How did people care for ear piercings before modern antiseptics?

So people have been wearing earrings since time immemorial. But it’s only been fairly recently that sterilized piercing studs or needles and modern antiseptics have been developed. A while back my niece stayed over when she had some fresh earlobe piercings and she had to clean them with benzalkonium chloride and rotate them three times a day.

So in days gone by did people get a lot of nasty infections from non-sterile techniques, and not putting antiseptic on their ears, or is the whole "clean them three times a day overkill, cover your butt, type instructions. Or maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle?

A needle sterilized in flame was how it used to be done. Clean once a day with alcohol. Infections were fairly common. Sometimes they could mark you for life, other times just a little swelling and then done.

One theoryis that Rembrandt had a botched piercing, for instance.

I’ve healed my 14 piercings with nothing but salt water. They were each done with a sterile, single-use needle, but sterilizing the needle in a flame would have had the same results.

The truth is somewhere in the middle; not EVERY injury resulted in horrible infection prior to the germ theory of disease and advent of antiseptic technique and topical antiseptics. It wasn’t uncommon though- people did die of infections caused by stuff we’d consider trivial- shaving cuts was something a non-trivial number of people died from back in the day.

That said, ear piercing seems to be pretty prone to infections…

Ear piercings? Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox missed a pitching rotation in the playoffs because his *naval *piercing got infected.

Vinegar, alcohol, salt water, witch-craft, woo, luck.

That was a prank Sale played on the media.

Holes do tend to sink ships.

Alcohol has been around since ancient times.

A little on the piercing and some down the throat. You’re all set. :wink:

Alcohol is a good antiseptic. Doesn’t always prevent infection but it certainly reduces the chances of getting one.

Not generally in strong enough concentrations to be an effective disinfectant. You don’t get up to 50% alcohol concentration by just fermenting. That needs distillation, which only became a thing in the Middle Ages. Ancient wines and beers weren’t really going to cut it. Three days to kill bacteria is helpful for wounds, but isn’t going to be of use when ear piercing.

Not to disinfect the needle (that’s by flame), but for its upkeep it’s enough.

I’ve read somewhere that honey has been used as a topical antiseptic for a very long time as well. If it works on cuts, I would think that it would work on piercings.

He found it hard to



The modern aftercare routine for piercings has changed wildly over the past 30 or so years. Scrubbing, rotating, using neosporin, etc. are Dark Ages overkill methods now. The current preferred treatment regimen for the past ten years (or more) is called LITHA, or Leave It The Hell Alone.

When allowed to do its own thing, the average human body is very good at healing small wounds. When I had my septum piercing done, all I was supposed to do to it was a daily saline soak to let accumulated “crusties” dissolve away. It’s when people think they need to glob on neosporin and rotate the jewelry through the fresh wound that they have troubles as they’re both ripping out the body’s attempt to grow new skin and forcing dirt into the wound, not to mention that neosporin is bad news inside the airless environment of a puncture wound.

For my nose piercing, I was told to clean it with plain ordinary warm salt water. The only special instruction was that the salt couldn’t be iodinized. (Like regular table salt) So I just use either sea salt or kosher.

I hadn’t considered distillation. I learned something today. Ignorance fought.

Can you please provide a cite for that ? I believe people have distilling stuff and making spirits since they discovered copper and tin.

This site says it was done by the Greeks and documented to about 28 B.C.

Also - you don’t need to distill wine to make liquor (although it is a pretty good way).

You can concentrate the wine with potassium carbonate. And then you can get to absolute alcohol by drying over calcium oxide (quicklime).

This was how the original proof spirit was made.

Distillation of sorts has been around that long. True distillation of alcohol, specifically, only since the early Middle Ages. Cite.

And anyway, “became a thing” is not (colloquially) the same as “came into existence”, it’s more “became common”

That reference is dubious - it just asserts that “boiling” is distillation, for one thing.

Sure, but I’m ignorant of the history of K2CO3 salting - does it precede Medieval Arabic distillation?

There’s also freeze distillation, which isn’t true distillation but gets you a liquor.