Monday, June 21, 2010


Yesterday I got a new ear piercing, at a studio in town that I had never been to but came highly recommended from several people. After three other ear cartilage piercings, I was prepared for the standard speech afterwards regarding after-care.

- Use a mild, unscented anti-bacterial soap to wash it at the end of my shower, to remove any residue from soap and shampoo.

- Wash hands thoroughly with anti-bacterial soap before touching the piercing.

- Rotate the piercing often, to prevent a crust from building up.

- If a crust does build up, gently remove it with clean hands or a damp washcloth.

- If uncomfortable swelling occurs, make a low concentration sea salt soak in warm water and soak the piercing for 10-15 minutes 2-3 x a day until the swelling goes down.

- Your piercing should be healed in approximately 6 months.

That is most definitely not the speech I heard. 

This particular studio promotes "dry wound care", which recommends that you do not WASH the piercing, do not TOUCH the piercing, do not remove the CRUSTIES and keep it completely DRY and it will be healed within 3 months.

I asked why this was completely different from everything I had ever heard. Doesn't the piercing get dirty and oily from being attached to the side of my head all day? Doesn't the hypersalinity of the salt soak draw out moisture, decreasing swelling? According to this piercer, who certainly spoke as if he was very knowledgeable and experienced, most of what gets on my ear during the day is tolerable, unless I get dunked in a river or spit on by a cow and that any disturbance of those crusties will only slow the healing process. He likened the crusties to a scab on a normal wound, which I was taught to leave alone until it falls off of its own accord. He also pointed out how very, very non-sterile any sea salt soak I made at home would be, and that this would compensate for any benefits it might provide. (Although one of his complaints on the soak was that I would likely make it up wrong because I'm "probably not a chemist". Now, granted, I'm not technically a chemist, but... I probably did smirk a little.)

I found this after-care regime intriguing. I would be interested to hear opinions, especially from microbiologists and/or other folks that have been pierced (pierced microbiologists? Anyone?), as to which they think is better for a minor wound. I certainly see his point, although it's very difficult for me to believe everyone else is wrong... not because the original after-care regime was so well explained to me, and the evidence for the new one doesn't hold up... but possibly because of the mental phenomenon known as anchoring. Jonah Lehrer, at The Frontal Cortex, wrote a great piece on anchoring recently. It boils down to this: in light of overwhelming new evidence, we will stubbornly hold on to our first impression. In my case, it is piercing after-care, but Jonah extends this principle to the graver issues of how to handle a global crisis when the news told us it was going to be Just Fine. Go check it out.

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