What is a conch piercing? Here's everything you need to know

conch piercing
Conch piercing guide: Everything you need to knowGetty Images

They say piercings – like tattoos – are addictive, something I can definitely confirm thanks to my latest ear addition: a conch piercing.

After itching to add to my growing ear stack that already included a helix piercing but with no idea on what exactly I wanted to get pierced next (decision-making is not one of my strengths), I spontaneously booked an appointment. I spent hours in the run-up poring over Pinterest and looking at celebrity earring stacks for inspo, but given everyone's ear anatomy is different I wasn't sure what piercings would work for me.

Luckily – or rather, intentionally – I'd booked my appointment with expert piercer Svetlana at Lark & Berry. Having pierced the likes of Elle Eyre, Joy Crookes, Eleanor Tomlinson and Fearne Cotton over the years, Svetlana is a pro. Case in point: approximately five seconds after walking in the door and one look at my ear, she said, "you should get a conch piercing". Which is exactly what I did.

Conch piercings have been doing the rounds as of late thanks to their ability to induce serious ear envy plus their major versatility. Double? Triple? Inner? Outer? Stud? Ring? Simple? OTT? The world really is your oyster when it comes to these ear adornments.

If you're after confirmation of its cool-girl status, there's a pretty lengthy A-list of conch piercings. Namely, Ashley Graham who has been rocking a conch piercing for years, and naturally, our gal Zoë Kravitz, queen of the curated ear, has one too. As do the likes of Kylie Jenner, Rihanna and Scarlett Johansson.

Which begs the question, what are you waiting for? Scroll on to find out everything you need to know about conch piercings, including Svetlana's expert tips and my firsthand POV.

What is a conch piercing?

No, we're not talking about the shell you press against your ear in an attempt to hear the 'sea'. But rather, the area of cartilage that is sunken in the centre of your ear that you've probably never thought twice about. Or at least, I hadn't.

This region of cartilage found in the middle of the ear near the opening of the ear canal is called the conch (or concha if you want to get all anatomical) because it resembles a conch shell. Still not sure where your conch is? The helpful diagram below should simplify things – and maybe spark inspiration for a rook, tragus or daith piercing too.

Depending on your anatomy, you'll be able to get an inner conch piercing, an outer conch piercing or both.

Inner conch piercing

An inner conch piercing is usually done slightly higher on your conch parallel to your daith, with most people accessorising the spot with a stud.

Outer conch piercing

An outer conch piercing occurs lower down and closer to the curved cartilage of your outer ear, known as the antihelix. This means it's perfectly positioned for a hoop, and we do love us a hoop.

Multiple conch piercings

If your dream ear is one that involves more than a single conch piercing, you can opt for double or triple, provided the shape of your ear will allow it. You'll want to decide this before your first one, though, to ensure the correct spacing. And we'd suggest getting them done one at a time rather than all at once to help the healing process.

Are conch and orbital piercings the same?

An orbital piercing goes through the ear at two points with one piece of jewellery. So while a conch piercing is not the same, it is possible to get an orbital conch piercing where two holes are made in the conch, and a ring is placed through both.

How to pierce your conch

You're going to wanna skip this section if you're a little squeamish or prefer to remain in the dark before the big day. But for those who are curious, conch piercings are done exclusively with a needle.

After cleaning my ear and confirming the piercing position, marking the spot with a tiny pen dot, Svetlana used a sterile needle to create a hole in my cartilage before inserting the earring. She then cleaned the area a final time and it was as simple as that.

For those who prefer larger-gauge earrings, the process is the same but a dermal punch is used instead of a needle. This is a small tool that will remove a ring of cartilage from your ear in the same way a paper punch would a ring of paper. We told you it wasn't for the faint of heart.

Does a conch piercing hurt?

The question we've all been waiting for: will it hurt? I reluctantly confessed to Svetlana I did have something of a needle phobia and was worried about the actual piercing hurting, but she was quick to reassure me. Conch piercings do tend to be more painful than lobe piercings as they involve cartilage which is thicker and harder than the soft tissue of the ear lobe, but it will vary from person to person, depending on your pain threshold.

After making sure I was comfortable and relaxed, with my hair tied up and out of the way, it was crunch time – literally. The sharp pressure I felt from the needle and then the earring being fitted was accompanied by a crunching sound from my cartilage. Admittedly a little gross, but nothing I couldn't handle. My ear did also bleed a little bit, something Svetlana assured me was not abnormal and which she quickly cleaned up.

It was the days following the actual piercing that I found most painful. My ear throbbed quite a bit and was very tender to the touch. Hugging a friend was incredibly painful when their head inadvertently pressed against my ear and adjusting my glasses meant the arm kept knocking against the back of the earring which instantly inflamed it. Luckily, all of these symptoms calmed down after three to five days.

And remember that dermal punch we mentioned earlier? Piercings done with one of those are often more painful than a piercing done with a needle.

How long does a conch piercing take to heal?

According to piercer Candice Batt from Astrid & Miyu, "healing times differ per individual but generally speaking take between 6 - 9 months."

The exact time will depend on your overall health, how well you follow the aftercare advice and the type of conch piercing you get. Dermal punch piercings will take longer, while outer conch piercings tend to heal faster than inner conch piercings.

Svetlana agrees, stressing the importance of cleaning your piercing to speed up the healing process. Which brings us nicely to...

How to clean a conch piercing

One of the most important things to note when you get your conch pierced is how to clean it, as this will help with healing and prevent inflammation and infections.

After I was all pierced, Svetlana sat me in front of a mirror and talked me through how to clean my conch piercing in three simple steps. Lark & Berry provides a cleaning solution with all piercing appointments making it super easy to look after your new bling.

  1. Apply one drop of the cleaning solution to a cotton bud and wipe it around the entire piercing at the back of your ear.

  2. Using the cotton bud, push the end of the earring from the back to create a space around the front of the piercing.

  3. As you did before, wipe the cotton bud around the entire piercing at the front until it is clean.

It's a little gross, but as your ear heals the skin will attempt to regrow over the top of your earring so it's important to make sure you're pushing the earring forwards and backwards through the hole to prevent this happening. It will feel stiff at first, but the solution will help loosen things up and remove any scabs that have formed. Some other helpful advice to follow from Svetlana includes making sure your hands are clean before starting this process.

Astrid & Miyu suggest "cleaning your new piercing twice a day with a sterile saline solution for 4 - 6 weeks. After that time, only clean when necessary. Spray the piercing with saline solution and pat the area dry with clean gauze or a paper towel."

How to care for a conch piercing

Caring for your conch piercing doesn't just involve cleaning it. It also relates to those moments throughout the day and night when it may need a little extra TLC on your part.

I avoided sleeping on my pierced side for the first two nights which I'd really recommend. As tempting as it is, try not to twist or play with your new earring either, save for pushing it forward and backwards when cleaning.

When it comes time to hop in the shower, let the hot water and steam do its thing but be careful about any skincare, soap or shampoo that may have snuck its way over to your piercing. A final thorough rinse-off before drying the area properly – don't skip this step, too much water in a new piercing won't help it heal – will do the job.

How soon can you change a conch piercing?

We've all been there, a few days after our new piercing, ear still tender from the deed, and already we're itching to swap our simple stud or barbell for something a little more exciting. It's hella tempting to rush the process but changing it too soon can delay healing or make reinserting your chosen earring tricky if a proper channel hasn't formed just yet.

Lark & Berry offers a wide range of fine piercing jewellery to rectify this. I chose the Interstellar Starburst Diamond stud earring in silver 14k gold featuring lab-grown diamonds, and I love it so much I can't imagine changing it anytime soon. I did however return to Lark & Berry six months later to swap it for a shorter bar once my piercing had fully healed.

Svetlana explains further, "we initially use an 8mm bar as your ear will swell following the piercing. After your piercing heals, if necessary, we offer free bar shortening services should you find the longer length irritating or your hair is getting caught on it."

Upon my return visit, I felt like a star student when Svetlana commented on how well my piercing had healed. She removed my piercing completely to give my earring a thorough clean, a process that took about 15 minutes in total, before it was reinserted, this time with a 7mm bar. Svetlana suggested I clean my piercing with the solution for another week, just as I had done when I was first pierced, as changing the earring could have caused a little irritation. She also said if I still found the new bar too long, I could return in another few weeks to go down a further millimetre to a 6mm bar. This is generally the shortest bar conch piercings will take.

Candice at Astrid & Miyu adds, "if you want to change to a ring, we recommend six months at least – but always check with your piercer to see if it is ready to be changed."

Can you get a hoop conch piercing right away?

Ah, yes. Us hoop lovers are ready to slip one in from the get-go, but should we? Not quite. Rings allow for much more movement and can easily get caught on clothing, hair or other items throughout the day, so getting a ring put in straight away will only lengthen the healing time and increase the chance of irritation.

Most studios recommend getting a barbell initially as these allow space for swelling, are easier to clean and don't get caught on things as easily. But once you're piercing has fully healed and you're ready to change your stud, jewellery brand Maria Tash recommends opting for a hoop with a diameter of 9.5mm - 12.5mm for your conch piercing.

How thick is a conch piercing?

A 16 gauge (1.2mm) needle is common, but it is always best to check with your piercer to know what size jewellery to get and ensure your piercing aligns with the type of jewellery you want to wear in the future.

How much is a conch piercing?

At Astrid & Miyu, piercing appointments start at £20 for 20 minutes and the cost of piercing jewellery starting at £30.

At Lark and Berry, piercings are complimentary with the purchase of piercing jewellery. All of its designs are 14k gold and feature lab-grown diamonds and gem stones starting at £75.

IMO, it's worth paying more if it means that your piercing will be done by an experienced piercer at a reputable studio or jewellery brand. The type of jewellery and material you choose will also affect just how much cash you have to part with on the day.

Does a conch piercing get in the way of headphones?

Don't worry, you won't have to spend long stretches of silence alone with your thoughts for the rest of eternity unless you want to. Depending on the location of your conch piercing, inner versus outer, you should be able to use either earbuds or over-ear headphones without irritating your ear.

I didn't have an issue with earbuds, but did avoid over-ear headphones at first to avoid any unnecessary pressure on my ear pressing against the back of the earring. Consult your piercer regardless as you don't want to aggravate the area during the healing stage.

Is a conch piercing dangerous?

As with all piercings, there is the risk of infection, inflammation and other complications such as allergic reactions. But if you have it done at a reputable salon by a licensed professional in a sterile environment using proper equipment *and* follow the cleaning instructions your piercer gives you as well as any aftercare tips they might have, the risks are significantly reduced.

If you're worried about reacting to the material, implant-grade stainless steel, 14K and 18K pure gold and niobium are good options. For those allergic to nickel, opt for implant-grade titanium or nickel-free sterling silver.

Check with your piercer/doctor if you have a sudden increase in pain whilst your piercing is healing or if you think you might have an infection. And don't remove your earring before consulting them.

What does a conch piercing help with?

Word on the street is that conch piercings can help alleviate chronic pain and anxiety. But despite the rumours going around, there is insufficient scientific evidence to back these claims, so we wouldn't suggest getting one for these reasons.

Now that you're in the know, you're all set to get studded and pick out some super cute jewellery for the post-healing piercing fun you'll be having. Remember to check the size of your conch piercing before purchasing anything, though.

Still haven't satiated your hunger for all things ear-piercing? Continue on with everything you need to know about daith piercings, the low-down on helix piercings and our ultimate ear-piercing guide. Knowledge is, after all, power.

P.S. Are we the only ones who have been singing 'you used to call me on my shell phone' this entire time? Well, we're definitely not alone now. Sorry, not sorry.

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