Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Congratulations on starting your stretching journey. In short, if you are stretching your ears, the best and safest method is natural stretching! This guide is here to help you with stretching safely and properly. Most of these instructions and timeframes will apply to earlobes, other piercings may take a bit longer or require different advice. This information comes from years of experience in stretching, gathered both by us and the piercing community at large!
Stretching a piercing, sometimes called “gauging”, is the process of slowly enlarging the channel of the piercing to accommodate larger jewelry. People stretch everything from earlobes, to lips, to navels! As long as you go slowly, and practice safe stretching, most piercings can be enlarged in this manner. It’s important to pay attention to your body, as the stretching process is often unnecessarily traumatic for some. Listen to yourself, go slow, and treat your ears well, and you will have happy, healthy, stretched piercings in no time!
If you are looking to start stretching I strongly suggest single flare glass plugs. I am excited to offer a discount code with Glasswear Studios ! You can use code "LYNN" for 20% off your first purchase! Glasswear makes some of my favorite single flare plugs for stretching and fancy designs, and I personally used many of their plugs when I stretched my ears!
Natural stretching is the best and safest method for stretching your ears. But what do we mean when we say natural stretching? Well, it means that your body is naturally going to stretch and enlarge the channel of your piercing. You don’t need to do anything, or use any tools to assist in this process. This may sound unbelievable, but we promise, it works!
In fact, it works so well that calling this ear stretching is a bit of a misnomer. It would be more accurate to call it ear loosening. When we have an earlobe piercing, its a tube of scar tissue that has healed around some jewelry. When its first healed, that scar tissue is dense and not flexible. Over time, that tissue matures and becomes soft and flexible. Consider a scar you get on your leg or arm. When it first heals, it’s dark and tough. Over time it flattens out, becomes softer, changes color to closer to your skin tone, and becomes more flexible. The same concept happens inside your piercings. And as that skin becomes flexible and pliable, there is room in that channel. You can easily fit something very slight larger. That fits tightly. Then over time the tissue adjusts to that new size and begins to relax and loosen again. You can now insert another slightly larger piece. And the same thing happens- the tissue relaxes and becomes loose over time!
The time frame between stretches is crucial to this form of stretching. 6-12 weeks is the minimum time you want to wait between sizes, but you may find that occasionally your ears need even more time. To understand why, we look to the science of how stretching a piercing actually works. When you stretch any piercing it’s important to remember you are stretching not just the fistula or interior tissue of the piercing, but also stretching and displacing the lower layers of skin as well. Our skin or epidermis is made of 5 distinct layers. Most important to stretching is actually the 5th and final layer, the Stratum Basale. This layer of skin is where cells divide and reproduce, and newly formed cells fill the upper layers of skin. This layer provides the body with all it’s new skin cells, which means it also determines the amount of skin for stretching! For stretching, this means the Stratum Basale produces more skin cells to fill the gaps. This is why your body can naturally loosen over time to accommodate larger jewelry. 3 months allows the collagen, which is what makes our skin elastic, time to regenerate and rebuild from your first stretch, as well as lipids time to fill in the gaps and allow tissue to relax. This helps keep your ear nice and stretchy and prevents scar tissue. The important thing is to listen to your body. If there is and pain, discomfort, or bleeding, it is too soon! Take your time and wait before trying to size up again.
Natural stretching is all you need. After those 6-12 weeks or longer, your next 1mm size plug should side right in with no resistance or pain. The piercing naturally loosens up over time, and the next size slips right in. No tapers, no tape, just your body being pretty amazing, and doing it’s own thing! Now that being said just pushing in plugs dry is not going to work. Lubrication is essental for stretching. Any water based personal lubricant, surgical lubricant, or light weight oil like jojoba oil can be used when stretching.
Most folks find natural stretching easiest after a hot shower, when their skin is soft and elastic. Take a small amount of lubrication and massage it into your ears. Put a little on the back of your plug, and gently insert it into the ear. If you feel pain, that is a sign it may be too soon. The plug should slide in easily with only minimal resistance. Pop an o ring on the back and you are good to go!
What Jewelry works for Natural Stretching?
Quality jewelry is very important for stretched piercings, and for allowing for a smoother and healthier stretching journey! Safe materials for a fresh stretch are as follows from the Association of Professional Piercers-
Steel that is ISO 10993-6, 10993-10, and/or 10993-11 compliant (EEC Nickel Directive compliant (Note: EEC compliance alone is not acceptable))
Titanium that is ASTM F67 compliant
Solid 14 karat or higher nickel-free white, rose, or yellow gold
Solid nickel-free platinum alloy
Fused quartz glass, lead-free borosilicate or lead-free soda-lime glass
Low Porosity Stones such as Amethyst, Agate, Quartz, Onyx, and properly finished Jade, Tigers Eye, and Howlite.
When we say fresh stretch we mean the first month after going up a size. The reason being is that even with perfect stretching methods occasionally very very small microtears can still form, and you want to make sure we are wearing a non-porous material that won’t prevent the healing of these small wounds. Once a stretch is ‘healed’ you can start wearing a larger variety of stone, wood, bone, horn, and implant grade silicone. Never acrylic, which is always harmful no matter what piercing you are wearing it in. All jewelry for fresh stretches should be single flare, never stretch with double flare jewelry!
Here we are a little biased, and we love single flare glass for stretching. It’s more affordable than implant grade metal or stone jewelry. I personally suggest Glasswear Studios single flare glass plugs! They are affordable, comfortable, high quality, and ethically made. And all of their single flare glass is made with a gently rounded back to make insertion while stretching easier. And with glass, there’s a ton of fun and cool colors to choose from so things can still be exciting while you stretch!
Along side quality jewelry, sizing of your jewelry is very important when stretching.
For many years people have used the gauge system to stretch their ears. The gauge system comes from the American Wire Gauge system, also known as Brown & Sharpe wire gauge. It’s a logarithmic stepped system for measuring wire gauge. Specifically round, solid non ferrous wire, often used for electrical wiring. This system is also used for jewelry wire, since there is much cross over. We have this system because when piercing was starting out, most piercers made their own jewelry in house. So piercers purchased wire from jewelry supplies, and since it came in gauge, we used that as our primary unit of measurement. It was convenient!
Just because something is easy or convenient however, doesn’t make it good, or the best thing possible. As gauge measurements get up, the sizing begins to skip around. Remember, this is a system from the 1800’s for measuring wires for electrical wiring. Never once did anyone design this with body jewelry or ear stretching in mind. So measurements skip all over. It doesn’t go in single millimeter increments because we don’t need wires in every millimeter increment when we are talking wiring. This is unfortunate because lobes should be stretched in 1mm increments max, and some peoples ears even need half sizes and smaller jumps.
For example, 7/16 is 11mm. 1/2 is 12.5mm. 9/16 is 14mm. And 5/8 is 16mm. And sometimes we can’t even agree on a size- some companies make 00g as 9mm and some make it as 10mm. And there’s no real consistency. This is not only confusing and inaccurate, but it ends up hurting clients. You think you are doing the right thing going from 0g to 00g, but you accidentally go 2mm larger and blow out because the stretch is too much for your skin to handle. Skin is elastic, but only to a point. When you are stretching, you want to go in 1mm increments. So you’ll start usually around 1mm. Smaller sizes go a bit more slowly- 1.2mm, 1.6mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm, 7mm, 8mm, so on and so forth! Glasswear studios and many other companies even offer custom in-between sizes if you need them!
There are of course things we can to to help this process out, the biggest being regular massage. When your piercing is relaxed enough from a recent stretch to remove jewelry for a few minutes at a time, it’s beneficial to do exactly that, and give your ears a short massage. The warmth and pressure from your hands encourages blood flow to the area which helps the healing process, and also regrowing the fibrous tissue which keeps your ear elastic. Most clients prefer to massage their lobes with a product, both for general health and to make the process more comfortable. Holey Buttr is a great product for this, and a small tin lasts forever! It’s packed with essential oils to help with skin health, and has been a popular product in this industry for years. Jojoba oil is also a great product, as it has the secondary use of being awesome for maintaining your wood jewelry (wood plugs and tunnels should be oiled every 1-3 months lightly with a dry cloth. Jojoba oil is great oil for this.) Vitamin E, coconut oil, and other natural oils are also alright, but avoid anything you may be allergic to, or anything that is clogging your pores. Less is more, and it’s the physical act of massaging, not the oil, that is the most beneficial part of a massage.
It’s important to keep up daily hygiene with stretched ears as well. Always remove jewelry to wash both the lobe and the plugs every day or every other day. Warm water and a mild soap should be plenty for all glass jewelry, and you can read more about cleaning and maintaining your plugs from us here.
Large Gauge Initial Piercing
For those who are positive they want to stretch, large gauge initial piercing is also a choice. A piercer skilled in large initial work can pierce you as large as a 2g, depending on your anatomy, any previous piercings, and any scarring you have. This will allow you to go straight to larger sizes, and skip the sometimes tricky small sizes in stretching. Piercing large takes on average 3-5 months to fully heal, and another 3-5 beyond that before it is safe to stretch further. Discuss this with your piercer, and go in for a consult to see which choice is best for you. Our glass plugs are safe for fresh large gauge piercings and are a great way to jumpstart this process!
What about Tapers?
A common mistake is the use of tapers to stretch. Tapers are not tools for stretching, rather they were designed to assist piercers in inserting jewelry. You should not need as taper to stretch with. Most tapers available on the market to clients have a very sharp transition between sizes, leading to tearing, blowouts, and scar tissue. Often when folks use tapers they end up forcing a stretch before it is ready, or using tapers to skip sizes. But as we know, we don’t need to do any of that. We can be patient and move slowly, and our ears will simply be ready for the next size! It’s tempting to use tapers to rush stretching, but many folks who have now lament having blow outs, scar tissue, or thin spots on their ears that have permanently effected their ability to stretch. You only get one set of lobes and its important to treat them well and keep them healthy.
Tapers should also never be worn as jewelry, as the weight from them often causes thin spots along the lobe. Those thin spots can later cause ears to quite easily tear. You can learn more about tapers here.
What about Tape?
Another misconception is the use of tape. Some sources recommend wrapping layers of tape around a plug to slowly increase size. This is not only unnecessary, but dangerous. There is no documentation of any tape safe to be worn inside the human body, and often tape can collect dead skin and oils, and generally get rather gross. When wrapping tape there is no way to ensure the exact thickness of each layer, so it’s possible to over wrap and skip sizes, causing tears and blowouts. It’s also possible to overwrap just some sections, causing tears and thin spots in that location.
How exactly do I start from standard earrings?
Most standard earrings are 20-18g or around 1mm. Since many folks have had their ears pierced for many years, often a 1.2mm or 1.6mm piece fits right in. These are 16 and 14g. Captive bead rings are great at first, because they have a little more weight and heft to them and can assist with loosening your lobes. After that, you’d get the next 1mm increment which would be 2mm or 12g. We sell those here. From there, you’d get 2.5mm or 10g. And between each stretch you’d wait 6-12 weeks, sometimes longer. You’ll clean your ears regularly with mild soap and warm water, and massage your ears with an oil or balm as you have time. With patience the next size just slips right in! Sometimes you have to wait extra time between stretches, and that’s perfectly ok and normal.
Glasswear studios also offers stretching kits you can purchase here, if you want to grab a run of plugs in a variety of sizes at a discount to get started on your stretching journey.
Overall the best possible thing for stretching your ears is time! Don’t be afraid to take your time, wait at certain sizes, and just enjoy the process. Stretching any piercing is about the journey, not the destination.
Stretching has been around longer than you may realize- since very early recorded human history in fact. The meaning behind it will have you appreciating your ears in no time. Taking your time with stretching and listening to your body is not just what’s healthy for your body, it’s respecting your body. Essentially listening to when your body is ready to stretch takes on a deeper meaning and you utilize stretching to connect with your body. Each stretch is a right of passage into a new stage of our life or being able to appreciate a bigger awareness. Gaining knowledge by opening your ears and closing your mouth is how some cultures viewed who was gaining wisdom in their community. The wisest person had the largest and healthiest ears. Stretching too quickly will harm your ears and show you are impatient and uneducated- unwilling to take your time and appreciate the journey. Going slowly, and learning patience and respect for your body is an important tenant of stretching, and shows your wisdom and respect for not only the path stretching will take you, but the other paths you will walk in life. Ear stretching has been practiced cross culturally, by indigenous peoples in north america, Egyptian pharos, European pagans and early christians, and Siberian nomads. The oldest mummy on earth has 8mm or 0g lobe piercings. And now, you are continuing on this beautiful human tradition. Enjoy this journey, and happy stretching!