to do. If it’s the middle of the night and no one’s picking up, here are a few tips to help ease your symptoms:

  • Soak a clean non-woven gauze pad with saline and apply it to your piercing. You may have to do this a few times to clean away any discharge. Do this twice a day.
  • Apply a warm compress using a clean towel. Be careful not to let the fabric snag on your jewelry.

Don’t use rubbing alcohol, ointments, or any medication not recommended to you by a professional.

Professional cleaning the wound after piercing a young girl ear

How To Take Out A Tragus Piercing

We don’t recommend taking out your tragus piercing until it’s 100% healed. New piercings can shrink if you remove your jewelry too soon which makes it harder to get it back in. Not to mention, it’ll hurt!

If your piercing site is no longer tender, shows no signs of discharge or infection, and the minimum healing time has passed, you might be able to take your stud out sooner. But still, it’s best to leave it in. And if you really need to take it out or swap your jewelry for any reason, ask your piercer to help you do it.

How To Change A Tragus Piercing

After 3 – 6 months have passed, it’s time to get creative with your accessories! Changing a tragus piercing can be tricky because of how small the jewelry is, but don’t worry – we’ll walk you through it.

Removing Your Earring

  1. Gently press your finger behind your tragus to push your earring forward.
  2. Unscrew the little ball at the end of the bar. Don’t drop or lose it!
  3. Carefully push the bar back from the front, but not too far. It might feel like it’s going in your ear canal, and you don’t want that!
  4. Pull the flat-back stud out from the other side.

If this is your first time removing it, remember to go carefully and stop if you feel any pain. If the ball is difficult to unscrew, you can try wearing a rubber glove or using a pair of tweezers to get a better grip on the post. 

Inserting Your Earring

  1. Press the pad of your finger into the skin in front of your tragus and gently pull forward. This will help expose your piercing a bit more.
  2. Take your earring with your other hand and slide it into your piercing from the back. You can lean your elbows on a table to keep steady.
  3. Keeping the post of your earring exposed by continuing to press on it from behind, with your finger just barely in your ear canal, take the tiny ball and screw it back on the front half.
  4. Push your earring from the front so that the ball sits flush against the tragus.

Portrait of a young woman, Caribbean Sea in the background.

Final Thoughts On Getting A Tragus Piercing

A tragus piercing is a trendy bit of body modification where you pierce the cartilage flap in front of your ear canal. Unlike your standard lobe piercing, a tragus piercing can be both subtle and a statement, depending on the jewelry you wear. 

While a cartilage piercing can hurt (depending on your personal pain level tolerance) and take some time to heal, if you follow your aftercare instructions, you can avoid scarring and other complications and have a cool new accessory to show off!

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