Throughout history stretched piercings have been incredibly prevalent in tribal cultures for a multitude of reasons (see our history of body piercing blog post!). Although most commonly seen in lobes, gauge jewellery has also been traditionally worn in the form of lip plates, cartilage piercings and nose jewellery.
A question we are frequently asked in our shops is how to stretch ear piercings safely and which materials are best to use. The truth is that this answer will vary person to person; some people find stretching easier than others and different materials more comfortable. Taking that into account we do have recommendations and guidelines based on both personal and professional experience.
HOW TO STRETCH:
The safest and easiest ways to start stretching are either tapering or dead stretching. Tapers can be conical expanders, a hook or a spiral shape. They usually enable stretches of 1-2mm by having a gradual change in gauge the further you push the taper into your ear. These can be decorative pieces worn as jewellery or just used as expanders to put a plug straight in afterwards. Dead stretching is the process of putting a larger piece of jewellery into the piercing; this is only advisable if it fits in without pressure otherwise you risk a blowout. This method works better when you have been at the previous size for a while and the piercing has loosened up. When doing any of these methods it is best to stretch after a hot shower or bath as your skin loosens up and has more elasticity, you should also use a natural oil or balm (such as coconut oil) as a lubricant to help the thicker jewellery be put in with ease. When done correctly there should be no discomfort when stretching, it is important to listen to your body and not rush it otherwise you may risk permanent damage and scarring.
Ear weights are not recommended for stretching as they can disfigure the piercing if worn for long periods of time.
If done too hastily or using the wrong materials, stretching can lead to blowouts, tears and infections. A blowout is when the skin is forced out of the back of the piercing, resulting in a significant amount of scar tissue and disfigurement in the piercing which is usually only reversed through a small surgical procedure. If the lobe is torn during stretching and you are wearing a porous material such as wood or acrylics, you risk your ear healing into the material and becoming stuck. There is also a danger of infection (as with any open wound) and this can become trapped in the ear and spread internally if the jewellery doesn’t allow the ear to breathe, something that happens with unnatural and sticky materials such as silicone.
Stretching your ears should only feel like a warm tight sensation, please do not force jewellery through and if you feel pain, stop and wait. Everyone takes different amounts of time to heal.
It is advisable not to use silicones or acrylics unless the piercing is fully healed, as they can be responsible for infections, bad odours and discomfort. Like synthetic materials, you are more likely to develop a smell from wearing metal plugs for extended periods of time. This can be avoided by taking out your jewellery in the shower and washing it - as well your lobes. Metals have a much less porous surface than organics and are advisable for healing stretched lobes.
Organic materials such as bone, horn, woods and stones are often the most comfortable as they allow your ears to breathe due to their porous surfaces, this also usually eliminates any smells. Organics tend to be a preference for most people for long term wear.
Plugs and tunnels have different options for flares. There is single or double flare. Single flared plugs have one end that is a larger gauge and the rest of the piece stays at a constant (a mushroom shape!), this is recommended for newly stretched ears that don’t have the flexibility to put in a double flared piece of jewellery. Double flare usually is one to two millimetres larger at both ends so that the plug is held in place and doesn’t fall out, the smallest diameter will be the size of your ear. When putting in a piece of double flared jewellery it is easiest to do so after a hot shower, it shouldn’t require force and is only appropriate if your piercing has been at that size for long enough to feel fully healed and no longer tight.