Ear Stretching Guide
Updated: May 9, 2020
Stretching piercings, earlobes in particular, has been a popular modification for centuries, but particularly in recent times it has taken off! 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 myself 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 (or whichever!) well, and you will have happy, healthy, stretched piercings in no time!
The first thing is the jewelry you wear. Quality jewelry is very important for stretched piercings, and for allowing for a smoother and healthier stretching journey! Safe materials are as follows-
Steel that is ASTM F138 compliant or
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 I 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!
The second thing is your time frame between stretches. 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, 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! 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 the best 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. Warm water and a mild soap should be plenty for all glass, stone, and metal jewelry. Oils as recommended by the maker are best for wood, horn, and bone. At small sizes, plugs may not have enough weight to encourage stretching or just may not be easily accessible. Implant grade captive bead rings are great, affordable choices from 18g-8g.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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 tribal 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.