ear modification is beauty's freakiest new trend
From dermal punches to pointed elf ears and reptilian ridges, the look is no longer just for 'Lord of the Rings' fans.
In February of this year, Cara Delevingne was spotted with an unusual addition peering out from underneath her pixie haircut. Her upper ear cartilage appeared to be raised with ridges, almost resembling reptile skin. At first it was speculated that the model and actress modified her ears with some sort of subdermal implant or decorated scarification. Then it was deduced that Delevingne’s ear mods were not legit (you could see the glue lifting from her skin) and were simply special effects makeup due to her latest role as a fairy in the upcoming Amazon show Carnival Row. But if Delevingne’s ear had been authentic, it wouldn’t be too surprising. In the past year, body modifications focused on the auricle region have been hotter than ever before.
Ear tattoos, which were previously thought of as an adventurous area to get inked, are now popular for the mainstream crowd. In fact, Delevingne has multiple tattoos on her upper ear (another tell that the mods were faux), including tiny stars and a diamond. Rihanna has a star tattooed in the same spot, while Adele, Demi Lovato, and Hailey Baldwin all have tats behind their ears.
Helix tattoos even had a moment on Instagram, with people permanently branding the rim of their ears with minimalistic lines, floral designs, and tiny crescent moons. Back in the day, tattoos were considered an act of rebellion reserved for punks, bikers, and sailors. Nowadays everyone from runway models, to boy band members, to former Disney stars sport them. Zoë Kravitz has over 45 tattoos, including the phrases “Sweet Kid” (a childhood nickname) and “Free At Last” which references Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Hell, even Dolly Parton has admitted to having “a few little tattoos” — though the country legend prefers to keep them on the down low.
“Behind the ear has always been a popular place to get tattooed because it’s easy to hide with hair,” explains Annie Motel, owner of the LA-based Little Annie Motel Tattoo Parlor. “As for on the ear, I’d say it’s becoming more popular as younger people are more blasé with the stigma of tattoos on visible body parts.” Motel believes some people do them as a personal gesture of freedom while others see the act as a way to claim their right to decorate their bodies however which way they choose.
Even more popular than ear tattoos lately are piercings — but they are much more complex than the ones you got at the mall as a teenager. Mickey Myers, a body piercer at the female-owned and operated Earth Altar Studio in Eagle Rock, California, has seen a surge of people requesting “ear projects” recently. “What's happening now is people are getting very creative with having multiple piercings,” she says. “I think it started up last year and right now it's full blown. Everyone wants their ears done.” Myers has been doing a lot of multiple piercings on the upper cartilage and conch piercings, as well as “constellation piercings” where there are clusters of earrings placed in a way similar to a constellation of stars.
Brian Keith Thompson, owner and Chief Piercing Officer of Body Electric Tattoo in LA, echoes the sentiment, explaining how the trend consists of multiple piercings with sporadic placement that have no rhyme or reason. “It’s very dainty right now. It’s very delicate — everything is small,” says Thompson, who has pierced the ears of Emma Stone, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson. He been doing a lot of rook piercings, a piercing placed right on the antihelix and above the tragus. He also says that yellow gold, as opposed to silver-colored jewelry, is popular. “It’s probably one of the hottest metals I’m selling. Everybody wants it. I carry yellow, white, rose, and platinum, but I use a lot more yellow than any other color.” Myers also points out the popularity of yellow gold, saying that the jewelers play a big part in creating the trend. “A couple years ago, we were really into surgical steel or titanium. Now it's gold.” She says the jewelry options now are much better than when she started piercing eight years ago. “If you wanted gold, you had to pay way extra,” she explains. “The jewelry out there has become so gorgeous. Now you've got places that are offering diamonds and precious stones, like BVLA.”
As for the Delevingne's prosthetic, Thompson says the reptilian-style isn’t something he’s personally witnessed get done as a modification. “That’s a really cool idea. It kind of looks – alien,” he says. While Thompson doesn’t do implants, he has done dermal punches, where cartilage is removed from conch area of the ear that reveals a hole or shape (some people get punches that look like stars or hearts). Both he and Myers mention how ear pointing was once popular, which is exactly what it sounds like: pointed, elf-like ears. “When everyone went through this whole Lord of the Rings fairy thing, people started getting their ears pointed,” says Myers. “They snip the ear, then stitch them up and it heals nicely as a point.”
When it comes to predicting future trends in body modifications, both Thompson and Myers say it’s hard to tell what exactly will be the next big thing, but Thompson says it usually takes a celebrity to start it. “I think whatever’s gonna happen next is just gonna kind of play off of what we’re doing now and just subtly change,” he says. “It could go back to big, bulky stuff one day, who knows? Right now everybody wants small and delicate. In two, three years from now everybody may want big, thick, chunky hoops. To be honest, I have no fucking idea where it’s gonna go [laughs].”
In the meantime, people who want to join in on the multiple piercing game should start off slow. “I know there's a lot of piercers out there that will jump in and say, ‘Yeah, sure. We could do all of that in one sitting’ — but I'm not for that,” explains Myers. “I want you to heal nicely and not have a lot of pain in your ear afterwards.” People can also be more prone to getting keloids, which is swollen scar tissue. For this reason, Myers doesn’t go past four piercings on cartilage. “Your upper ear has a lot of nerve endings and a lot of blood vessels, so there's more blood flow. Just like anyone's ear, you start touching the top and all of a sudden it's red. Imagine if you put eight piercings on that, it's not going to heal right. Spread them out, just like tattoos.”
If the thought of getting multiple piercings is too crazy, there are ways around it, especially if you already have your lobes pierced. Jewelry designer Kat Kim makes ear pins, which are earrings inspired by a safety pin, that hook over the top of the ear and go through the pierced lobe. It creates an edgy look without having to face multiple needles. And if you do want to go the more adventurous route, it’s important to do what you want, regardless of whether it’s a trend. “There’s no right or wrong way to do any of this,” says Thompson. “Do what makes you happy. Screw what everyone else thinks. At the end of the day if you think it looks cool, that’s all that matters. I remember when I first started stretching my ears, there were a lot of people that didn’t like it. I didn’t care; I wasn’t doing it for them. Stay true to yourself and do whatever you want.” Truer words have never been spoken.