As a person with extreme trypanophobia (fear of needles), I'm one of the minority that didn't get their ears pierced as a child. Even shots and blood tests make me lightheaded, so the idea of a hole being punched in my earlobe sounds like an absolute nightmare. Unfortunately, this mentality clashed heavily with my love for accessories, so as a fashion editor in my mid-20s, I finally caved and got into a piercer's chair.
Here's the thing—I (incorrectly) assumed that the worst part about getting your ears pierced would be the moment of piercing, which actually wasn't so bad. The real headache (or earache) came after. While I was beyond excited to finally wear the massive inventory of earrings I was hoarding, my accessories game was sidetracked when I realized that my skin was reacting negatively to nearly all of them.
PSA: A lot of affordable jewelry pieces use nickel as the base metal—and with time, friction, and moisture, the skin often begins to feel sensitive. And contrary to popular belief, it's not just nickel that can cause this irritation (although it is the most common culprit). Other metals, including gold, can spark a whole bunch of allergic reactions, such as itching, skin rashes, swelling, and redness. (Side note: If the irritated area of skin starts to feel warm to the touch, fills with pus, or spreads rapidly, see a doctor ASAP as you may have an infection.)
Everyone's ears are different, so not all earrings will work for you if you have a particular allergy to that metal. The only way to assess a metal sensitivity is through an arduous trial-and-error process, but there are certain materials that tend to pop up as particularly problematic. Generally speaking, you want to avoid nickel and opt for at least 14k gold (anything less usually contains nickel or brass) or sterling silver 925. If your ears are still reacting negatively, try posts made of medical-grade stainless steel or titanium, which tend to be the least reactive.
To simplify your search, I did the vetting for you and picked the best earring brands that have helped me throughout my piercing journey. Not only are they made with sensitive, allergy-prone ears in mind, they use high-quality materials and metals at affordable prices, so your ears can feel as good as they look.
Jackie Burke founded Tini Lux after her own metal allergy diagnosis. The brand's jewelry is made from thoroughly researched, APP-approved metals that are not harmful, toxic, or reactive with living tissue, lessening the risk of skin irritation. The base metal for the earrings is made from pure, medical grade titanium, a hypoallergenic material that is safe for sensitive ears.
Try: Livie Studs ($50; tinilux.com)
If your ears are sensitive or recently pierced, Maison Miru's Nap Collection of flat-back earrings is perfect. Designed to wear 24/7 while showering, working out, and sleeping, it prevents poking and features a super secure push pin design with implant grade titanium to be safe for sensitive skin.
Try: Little Sphere Nap Earrings ($75; maisonmiru.com)
This hypoallergenic earring brand is the most bang you're going to get for your buck. Made with surgical grade stainless steel, the package includes six pairs of stud earrings with varying gauge sizes so you can slowly train your ears to wear larger backings. Another plus: The posts are double notched for added security. (Although it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if you lose one, considering you have multiple backups.)
Try: UHIBROS Hypoallergenic Studs Earrings ($10; amazon.com)
Made from luxury 18k gold plated over sustainable sterling silver (nickel-free, of course), Abbott Lyon's pieces feature an innovative anti-tarnish protective coating that is water-, sweat-, and heat-resistant.
Try: Hammered Heart Stud Earrings ($53; abbottlyon.com)
Rowan is actually the brand that did my ear piercing (all performed exclusively by a licensed nurse), and its hypoallergenic earrings are made from premium, nickel-free materials. The brand's first-ever luxury collection features14K solid gold, but if you don't feel like dropping that much, I found that the regular collection (14K gold vermeil on sterling silver) suited my sensitive ears just fine.
Try: Rose Studs ($179; heyrowan.com) or Sunrise Studs ($69 for 1; heyrowan.com)
All handmade in Bali, Anna Beck's jewelry features high-quality sterling silver (or 18k gold plated over sterling silver) that can be worn throughout the day sans irritation.
Try: Classic Smooth Rim Studs—Gold & Silver ($175; annabeck.com)
Helix & Conch's minimalist studs are handmade with 14k gold so they won't ever tarnish or oxidize. If you're a serial earring switcher, they're available in a range of finishes, shapes, and gemstone colors for all your styling needs.
Try: Cerchi 14k Solid Yellow Gold Tiny Beaded Circle Stud ($50 for 1; helixandconch.com)
If your skin is still struggling, brands like Rellery provide hope for people who can't wear earrings. The curated ear cuff collection (which can be worn solo or stacked with other pieces) doesn't even require a piercing since you can slide it on and fit it to your ear. You can also rest assured knowing it's made from 18K gold over sterling silver.
Try: Bold Ear Cuff ($39; rellery.com)