Before you get too freaked out, though, you should know: "While it's not typical to have a medical problem when you leave your earrings in all the time, it is important to clean them," says Dr. K. Roxanne Grawe, a board-certified plastic surgeon who is based in Ohio and performs piercings in her office. "Your skin naturally sloughs dead cells and this is also true in your pierced skin. If your earrings are always in, that skin can build up around the earring, and it can allow that skin slough to stay caked on your skin and earring." It's unlikely that this will cause an infection, though she notes that the dead tissue can begin to look goopy, which, gross.
Another reason why you should be swapping (or at least cleaning) your earrings on the reg? Leaving them in for too long can create something called "ear cheese," which can literally make your skin smell like limburger—and if you've ever wondered why your earrings smell, this might be one reason why. According to derms, your ears provide a lovely, warm environment for bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells to thrive, and that stinky smell comes as a result of an accumulation of all of the above. So if you don't remove and clean your earrings regularly, that stench will only get worse. (I haven't technically smelled my own ears lately, but I think I owe a few apologies to anyone who's gotten close to them in the past few months.)
This is why board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling, DO recommends cleaning your earrings at least once week, which is enough to help you "avoid dirt and bacteria buildup and prevent infection, bad odor, and debris that [accumulates] on earrings," she says. Thankfully, the process is fairly easy to integrate into your routine. All you have to do is wash them with soap and warm water, an alcohol swab, or jewelry cleaner, then let them dry before popping them back into their respective holes. "The main idea is to remove any tissue that is visible and to clean the post," says Dr. Grawe.
If your ears are still giving off signs of the aforementioned grossness even after you've introduced regular washes, it may be a good idea to let them spend some time sans jewelry. "If the skin is irritated or remains goopy, it would be important to keep things clean and give it time to 'breathe' without the earrings in," says Dr. Grawe. Just be sure to keep an eye on things, because if you leave the holes open for too long, you run the risk of your holes closing up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time to change my earrings.
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