I've had stretched ears for many years. People ask me questions about it all the time. Here is a guide for those who are interested.
Is it "stretched" or "gauged"?
"Gauging" is an incorrect term that doesn't really make much sense. Just because the jewelry is measured using the gauge system does not mean it is called a gauge: It's called a plug or an eyelet. If everything were named this way then shoes would be called by their sizes and beverages would be named in ounces. People who know better use the word "gauge" to describe a measurement of the jewelry, such as a 2-gauge plug.
Better terms than "gauges/gauging"?
If you are referring to the jewelry worn in stretched earlobes, then say eyelets or plugs or use another term that properly represents the type of jewelry being worn.
If you mean the act of stretching ear lobes, then call it stretching.
In other words, "gauges" should refer to the size of jewelry, and "gauging" should be called "stretching."
What is a fistula?
A fistula is the skin tube of scar tissue created when your body heals around a foreign object, aka the inside of your piercing.
What is a taper?
A taper is a tool used for stretching piercings. It's a tapered-off object used for stretching, NOT a piece of jewelry to be worn long-term. Tapers are NOT jewelry. Wearing tapers in your ears is the equivalent of wearing a needle. Dumb, isn't it? Yes. Don't do it. (See the full list of jewelry types below.)
What is dead stretching?
Dead stretching, the natural method, is a passive way to stretch. It's when you wait for your ear to heal and loosen enough on its own so you can just slide in the next size. Patience and wearing slightly heavy jewelry help this process. (See the full list of stretching methods below.)
Common Types of Jewelry Worn in Stretched Earlobes
- Plug: A completely solid piece of jewelry. A straight piece with o-rings to secure it in place (and some come grooved to better hold o-rings in place). This is the most popular style for stretched lobes and offers the most design and style options. You'll find an unending array of choices here with different designs, decorations, character, materials, and color options.
- Eyelet: Commonly called a tunnel: A piece of jewelry that is hollow all the way through, a straight shaft secured in place by o-rings. If you can stick things through it, it's an eyelet. Some come grooved to better hold the o-rings in place. Eyelets allow you to see through the lobe, which is easier to do with larger sizes. You can also wear captive rings and circular barbells through them to change up the look from time to time.
- O-Ring: A silicone ring in the shape of an O that is used to stop jewelry from falling out of your piercing.
- Single Flare: A piece of jewelry that is flared—or slightly larger—on one side, usually secured with an o-ring on the no-flare side. The flare is typically 1-2mm larger than the wearable area.
- Double Flare: A piece of jewelry that has two flares, one on either side of the piece. These are not called saddles. No o-rings are worn with these.
- No Flare: A piece of jewelry that has no flare or is straight all the way across, usually secured by an o-ring on each side of the ear.
Less Common Jewelry Types
- Threaded Plug/Tunnel
- Captive Bead Ring
- Circular Barbell
Keep in mind that the larger you go, the more expensive the jewelry becomes. Larger sizes require more material and, more often than not, the largest gauges are made in smaller quantities and sometimes even by hand.
3 Methods for Stretching Earlobes
- Natural Method aka Dead Stretching: Wait until your ear has become loose enough on its own to put in a larger piece of jewelry with ease. This is accomplished by wearing heavy jewelry (not weights, just solid jewelry made out of a heavy material like stone) and having lots of patience.
- Tapering Method: Lube up your ears and tapers with some kind of natural oil (more on oils below) and insert a taper through a fistula until the very end of the larger side is at the front of your ear, then follow through with a plug or eyelet. This method should only be used up to ~2g because after that, the increments between sizes become too harsh for your ears to handle, and that's how blowouts happen.
- Taping Method: Wrap a few layers of non-adhesive tape around an eyelet or plug (not a taper) and pop the slightly larger piece of jewelry into your ear with lubrication. You should not have to force the taped jewelry in. If you can't get it in, take off some of the tape. Continue to do this until it fits comfortably in your ear. Do this every few days (every 4 to 7 is recommended) until you are at your next size.
Which stretching method is best?
I recommend the natural method ("dead stretching") which involves no active stretching at all. It takes longer but it's also much safer.
If you choose the natural method, you won't need any tapes or oils. But if you don't want to wait, you'll want to choose the best oils or tapes. . . see lists below.
Best Oils and Lubricants for Stretching Ears (and Which to Avoid)
|Good Oils/Lubes||Oils/Lubes to Avoid|
Jojoba Oil (Vegan)
Vitamin E Oil (Conditionally Vegan)
Anything Containing Alcohol
Emu Oil (Vegan)
Holey Butt'r (Vegan)
Standard (Sexual) Lube
Types of Tapes to Use
|Good Tapes||Bad Tapes|
PTFE or Teflon Tape
Anything That Sticks to Your Skin
Tips and Tricks for Stretching Your Ears Successfully
Things to avoid:
- Pain ISN’T normal when stretching. If it hurts, don't do it.
- DO NOT skip sizes.
- DO NOT stretch too quickly.
- DO NOT force the taper through.
- DO NOT add too much tape at once.
- DO NOT get your stretching materials from the mall.
- DO NOT stretch with acrylic, silicone, or organic materials.
- DO NOT get your stretching materials from people that have already used them to stretch with.
- DO NOT stretch with electrical tape or the wrong adhesives.
What gauge should I use to start stretching?
For the majority of people, 16 gauge is a good starting point if you have only ever worn regular earrings.
How long should I wait between stretches?
Many make the mistake of stretching too fast, which can cause some long term damage to your lobes. Most professionals recommend waiting at least a full month between each stretch. A full month is generally enough to allow your last stretch time to heal and also help your lobes loosen up a bit for the next stretch. The slower you go, the nicer your lobes will be in the long run, so waiting even longer than a month is highly recommended. Even though the temptation is hard to resist sometimes when you are ready to stretch, it's always best to give it some time. You will thank yourself in the long run.
Which gauge is the "point of no return"?
Most professionals in the body modification industry recommend never going any larger than 2 gauge if you want your ears to totally close up to where you can't see through them. Keep in mind that everyone's anatomy is different, but at 2 gauge, most will be able to take their plugs out and have lobes that look "normal" after a few months.
What if you stretch too much?
If you have stretched to a really large size and decide that it is not for you, then there is always the option of surgery. Lobe reversal has become pretty popular these days so that is always an option to consider if you have stretched really large and want your lobes to look like the average person's.
Gauge and Sizes Chart (1mm–2")
Best and Worst Jewelry Materials
- Surgical Stainless Steel: Steel, specifically 316L surgical steel, is widely considered the best choice when stretching your ears from one gauge to another. It can be boiled or autoclaved (if you have one available) and is non-porous, which greatly reduces the chance of infection. Steels generally insert smoother than other materials and are virtually indestructible. Stainless steel is a perfectly acceptable alternative to surgical steel, but it can contain nickel, so if you're sensitive to nickel at all, you need to either pay a bit more for surgical steel or go with glass instead.
- Glass: Glass is another great choice for stretching to a new size, but you need to be picky with the type and style to ensure that it's not prone to breaking. Avoid glass tunnels and stick with either a single flare or no-flare plug. For those who have reactions to certain types of metal, glass is often the best choice since it does not react with the body.
- Stone: Stone can also be used with the natural technique of stretching, since stone is generally a heavier material. However, different types of stone are more porous than others, so if using stone for ear stretching, non-porous stones such as quartz, obsidian, or opalite would be best.
- Wood: Wood is great to use after your stretch has healed, but you should never put wood in a new stretch. Some people have allergic reactions to certain types of wood. Ebony, bloodwood, and coconut rarely trigger allergic reactions and are the safest to use. One advantage of wood is its ability to absorb your natural oils and sweat; this will reduce the funk that often occurs with metal or glass jewelry. Do not soak, autoclave, or leave wood jewelry in direct sunlight; avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures, and don't wear it when swimming or bathing.
- Other Organics Like Horn and Bone: Organic materials such as horn and bone are another popular choice because of their natural aesthetics and their ability to be carved into amazing designs. However, the main issue with organics is that these materials are porous, which makes them a very poor choice when you're attempting to stretch your ears to a larger size. The porous nature of the material allows for bacteria to get trapped, which can lead to infection when your ears aren't fully healed. So while I definitely recommend organic earrings for well-healed ears, please refrain from using them if you're new to stretching or aren't fully healed from your last gauge up.
- Acrylic: Not recommended. Not only is it porous (meaning it can harbor bad bacteria and has the potential of your tissue growing into it), but it is also toxic and can leach carcinogens into your skin, and it’s also easy to break. Do NOT wear acrylic after a fresh stretch and once the piercing is fully healed, only wear it briefly.
- Silicone: Do NOT wear silicone. Silicone is often chosen because it's easy to insert into an existing piercing due to its soft and flexible nature. However, that is also the reason why I don't recommend it, especially with newly stretched ears. Silicone can bend perfectly with your skin, creating an airtight fit that can trap bacteria and cause infection. Don't ever stretch with silicone, as tempting as it is, because it's too abrupt and will tear your ears.
The Dos & Don'ts of Materials
|Perfectly Fine to Wear||Conditionals||What to Avoid|
Surgical Stainless Steel (316L)
Stretching Gone Wrong
A blowout is when the fistula is actually forced out through the back of the piercing so that a small flap of skin hangs over the edge of your plug. Though it is not generally too noticeable if it occurs on the back of your ear, it can limit the types of plugs you can wear, and you will generally need to wear plugs with a bigger wearable area to allow room for the blowout.
If you skip sizes, go to fast, or continue stretching after a blowout has occurred, then a blowout will often continue to get bigger and bigger.
The best way to get rid of a blowout is to take your plugs out immediately after you notice it and downsize 2–3 sizes smaller so your piercing will start to heal. Although it is never 100% guaranteed that it will go away, the chances are pretty good of it going back to normal if you downsize immediately after it happens. If you leave the blowout to heal up without downsizing, though, then it will generally stay that way and become permanent. There is the option of getting it surgically removed, which is highly recommended if you have the funds to do so.
You may have an infection if you are noticing issues such as extreme swelling, redness, discharge, itching, and hotness. If you have recently stretched your ears and are having all of these problems, then it's best to downsize and let your ears get back to normal. Wearing steel or glass jewelry is the best with an irritated piercing, as these materials will minimize your risk of prolonging the infection. Please see a doctor. For more information about how to treat an infection, read The Dos and Don'ts of Taking Care of New Ear Piercings.
You create micro-tears in your ears every time you stretch. However, a tear-tear is just what you'd assume: When your lobe completely gives way and rips open. You no longer have a circular lobe; you have two dangling pieces of skin. The only way to correct this is with surgery. See a doctor immediately!
Ear funk is essentially the dead skin cells of the inside of your ears being trapped inside your fistula. When you wear plugs for several days, the dead skin cells start to build up on your jewelry and when you remove the plugs, they can be super gross. The way to get rid of this issue is either to wash your ears daily in the shower or to just wear organic plugs so they soak up all of that ear funk and keep your ears dry and smelling fresh.
What Did You Learn?
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- Which is correct?
- "Oh man, I love your gauges!"
- "Dude! Your plugs are sick!"
- Which of the following is NOT a piece of jewelry that can be worn in your ears?
- Which of the following tapes can be used for the taping method?
- Duct tape
- Bondage tape
- Scotch tape
- Electrical tape
- Which of the following is an acceptable material to wear in a newly stretched piercing?
- Which of the following CAN be worn after the stretch has healed, but NOT in a freshly stretched piercing?
- Surgical stainless steel
- Which of the following very commonly leads to blowouts?
- Not waiting long enough between stretches
- Leaving your plugs out over night
- Using non-vegal oils on your ears
- Using the natural stretching method
- How does one handle a blowout?
- Keep stretching up
- Downsize a single size
- Take out plugs altogether
- Cut it off
- "Dude! Your plugs are sick!"
- Bondage tape
- Not waiting long enough between stretches
- Take out plugs altogether
Did You Find Answers to All Your Questions About Stretching?
If not, I suggest you read How to Stretch Your Ears Safely: The Complete Gauge Guide for more information.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Reina