I’ve talked at length on this blog before about irritation bumps, the weird and scary ways people try to treat them, and just general aftercare information. But there is one specific type of irritation bump that seems to crop up for many clients, of all walks of life and is one of the most difficult and stubborn irritations to deal with. It’s also one of the most scary-looking irritations if you aren't familiar with it. Today I want to talk about the specific wetness or moisture irritation bumps we usually see on the back of earlobe piercings. How they happen, how we can prevent them, and how we can treat them.
It’s a tale as old as time- you’ve gotten your little ones’ ears pierced, a momentous occasion. All is well, they are healing great, and everyone is happy. Then one day during cleaning after bath time you notice the back seems a little sensitive. When you move the ear to look your heart stops- there is a huge, scary, weird-looking bump back there! How did you miss this? How long has it been there? What is it?!?
This is a moisture irritation and one that is unique to earlobes. These form when excess moisture collects behind the ear and builds up, causing these bumps to form. While we are not medical professionals, dermatologists I have spoken to have mentioned that these are often similar to sebaceous cysts which can naturally form behind the ear without any piercings present.
This moisture often comes from leaving wet hair behind the ears after showering or bathing. A dark, wet, warm environment is a breeding ground for bacteria and issues, and the back of our ears is perfect for this exact mixture. We far and away see these irritations most often on younger clients with longer hair, who often don’t enjoy having their hair dried so prefer to leave it wet after showering or cleaning. The good news is these are often straightforward, if slow, to deal with, and look much scarier than they actually are!
The best thing we can do is prevent these bumps from ever forming! Ideally, you’ll simply never encounter this issue with your lobes and everyone will have a smooth and happy healing. The best way to do this is to keep the area dry. After bathing or showering, either fully dry the hair with a blow dryer or pull the hair back to keep wet hair from hanging behind the ears. I suggest using a wide soft headband that will absorb water from the hairline, and keep hair back preventing it from dripping behind the ears. Likewise, dry behind the ears after bathing or showering. A piece of non-woven gauze used gently will get all those nooks and crannies totally dry. A blow dryer on a low setting also works wonders, especially for children who find the sensation of wiping or patting behind the ear to be uncomfortable. I would also consider cleaning the piercings after bath or shower time and taking this opportunity to visually check the back and ensure everything looks good. This goes for adults healing lobe piercings with long hair as well- ask a roommate, partner, or friend to check behind your ear occasionally and ensure it's all looking well.
It's also important to have the right jewelry for a healing piercing. Butterfly backs and locking backs have lots of areas for moisture to collect, and often end up pressed tight to the ear causing issues. Properly fitted labret posts leave some room for piercings to dry out during healing, have less areas for moisture to collect, and tend to be more comfortable for healing.
Incorporating drying into your aftercare routine for lobes is a huge way to prevent these issues from ever occurring. This is extra important for folks who live in humid climates, folks who may be swimming or in the water often (and I have a whole blog about unique concerns with swimming here), and anyone with long hair! This goes for adults and children- while it's more common to see this issue in kids, it can happen to anyone!
Prevention is best in theory, but sometimes even with our best efforts it’s not perfect and we end up dealing with these irritations anyway. So how do we treat these bumps when they do crop up?
First, assess your current aftercare. Have you been doing any drying? Do you let wet hair sit behind the piercings? Do you swim? Is the climate currently humid, hot, or sweaty in your area? Sometimes it’s as simple as realizing there's just a step you’ve been missing. For many folks, they haven’t been keeping the area dry, they leave their hair wet after the shower and sometimes forget to clean and dry behind the ears. Once they begin doing that and adding drying into the routine, these often clear up in a few weeks on their own.
Sometimes they are more stubborn and we incorporate warm compresses or other aftercare methods. This however is very individual, and why you should get back in touch with your piercer if these irritations have cropped up! Different people may have different causes for this- just not drying could be the issue, but having to wear sweaty headgear at work or needing to use specific hair products that collect behind the ear can cause this too. When you go back to see a piercer, they can ask you plenty of questions, assess the cause, and adjust your aftercare to suit. Without figuring out the cause, it's impossible to know exactly what adjustment to aftercare will be ideal for you.
And alas, these sometimes need more intervention than piercers can provide. Occasionally these can turn into full-blown cysts or abscesses and need medical help. If you suspect infection or have severe pain, excessive redness, or profuse drainage, it’s always a good idea to seek medical care. A dermatologist can often assist with this, and the treatment will depend on the issue. If you are unsure if these warrant medical attention, you can always ask your piercer to take a peek before you schedule with a doctor.
These irritations can be very intimidating when they crop up, but they don’t have to be! It’s usually a straightforward moisture issue with an easy fix- adding some drying into your routine. I hope this blog post helps you calm down if you are stressing irritations like these, and helps you be better prepared for caring for your piercings. Happy Healing!