How to Stretch Your Ear Piercing to a Larger Gauge
Although it is a fairly old process, it is now pretty popular for today's younger people to not only get piercings, but also stretch them.
Even if you have a piercing that was pierced to a standard size—generally 20 gauge, 18 gauge, and 16 gauge—you can still stretch your ears to a larger size. What's more, it doesn't matter how recently you got them pierced. It will work even if you got them when you were five and you want to stretch them now that you're 21.
It takes time to stretch your piercings properly, as you will want to give your ear time to relax after stretching. Stretching too quickly can cause other concerns.
You can stretch any piercing, but the most common piercing that is stretched is the lobe piercings. Other commonly stretched piercings include the inner conch, septum, nose, belly button, tongue, and ear cartilage.
The typically, lobes are pierced with a 20, 18, or 16 gauge, but it will usually depending on where you go to get your piercing. The mall, for instance, pierces with piercing guns, so the gauge of the piercing will be the gauge of the stud that you choose to start off with, which is a 20 gauge.
As for other piercings, for the most part, you will find that they are pierced with 14-gauge piercings. Cartilage, nose, septum, navel, etc, are all typically pierced at a 14 gauge.
Common gauge sizes are named in even numbers down to 00, with the size of the gauge increasing as the number decreases. For example, a 10-gauge piercing is smaller than a 2-gauge piercing. For sizes larger than 00, the gauges are represented by fractions.
Ear Gauge Size Chart
Will They Shrink Back?
When stretching a piercing, the odds are not in your favor that it will shrink back to normal size. So, when you decide to stretch, be sure that you are prepared to handle a permanent stretch.
But, it is not impossible for a stretched piercing to return to a normal size. It will depend on a few factors:
- Size of Stretch: The larger you go, the less likely it becomes that it will go back to its original size. Generally, 0 gauge has been called "the point of no return," meaning that once you have stretched that far, it's not going to go back. Over the point of no return, your ears can shrink, but they may not return to normal, just a smaller gauge.
- Length of Stretch Time: If your piercing has been stretched for a couple of years or more, it's pretty well set and probably isn't going to shrink back to a completely normal size. Shrinking to a smaller gauge is possible, though.
- How It Was Stretched: If the piercing was stretched too quickly, especially if there was resulting scar tissue, it probably won't revert very easily. If it was done with a scalpel or dermal punch, it definitely won't shrink.
But, as everyone's body is different, the amount of shrinkage will depend on you. Just make sure that you make every stretch as though it will be permanent.
Tools to Stretch a Piercing
There are several different methods that you can use to stretch a piercing.
- Tapering: This is the most common and safest method of stretching most soft tissue piercings, such as ear lobes. A tapered, surgical stainless steel rod is inserted into the piercing. The smaller end of the rod goes in first and the hole is slowly stretched as the wider end of the rod is gently pushed through the hole. Larger gauge jewelry is then inserted behind the taper to keep the hole at its new size.
- Weights: This is not a recommended method, as it doesn't stretch the piercing evenly and can thin the skin around the piercing, causing drooping and sagging. The weights apply pressure to the piercing to help weigh down the hole; you can use heavy steel jewelry as a weight. Just make sure that you only wear the weights for short periods of time, if at all.
- Dermal Punch: This method cuts away a section of flesh by "punching" a hole through it. The dermal punch method is as traumatic to the skin as it sounds, but it is sometimes preferred over tapering for stretching cartilage piercings, as cartilage has less blood flow and can be damaged under the pressure of tapered stretching. The dermal punch can also be used to stretch several gauges at once, but it is still only recommended for cartilage, not soft tissue. Just make sure that you know that the guy who's doing your dermal punch knows what he's doing.
- Tapered Claws and Talons: This method uses pinchers or similar body jewelry to slowly push through the piercing until it is at its thickest point, which, depending on the jewelry, is either at the middle or end. This method allows you to push the jewelry through as you see fit, allowing yourself healing time. (This is my personal favorite method, as it is the easiest and least painful.)
- Scalpeling: Scalpeling is a more extreme, almost surgical, technique. A sharp blade is used to cut away enough flesh to allow for larger gauge jewelry. Sometimes the blade is heated enough to cauterize the skin as it cuts, and then the jewelry is inserted. This technique is prone to infection and generally requires a long healing process.
- Taping: Once a piercing has already reached a large size, taping is the most common method to continue stretching. A plug or tunnel is wrapped with a layer of tape in order to increase the diameter of the jewelry, which is then inserted back into the hole. This is repeated (after each stretch has healed) until the desired size is reached.
Dermal PunchClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tips for Stretching Your Ears
It's important that you change your gauge gradually, allowing plenty of healing time between sizes, because if you move too fast, you might damage your skin enough to create scar tissue. Scars make your ear look as if it is cracking around the hole and also make it very difficult to change gauges, whether up or down.
Use stainless steel jewelry for initial stretching because steel is not porous, so it will not absorb bacteria. Also, steel is heavy, and the weight will help the stretching process, ever so slightly. You do not want to use acrylic or wood jewelry to stretch you ears because they are porous; save them for when your piercing has healed.
Note: You never want to use acrylic, silicone, bone, stone, wood, or any other material that's not steel or titanium to stretch a piercing.
As everyone is different. You will need to listen to your own body while you are in the process of stretching your piercings. Don't stretch to a larger size until you are comfortable doing so.
You will want to buy jewelry that is the next size up to your current gauge; if your piercing is a 16 gauge, then purchase 14-gauge jewelry. You do not want to skip gauges because then you will risk complications.
Usually, the longer you keep the old gauge, the easier it will be to insert the new, larger jewelry.
Do consider that smaller gauges tend to be easier to pop right through than larger gauges, especially if you have the smaller gauge in your ear for a longer period of time. So your best bet for easier stretching is to wait longer in between stretches. The minimum time lapse in between should be no less than two weeks.
Stretching Your Ear Piercing
- Make sure that your hands, the piercing, and the jewelry are clean.
- Massage the earlobe for a few minutes.
- Insert the larger piece of jewelry into the piercing. Depending on the size of the new gauge, it may not slide right in, so gently push the jewelry through. You may have to use some kind of lubricant (water-based) to help the jewelry through.
Do not force the jewelry in as you can cause tears and bleeding. If you have problems inserting the new jewelry, even with a lubricant, give the piercing a rest and try again later or the following day.
Another option you can try, is to stretch your ears in the shower. The warm water will loosen the piercing, making it a little easier to slide the new jewelry carefully through the hole.
Expect some soreness as your lobes heal and adjust to the new hole size.
Stretched Ear Aftercare
Healing a newly stretched piercing is going to be similar to healing a brand new one. It's very important to keep the piercing clean and allow it the opportunity to breathe.
Sea salt or saline soaks are important in keeping an infection from developing. The soaks will also soothe the soreness of the piercing.
Do not use alcohol or ointments on a newly stretched and healing piercing.
Complications While Stretching Your Ears
Bleeding and soreness are common but can continue longer than necessary if you stretch too fast.
Blow-outs can occur if you stretch too early and too quickly before the piercing has the proper time to heal. A blowout occurs when the skin tunnel is forced out of the back of the piercng, which results in an extra "lip," or skin tissue around the edge. The lip of skin will continue to grow with further stretching. You need to downsizethe gauge if this occurs; some people have to have it removed if they insist on stretching further.
Tearing can occur when you stretch too fast too soon. This particular complication will not heal itself, and the ear lobe will remain with a large split or opening. You may want to inquire about plastic surgery to correct ear tearing. If your piercing tears, it's not recommended to continue stretching after you consult assistance of a doctor.
Infections can develop if the piercing is not cleaned regularly/properly, or if you use improper jewelry.
Pictures of Stretched PiercingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.