The importance of downsizing your cartilage piercing jewelry

So you have likely heard reputable piercers cover a lot of things when it comes to the healing of your body piercing. Aftercare, jewelry quality, etc.

An often overlooked step that is critical to the overall healing of your piercing is downsizing.

For this writing, let’s focus on cartilage piercings as this is an issue that pops up frequently.

Not all, but most piercings initially require jewelry that is longer in length or wider in diameter in order to accommodate for the swelling. While some may find this longer length annoying, it’s a necessary precaution to prevent jewelry from embedding into tissue once swelling takes place.

Here’s an example of a freshly pierced tragus:

You may think that jewelry looks awfully long, right? Well after 2-3 weeks that flatback was sitting perfectly flush to either side of this client’s tragus due to the swelling that occurs with cartilage piercings.

So we need room for swelling, but excessively long jewelry is problematic as well. Jewelry that is too long will get caught and snagged much easier, causing irritation and a longer dragged out healing time. This is another reason why going to a reputable piercer is so important.

With most cartilage piercings, longer jewelry being left in for too long can cause the piercing channel to shift its angle. The two most critical (and popular) piercings that come to mind are helix and forward helix piercings.

Here is another example:

At first glance you would probably just assume the top two piercings were done crooked. While that’s possible, for this writing we will assume they were pierced correctly and perpendicular to the tissue (straight).

See that bump on the second from top cartilage piercing? That’s not an infection, or keloid, or scar. That’s an irritation bump that is most likely there due to the extreme angle the piercing has taken. That angle places pressure on the piercing channel, causing the dreaded cartilage bump. 

There are many factors that could explain the top two cartilage piercings having such extreme angles. Sleeping on the piercing at night, catching and snagging it, etc. These things are all the more problematic with jewelry that has been left long for too long (not downsized soon enough).

You’ll find quite a few piercers who have been piercing for many years aren’t big fans of using really thin jewelry in cartilage piercings. And rightfully so. While thicker jewelry can still angle if not downsized, they generally tend to be a little more forgiving as the slightly thicker gauge can provide a bit more stability.

With the growing common practice of 18g jewelry being used in cartilage piercings, having regular checkups with your piercer is crucial so snug fitting jewelry can be put in as soon as the piercing is ready.

Here’s an example of a client who had a forward helix piercing done with longer jewelry, then later stopped in for a snugger fitting piece as the swelling had gone away at this point.


So how soon after getting your piercing can you get a snugger fitting piece of jewelry put in? That’s the tough part. It can vary greatly from one client/piercing to the other. 

After a few weeks, some people are ready. For others it can take well over a month or two.   

Missing that open window when swelling has come down can be problematic. Now that longer jewelry may get caught or snagged on something, causing you to have to go through a period of swelling all over again (and delaying you in being able to downsize). 

This is exactly why frequent follow ups with your piercer is essential to make sure you don’t waste your money on a quality piercing with quality jewelry only to have it angle so bad you no longer find it aesthetically pleasing. 

And one last thing, because this comes up all the time:
When you come in for a shorter piece of jewelry, of course you have to pay for it. Jewelry is never free. Please say it with me: “I understand I will have to pay for jewelry when I am requesting new jewelry.” 

Okay. I feel better now. 

I hope some of you piercing enthusiasts find this information helpful!

Cody Vaughn