Ear stretching or gauging is fun and easy to do, and looks super cool. But you should consider a few things before you begin to stretch your lobes.
What to Know Before You Stretch
- Even if it seems harmless, ear stretching is body modification and should be treated with respect. Stretching too fast causes injury, and there’s a danger of infection if you wear the wrong jewelry.
- Whether a stretched lobe closes up again if you decide not to wear it any longer depends on how old and how big it is. Scar tissue, the result of stretching too fast, also prevents shrinkage.
- Even if it’s said that the point of no return is 00 gauge (see gauge conversion table below), this differs from person to person. The point of no return could be lower for you, which is why stretching is a pretty daring form of facial piercing. Be very sure you want to stretch and be patient while you do it.
- Stretching is only suitable for lobes. Cartilage has to be punched to accommodate plugs and can’t be reversed without plastic surgery. The same goes for lobes whether punched or scalpeled — that’s why stretching is best.
- Don’t start to stretch until your ears have been pierced for at least two months.
What to Use to Stretch Your Ears
The easiest and safest method is with a taper — these are also called extenders or stretchers. The larger the taper, the larger the piercing becomes.
Before you insert your taper, take a warm shower or bath. The heat softens the tissue to make it more pliable.
Ear Stretching with a Taper
Begin with a 14 or 16 gauge taper. Insert it into your piercing without force, and move it very, very slowly back and forth until the large end of the taper fits into your piercing.
Apart from a slightly uncomfortable tingling sensation, this shouldn’t hurt at all. If it does, the taper is too large and causing damage to your ear.
When the large end of your taper is flush with your lobe, you can insert your plug. Do not use a taper as jewelry, no matter how cool it looks.
How to Insert a Plug
Don’t use double flared plugs until at least a couple of weeks after a fresh stretch: dead skin cells and sebum trapped on the inside of your newly stretched piercing can cause infection.
To stretch further, increase by no more than one gauge size per month. This way, you won’t damage your ear.
Even after your stretching has healed, take the jewelry out at regular intervals to keep everything clean.
Ear Stretching with the ‘Tape Method’
Use the ‘tape method’ when your stretched piercings are too big for tapers. It’s done with PTFE tape wrapped around a plug. Add one layer of tape each time you stretch, but always wait a month before you add another layer.
Stretching too fast or forcing a plug that is too large can result in a ‘blow out’. The pressure of the too large jewelry causes the piercing to turn in on itself which can lead to a permanent and ugly deformation.
The only thing to do if this happens is go back to a lower gauge and hope damage is minimal.
The scar tissue a blow out leaves means the hole may never return to its regular size should you one day want it to, and further stretching can become more difficult. That’s why you should never stretch too fast.
Buy your stretching jewelry at a reputable piercing studio where you can seek further expert advice.