How To Gauge Your Ears: A Guide To Ear Stretching
Ear stretching (or ear gauging) is the process people use to get piercings that are thicker than the standard ear piercings. They vary in width, but they can be anywhere from the thickness of a chopstick to that of a finger – or even far bigger in some cases.
Getting this look is simpler and safer than many people realize. If you’re thinking of stretching your ears, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know.
What Is Ear Stretching?
Ear stretching, to put it as simply as possible, means gradually expanding the hole created by an earlobe piercing.
The lobe can eventually be stretched well beyond its initial size. While an earlobe piercing is just a pinhole, big enough to fit the ear jewelry, a stretched ear piercing can be large enough to easily fit a finger through it.
Those who practice ear gauging generally only stretch an ear that has already been pierced and healed completely.
While it’s been practiced for thousands of years by tribal cultures, often as a traditional rite of passage. Ear stretching has recently grown in popularity in Western cultures, both with avid body modifiers and those who don’t wish to have any piercings beyond their ears.
Just how wide the ears are stretched is a matter of personal choice and preference. Stretching equipment measures the width in gauges (G) and millimeters (mm). The higher the gauge number, the smaller the width (a standard earlobe piercing is around 20 G or 18 G).
While ear stretching is becoming more mainstream, most people still only do relatively moderate stretching, often up to 10 G, which is equal to 2.4 mm (or roughly 3/32 of an inch).
Those who are more ambitious will often opt to stretch to a width of 00 G, or 10 mm (about 3/8 of an inch).
Although 00 G is the highest gauge number, it’s not the limit for ear stretching width. Beyond 00 G, the gauge rating is simply abandoned in favor of more conventional measurements (usually in inches).
Can Everybody Have Their Ears Stretched?
The only real precondition for ear stretching is having your earlobes pierced and having them heal completely.
That means just about anybody can get their ears stretched. The only exception are those who, for whatever reason, cannot have their ears pierced in the first place.
If you’re too susceptible to infection or haven’t been able to find any ear jewelry that doesn’t give you a reaction, you won’t be able to get your ears gauged, since ear stretching is all based on that initial ear piercing.
While piercers can give you valuable advice, help you select the products you need, and sell you the equipment you’ll use to stretch your ears, they won’t actually do the stretching for you. Ear stretching is something that you do yourself (which makes sense, when you consider what a slow, long process it is).
As your piercer isn’t directly involved in the stretching, there is no age restriction on it. If you decide to do it (and your parents approve if you’re a minor), that’s all that matters.
You do need to get your ears pierced first, of course. Since most piercing shops will perform earlobe piercings on children of all ages, that’s not an obstacle to getting your ears stretched.
What Equipment Is Needed to Gauge Ears?
When you look at an ear that’s been stretched out to 00 gauge or beyond, it’s easy to imagine that making such a big hole might require a lot of wild equipment.
In fact, ear stretching is really simple and low-tech. You might end up needing a lot of individual pieces if you’re trying to move through a lot of gauges, but they’re all small and affordable.
Here’s everything you’ll need to buy if you want to stretch your ears.
Tapers are thin cones that look a bit like spikes (though some models are in a spiral shape). The taper is what will do the actual stretching. The smaller end is inserted into the piercing and it is very gradually worked through until the hole is stretched to the size of the large end of the taper.
Tapers also have a raised ridge at the large end to prevent the taper from being pushed through too far.
There are three types of taper that you can choose from:
Acrylic – These are the most affordable tapers and, consequently, the ones that most people buy. They’re not the easiest to work through, however, so they’re not the ideal choice if you can comfortably afford something better.
Steel – A little more expensive than the acrylic ones, but steel tapers will go through more easily and make for a more effective and efficient stretch. They can also be sterilized, which is another advantage over acrylic tapers.
Concave Steel – These are essentially the same as steel tapers with one important difference: the back is concave (indented) instead of flat. That sounds like a small detail, but it makes a big difference when it’s time to remove the taper and replace it with a plug. The plug can be placed in the recessed area and eased through very easily.
How many tapers you’ll need really depends on how much stretching you want to do. If you just want to move from, say, a 16 G to a 14 G piercing (in other words, moving one size up), you’ll only need one taper to get the job done. Yet. if you’re going for something more, like moving from 16 G to 8 G (four sizes up), then you’ll need to get a few (one for each gauge).
Lubricating the taper will make gauging the ear a lot easier.
There are commercial products available that are designed specifically for ear stretching. These lubricants often have key essential oils or other ingredients that can help speed along the healing process.
If you want to avoid buying one of these commercial lubricants, you can always use a safe and simple alternative like coconut oil. Don’t try to get creative and use just any slick liquid or gel, since you’ll want to make sure you’re not using something that could irritate your piercing.
The taper does the work of stretching out the ear, but it’s not meant to be worn long-term. Once you’re done stretching, you’ll need a plug of the right gauge that you can insert in your piercing so that it can heal without closing.
Like tapers, the plugs are available in different materials:
Acrylic – Like they are with tapers, these are the most affordable option and widely favored as a result.
Steel – Generally a better option than acrylics, but more expensive as well.
Titanium – Similar to steel but lightweight and can reduce the likelihood of irritation for people with sensitive skin.
Silicone – A good material to avoid any adverse reactions, but silicone plugs get dirty more easily than the alternatives and need to be cleaned more often.
Organic – This is a general category that encompasses plugs made of materials such as wood, stone, and glass.
You will also need to make sure you have single flare plugs. Single flare plugs have a lip on only one end to make it easier to insert the plug after stretching. The lipless side is then kept in place with a rubber ring.
Double flare plugs have the lip on both ends and are harder to insert. They need to be pushed through a bit, which is why it is advisable not to use them until the piercing has completely healed to avoid the risk of tearing.
Tape is not an essential item for most people who want to stretch their ears. What the tape does is allow you to take a high gauge plug and add just a bit of width to it by wrapping the tape around it. By increasing the thickness by adding tape over time, you’ll be able to stretch your ears beyond the size of the plug.
Taping the plugs is not as effective or convenient as using a taper, and it’s really only used by people who want to go beyond standard gauge widths (in other words, when you can no longer find a taper thick enough to continue stretching your piercing). For most people, sticking to the tapers will be sufficient.
If you do use tape, you’ll need to use that one fits snugly around the plug and applies smoothly. Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) tape is often recommended. If you’ve ever replaced pipes or plumbing fixtures, that’s the kind of tape you used to seal the threads on them. It’s thin and narrow, which makes easy to wrap around your plugs and get the width you desire.
Bondage tape (yes, that kind of bondage) is another popular choice for ear stretching. Like PTFE tape, it’s thin and self-adhering (sticks to itself instead of relying on a sticky side).
Ear Stretching: A Step-by-Step Guide
Stretching the ear isn’t too complicated. We’ll run through the six steps you’ll need to take so that you can be confident you’re doing it right.
Step One: Make sure your piercing is completely healed before proceeding with the stretching.
Step Two: Take a hot shower or massage the ear lobe. This will loosen up the skin and make it easier to stretch.
Step Three: Wash your hands and make sure the equipment you’ll be using is clean as well.
Step Four: Lubricate the taper and your ear. Or, if you’re going for an even bigger piercing, apply the tape to the plug.
Step Five: Insert the taper carefully and start gently pushing it through. While this step can involve some discomfort, it should not involve any pain. If you experience any pain, don’t keep going. Stop, and only resume at the next session. (If the pain persists, consult your piercer or see a doctor).
Step Six: Align the plug to the back of the taper and ease it through so that the plug will be in place when the taper comes out.
How Long Should You Wait Between Ear Stretches?
It’s normal to get a bit impatient when you’re stretching your ears. You’ve probably got your heart set on a certain gauge and you might have even bought the jewelry for it already, so you’re eager to get there. Nevertheless, it’s important to wait and take your time.
Stretching too quickly doesn’t give your earlobes enough time to properly heal. Not only could that lead to tearing and other complications (including infections), it can also prevent your earlobe from closing back up if you ever want it to in the future.
So just how long should you wait?
Every piercer has their own recommendations, and they range from weeks to months. Many will advise you to wait at least six weeks, but treat this as a bare minimum. If you can wait longer, you’ll improve your odds of stretching safely and effectively.
It’s best if you can wait a few months – even six months if you have the patience for it.
Ear Stretching Aftercare Requirements
While stretching your ears, you’ll need to follow an aftercare routine. It’s a simple process but each step must be done more than once a day.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to keep your stretched piercing clean and prevent any complications:
Wash the stretched piercing twice a day. Use a glycerin-based soap with no harsh additives.
Soak the piercing twice a day. Use a warm saline solution (about ¼ teaspoon of sea salt mixed into one cup of water) and soak your earlobes for about five minutes each session. Special aftercare sprays can also be bought for this purpose.
The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.
Massage the piercing gently after each soak to prevent the formation of scar tissue. Use an appropriate oil, such as jojoba oil or vitamin E oil. If you don’t have oil on hand, don’t skip the massaging; it’s an important step even if you do it dry.
You’ll have to take a different approach if you tried to stretch too quickly and it caused some tearing. In that case, treat your stretched piercing the way you would any new earlobe piercing and following the aftercare routine you used when you got your ears pierced.
What Types of Ear Stretching Jewelry Is There?
Whether you’re in the process of stretching your ears or you’ve already achieved the gauge you were hoping to get, you’ll need to select some jewelry to wear in it.
Jewelry for stretched ears comes in two broad varieties: plugs and tunnels. Both are cylindrical shaped and sit in the stretched piercing, but the difference is that the plug is a solid piece of jewelry, while the tunnel is more like a hollow ring that you can look through.
Beyond that broad distinction, there are four types of plugs and tunnels you can get:
Screw Fit: These plugs and tunnels come in two pieces instead of one. Like the name implies, they screw together, so you simply have to insert one piece into your piercing, and then screw the other piece into the first one.
O-Rings: Plugs and earrings with O-rings are inserted into the piercing and then kept in place by sliding a small rubber ring (O-ring) at each end.
Single Flared: The flare on the plug or tunnel refers to a raised lip that prevents the plug or tunnel from sliding through the piercing. With a single flare, the end without a lip is inserted into the piercing and then held in place with an O-ring.
Double Flared: These plugs and tunnels have lips on both ends. That means you don’t have to use an O-ring to keep them in place, but they are more difficult to insert. As they need to be worked in, they can only be used with piercings that have healed completely.
Will Stretched Ears Ever Return Back to Their Normal Size?
This is the million-dollar question for a lot of people. If you eventually decide to go to law school or worry that you’ll outgrow your current look, will you ever be able to let your piercing heal closed and return to its original size?
It depends. Everyone’s skin is a bit different, and how well it heals and rebounds depends on the person. How carefully the ears were stretched matters, too. Ears that were stretched too quickly will have a harder time healing closed and may never return to their original size.
Stretching Beyond the Limit
Even if you do everything properly and carefully, there’s still a point at which your earlobe piercing can no longer close on their own. What that point is will be different for everyone, and the further you get from a standard ear piercing gauge, the more likely you are to reach this point of no return.
Many piercers will advise their customers not to stretch past 2 G if they hope to one day allow their piercing to heal closed. Once you leave the standard gauge sizes (that is, when you stretch your ear beyond 00 G), your odds of returning to pre-stretched size are getting slim.
However, most people don’t ever stretch to that point. The modest stretching that people tend to prefer can usually close back up on its own.
If your ears were stretched too far or too quickly and they are no longer able to close on their own, there is one more option. Plastic surgeons can perform reconstructive procedures that will close the piercing and restore the earlobe to its original size. Surgery can also be considered in the case of an ear lobe injury while stretching.
The procedure is quick, but it can be costly. There are a few different methods, but they primarily involve suturing the piercing and cutting off any excess skin.
Ear Stretching Risks and Considerations
Before you start stretching your ears, there are a few things that are important to keep in mind.
Stretching too Quickly
If you stretch a standard earlobe piercing only by a few gauges, it can gradually shrink down and heal naturally. Although, if you stretch it out too quickly, it may tear and no longer be able to close. At that point, the only hope for restoring your ear to something of its original state, is to get reconstructive surgery.
Blowouts are another risk of stretching too quickly.
When you stretch an ear before it’s ready to go to a certain size, you could end up with some skin hanging from the piercing. Blowouts look like a ring of skin around the edge of the piercing, and it’s often red and irritated.
There are ways to heal a blowout, but it’s best to avoid them altogether by using a proper and slow stretching technique.
Ear gauging can look cool – but it doesn’t always smell great.
One thing you need to know before going into this is that ear stretching results in lots of dead skin cells amassing. Your body sheds dead skin cells, but your taper will hold them in. The result is a bad smell that you (and those around you) might have to put up with while you’re in the process of stretching.
The smell isn’t a symptom of something more serious. It doesn’t signal an infection, injury, or anything gone wrong. Though it is something you should be aware of before starting the process, especially if you’re self-conscious about these sorts of things.
Tapers and jewelry are sized by gauges, but just relying on that number can be misleading.
For one thing, there is no exact, standardized measurement for gauges, which means that different brands might have slightly different widths listed as the same gauge.
You also have to be mindful of the fact that one gauge unit is not always the same size as another. There’s a two gauge difference between 8 G and 6 G, which have one millimeter between them. There’s also a two gauge difference between 2 G and 0 G, but the difference between those is twice as large (two millimeters).
It’s important to know that and take it more slowly when stretching between two gauges that are further apart.
To avoid any of these issues, always double-check the millimeter measurements for the tapers and jewelry. They’ll give you a more accurate idea of what you’re dealing with.
We might come to a day when ear gauging is considered ordinary and widely accepted. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.
Some people still find stretched ears off-putting and others see them as unprofessional. When it’s just personal preference or a matter of taste, that’s not much of an issue. Still, problems can arise when dealing with potential employers or clients.
Depending on the line of work you want to go into, stretching your ears beyond a certain point might make it harder for you to land a job or convince a client to work with you. It’s hardly fair, but it’s a reality that you need to be aware of when you decide how far you want to stretch your ears.
Getting Pierced with a Larger Gauge
Some people decide to fast-track the stretching process by simply getting pierced with a higher gauge needle. In other words, instead of getting a 20 G or 18 G ear piercing and stretching it out, they start with something like a 14 G or even 10 G and either leave it at that or work their way from there.
On the contrary, it’s always safer to start small and stretch gradually.
Ear scalpelling is another shortcut to stretched ears. As you can guess by the name, it means slicing into the earlobe to the desired size.
It’s definitely faster than stretching, but there are a lot of reasons to avoid this option. Not only will it be far more painful and costly, but you have little chance of your earlobes healing closed.
Ear gauging is growing more popular and becoming more accepted, so it’s something a lot more people are considering even if they’re not into other kinds of body modification.
What’s great about ear stretching is that it’s simple, affordable, and safe – but only if it’s done properly.
If you decide to stretch your ears, you need to be okay with doing it slowly. Any shortcut you try to take will likely result in some complications you wouldn’t want to have to deal with.
Nevertheless, if you follow the right procedure and are diligent with your aftercare routine, you can safely get the look you want.