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Size Matters: Gauge

Size Matters! At least, when it comes to piercings it does. Now, in piercing size could refer to a number of different things: The thickness of a piece of jewelry, aka the gauge, the length of straight or curved jewelry, or the diameter of round jewelry. For this article, we are focusing on gauge! How thick or thin a piece of jewelry is makes a huge difference! It can effect how well a piercing heals, jewelry choices that can be worn, and the over all look and fashion of a piercing.

Thicker is, in fact, better. I know, I can hear the sounds of a million hearts breaking, belonging to everyone who just loves a dainty, thin, itty bitty piece, and wants nothing but 20 and 22g jewelry. But hear me out. Thicker jewelry is more stable, and that allows for piercings to heal better. Now that doesn’t mean your jewelry needs to be gigantic! You can still have a piercing that’s stable at a relatively thin size- 18g is still very delicate and works perfectly for nostril and earlobe piercings. Now when it comes to cartilage- 16 and 14 are unquestionably going to be more stable and heal better. Not to mention these sizes support wearing larger, more decorative pieces. Yes, if you want a big decorative cluster or larger end, it’s going to need to be threaded, and might need 14g threading at minimum. Threads are more stable for larger designs, and make them more secure. At least for healing, getting pierced with a piece that’s a little thicker is definitely going to make your life easier. And if your heart is dead set on being pierced with a hoop, your jewelry will be thicker for stability. Now, what exactly makes thicker jewelry more stable? Imagine you have two heavy bags in front of you. One is a paper shopping bag with thin, tiny handles. The other is a tote bag with big, thick straps. That tote bag is going to be way more comfortable to carry around all day! The weight and pressure of the bag is distributed over a larger surface area with the thick straps, making it easier to carry! The same applies to your piercing. The larger gauge allows pressure to be distributed over a larger area, making the piercing heartier when it does get bumped, snagged, or slept on. It’s much stronger, and holds up better to those little accidents! Thicker pieces are also more resistant to migration, and when snagged they don’t tend to tear.

But what if I want something really thin once I’m healed? For the most part, you can just downsize to a thinner piece once healed! I still strongly suggest 18g as a minimum. I will occasionally install 20g jewelry only for nostrils and lobes, with clients understanding that that thin, they risk the jewelry snagging and tearing the piercing, which can leave serious scarring. Anywhere else however, 18g is the smallest you should wear. We aren’t perfect, and we will accidentally boop or bump our piercings even once healed, so you want to be wearing something stable.

There are some piercings where even thicker tends to be more stable. Tongue piercings, nipple piercings, and navel piercings all do really well at a 12g. The soft tissue combined with excess movement, means these benefit greatly from a slightly thicker size to start. No worries though- 14 and 12g are interchangeable thread patterns- meaning you can wear all your pretty and fun 14g jewelry with your 12g posts! I know those sizes sound intimidating, but they are worth it for a comfy, happy, easy healing piercing! Beyond that, most genital piercings are started at a 10-8g minimum. Because of the function of these piercings, they need to be durable enough, so thicker is definitely the way to go.

What if I want something thicker when I’m healed?

Sweet! Larger, chunky pieces are awesome! If that’s the case, you can stretch your piercing! If you are 100% on a larger piece, you can also see about being pierced at a thicker gauge initially as well. Check out my general stretching guide here, and stay tuned for piercing specific guides on septums, labrets, and more.

Doesn’t it hurt more to get pierced thicker? Not typically! We are talking fractions of a millimeter here between sizes. Thats a strand or two of human hair! Your body simply isn’t that good at telling those differences apart. If we were talking inches, sure, that would be a huge difference! But a fraction of a mm doesn’t really change what the piercing feel like- it’ll still be a quick pinch and then all over!

So why do they sell 22g and 24g jewelry? That’s easy- money. Plenty of companies don’t care that this jewelry is too thin, and can cause damage if worn for any length of time. They know people want dainty, and will buy it without knowing any better. They are just happy to make a profit. But that doesn’t make it right, or a safe idea to wear.

What if I have a few pieces I love, in different gauges?

This is not an uncommon problem for folks to encounter once they build a nice collection. You’ve got all these beautiful pieces, some threadless, some threaded, some 16g and some 14g. You come in with a plan to move them all around but wait! Some of your piercings aren’t the right size. Not the end of the world! Most piercings can easily make a small jump between 16 and 14, and you can swap back and forth between those two sizes with relative ease. Threadless jewelry also has universal posts, so if you never want to shrink your piercings you can get 14g threadless posts to wear. Some piercings have a harder time with this then others- daiths, rooks, industrials, and nostrils are a little less thrilled at popping between sizes. Lobes, helixes, conches, septums, lips swap sizes fairly easily, with just a little tenderness for a few days. I personally say buy whatever piece you love, and don’t be afraid of a small stretch or downsize to wear it!

Size makes a difference! I know everyone wants the thinnest, daintiest piece possible, but for your health and comfort healing, a little thicker is better to start. And who knows, you might fall in love with all the jewelry potential that bigger sizes have to offer!

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1 Comment

Sarah Malik
Sarah Malik
Oct 26, 2021

This was so incredibly helpful! Thank you so much! For me it felt more intuitive to change to a different gauge before the piercing was completely healed - "healed" seems synonymous with "finished" or "permanent" - but your explanation helps a lot and I'm happy that I can (and should) change my piercings now that they are healed :)

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