Dr. Harris Sterman is all for young people expressing their individuality. But just how many piercings can you put into one ear, anyway?
“Some people get really carried away,” says Sterman, chief of plastic surgery at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. The multiple holes are one thing. But then there’s the many large and heavy objects hung from all those holes — and we’re not just talking regular old diamond stud earrings or tiny crucifixes anymore — before the poor ear is literally stretched to its outermost limits.
Call it a strange sign of the times. Some doctors, like Sterman, say they are noticing more and more millennials coming in because their ears have become deformed from overpiercing and need reconstructive surgery.
And it’s not just ear piercing. Many are seeking to reverse the impulsive, perhaps keg-fueled decisions of their not-quite-lost youths. That tongue piercing, that bone through the nose, that conspicuously placed tattoo you got in college may not go over so big now in a job interview, or in the board room.
It’s time to conform to the real world.
“There has been an influx of people, millennials in particular, who have a lot of body piercings — mainly facial piercings — that they are looking to change,” says Dr. Laurence Milgrim, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon in Teaneck. “These are large earring holes, larger than the usual stud hole. When the earlobe and other parts of their bodies are expanded, they have trouble in the classic work force. Nose piercings, ear piercings … and tattoo removal, especially on the neck, where it’s noticeable, has become popular.”
An estimated 36 percent of Americans have at least one piercing somewhere other than an earlobe, according to a 2012 Pew Research study. Other research suggests the figure is as high as 56 percent for those between 17 and 25, reports North Jersey.
In most cases, the ravaged earlobe, the mutilated upper-ear cartilage, the messed-up tongue piercing and even the most elaborate tattoo can be removed or fixed in one or more visits.
“As plastic surgeons, we do fix them, and we can do a very nice job. I have had people with massively stretched-out ear lobes and now, you would not even be able to tell,” says Dr. Daniel Maman, a board-certified plastic surgeon at 740 Park Plastic Surgery in Manhattan. “It depends. But I have fixed some severe deformities under a local anesthesia and here in the office.”
Sterman notes that years of wearing even one set of earrings can eventually lead to a tearing of the earlobes in any age group. But millennials tend to cut through more tissue, faster, simply by pushing the fashion envelope. “When you have multiple earrings and they are close together, the holes can weaken the tissue faster and the holes merge together,” he says.
He also pointed to the popularity of so-called gauge earrings among millennials, which are especially disfiguring in the long-run. “They make an opening, and they put in a disk. So when you take it out, your earlobes almost look like strings of spaghetti, all stretched out. If you take it out, you have this kind of loop,” he says.
Maman said the damage can be more serious when people pierce the upper ear. “Once you go above the earlobe, you are penetrating the cartilage. You make a permanent hole. Cartilage does not grow back or regenerate.” This can lead to chondritis, he says, an infection in the cartilage.
“Have you ever seen the wrestler with the cauliflower ears? The result would be the same,” Maman says, “There is plastic surgery for it, and we can fix it to the best of our ability. But the more severe the damage, the less you can fix it.”
But with or without deformity, many millennials simply want things removed or filled in because they are entering a new, more conservative phase of life. And well they should, says Eugene Gentile, director of the Undergraduate Career Management Office at Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick.
“We tell people take your nose ring out. But then you’re looking at that great big hole,” says Gentile, who teaches classes and seminars on how to present yourself in interviews and in the business world. “One thing I teach is when you’re on an interview, you want a person focusing on your eyes and your mouth. Not to be distracted by whatever adornment you have on your body.
“A lot of things that are great for the club are not great for the interview,” he adds. “One of the things we teach is wear a very conservative suit. And I get push-back on that. ‘Do you want us all to look the same? You told us to differentiate ourselves.’ It sounds contradictory, but I want a dark suit and a light shirt or blouse so that people are looking at your face and listening to what you say. The tattoo doesn’t help. It is incredibly distracting.”
“I had a guy who wanted to join the military, and because he had this gauge deformity, he felt he had to get it fixed,” Sterman says. “You are allowed certain tattoos, but things are still very strict. He had this huge loop for an earlobe.”
Several options available
There are a few ways to fix the problem.
“We reconstruct the earlobe with tissue surrounding it, or from other areas,” says Milgrim. Holes are filled in and excess stretched skin is removed.
Sterman said he has a slightly different method. By employing what is known as the lap-joint technique, he says, “you’re creating right angle turns in the scar, so this way when it heals, it doesn’t cause notching. It ends up taking an extra 10 to 15 minutes. Some insurance covers it. The earlobe ends up having a beautiful curvature to it,” Sterman says, whereas under the standard treatment method, a small cleft can be left in the lobe.
As for tattoos, says Milgrim, “removals over the years have gotten so much better. We have better lasers, and today, the removal is not as noticeable as it used to be,” he says, noting that in the past, remnants of an old tattoo would sometimes be visible.
“The tattoos are removed over multiple sessions,” Mi;grim says. “Some of the colors can be very hard to get out because of the depth of the color. Reds are the hardest.”.
“I had a young woman who came in who had this bizarre tattoo on her shoulder blade, who grew up, got a real job in the corporate world, and had to go to corporate events,” Sterman says. “She ended up getting laser treatments to have it removed. … With tattoos, each color almost needs a different laser. In order to treat this, you need very expensive equipment. It’s multiple treatments. And it can be expensive, too.”
Milgrim says ear reconstruction generally costs between $1,000 and $2,000, while tattoo removal is anywhere from $500 to $1,500.