You probably consider factors like color, weight, and material when you’re shopping for new body jewelry, but do you know which gauge sizes work best for you?

Gauge size refers to the thickness of a piece of body jewelry. Choosing the right gauge size ensures that your body jewelry will fit comfortably into a body piercing.

Gauge sizes can be confusing at first, as a higher number indicates a smaller size. For example, the shaft of an 18 gauge piece of body jewelry is much thinner than that of a 4 gauge piece. Gauge sizes typically range from 20 to 00. When the gauge size of a piece of jewelry extends beyond 00, its measurement is expressed in millimeters or inches. The most common gauge size for body piercings, in general, is between 18 and 16.

Gauge ChartEar StretchingTapersPlugs and TunnelsSpirals and PinchersGauge Sizes in Other Body JewelryFAQs

Choosing a Gauge Size

Gauge size is a matter of preference. If your goal is to achieve a barely-there look with dainty earrings, you might choose a pair of 20 to 16 gauge or “standard-sized” studs. Most of the hoops, studs, and dangle earrings at your favorite place to buy jewelry (Spencer’s…duh) fall within the 20 to 16 gauge range.

Alternatively, if your goal is to stretch your earlobes, you will likely start with a 14 gauge piercing and work to gradually increase the size of your jewelry. Increasing the size of a piercing should be done carefully and hygienically in order to prevent skin tearing, infection, and, of course, pain.

The below gauge size chart provides a visual breakdown of gauge sizes and their measurements.

Gauge Size Conversion Chart

Gauge size chart

Ear Stretching

Ear stretching is a form of body modification that has Ancient Egyptian roots.  Today, it’s a method of self-expression that looks effortlessly cool. Like any body piercing or tattoo, ear stretching is a way of saying, “this body is mine, and I’ll customize it however I want.”

Patience is paramount in ear stretching, as excess pressure can cause permanent scarring. Before you begin the process of ear stretching, it’s important to allow your initial piercing to heal completely. Healing times are different for everyone, but many people wait about 6 months before attempting to stretch a new piercing.

We strongly suggest consulting with your professional piercer to develop a game plan for you to reach your specific ear stretching goals. Most commonly, however, people opt to wait at least 2-6 months between stretches. If you can swing it, wait longer! The longer you wait between gauge increases, the healthier your earlobes will be.

Safe ear stretching is slow and calculated. To avoid irreversible damage, it’s recommended that you increase by one gauge size at a time. For example, you may upgrade your 14 gauge jewelry to 12 gauge jewelry. You should always allow your ears to heal completely before jumping from one gauge size to the next.

Refer to gauge sizing charts and conversion charts before changing your jewelry. A gauge size that is too large may cause pain, and a gauge size that is too small may cause unwanted migration. Most professional piercers and jewelers will have gauge sizing charts available upon request.

Are you on the fence about stretching your earlobes? Take our fake plugs for a spin before you make a commitment to the stretching process! They create the illusion of stretched earlobes but generally fall within the “standard” 20 to 16 gauge range. Imagine that: all the visual appeal of steel plugs without the pain and waiting!

Always wash your hands and sanitize your jewelry before ear stretching sessions! To reduce pain and friction when inserting new jewelry, try massaging your earlobes with Pierced Nation Healing Jojoba Oil.

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Tapers

A taper is a cylinder-shaped tool that can be used to prepare a piercing to accommodate jewelry. Most tapers are made up of surgical steel or acrylic. Spencer’s offers a colossal assortment of tapers in a variety of colors, textures, and materials. While there are tons of styles to choose from, we recommend avoiding porous materials that may harbor bacteria.

The broadest side of a taper determines its gauge size. The smaller end of a taper is inserted into a piercing and slowly pushed through until the broad end fills the hole. At this point, jewelry such as a plug can be guided into the piercing.

Some tapers include small rings called “o-rings.” O-rings can be placed in front of and behind a piercing in order to hold the taper in place. This encourages slow and steady stretching; don’t be afraid to wait a few minutes before removing a taper and inserting new jewelry! Keep in mind, however, that tapers are not designed to be worn for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Tapers are often sold in packs called “ear taper kits” or “ear stretching kits.” These kits include multiple taper sizes, typically ranging from 20 gauge to 00 gauge. Our favorite kits include both tapers and plugs for a seamless transition from stretch to jewelry!

Plugs and Tunnels

Plugs do exactly what it sounds like they do: they plug holes! A plug is inserted into a piercing after it’s been stretched to its desired size. Like tapers, plugs are made up of non-porous materials such as surgical steel, acrylic, or glass.

Generally, plugs vary in size from 14 gauge to 00 gauge. They’re made in virtually every color imaginable; some plugs even glow in the dark! Stone plugs, wood plugs, steel plugs, and glass plugs are safe, eye-catching options that never seem to go out of style.

Plugs are offered in a variety of shapes or “closures.” A straight plug features a consistent gauge or thickness from end to end. Straight plugs typically include o-rings for the purpose of holding them in place.

Flared plugs feature a lip or flare at one or both ends. A “single flare” plug is flared at one end and usually includes an o-ring at the other. A “double flare” plug is flared at both ends, allowing it to stay in place without the use of an o-ring.

Saddle plugs are similar to double flare plugs in that both ends feature a larger gauge size than the wearable middle. However, saddle plugs often feature a smoother, more gradual curve than the abrupt lip of a double flare plug.

For those who love the look of double flare plugs but are not quite ready to insert them due to their intimidating gauge measurement, screw fit plugs are ideal. Screw fit plugs feature flared, threaded ends that can be twisted off and on for easy insertion. These threaded ends require a gentle touch! Applying excessive pressure when tightening a screw fit plug can cause jewelry to break.

Tunnels are similar in design to plugs with one major difference: they’re hollow in the middle. Tunnels provide a stunning visual effect, but that’s not the only reason why we love them. As a piece of jewelry approaches the larger end of the gauge spectrum, its weight increases. Because tunnels are hollow, they’re lighter and generally more comfortable to wear.

Spirals and Pinchers

Spirals are similar to tapers in that they gradually increase in thickness from end to end. While tapers are straight, spirals are curled. Spirals can be continuously threaded, meaning they can be worn at any point in thickness. The thickest part of a spiral determines its gauge size.

Pinchers are crescent-shaped pieces of jewelry that are usually held in place with o-rings or stoppers. The gauge size of a pincher is determined by measuring its thickest part, which is generally the middle.

Gauge Sizes in Other Body Jewelry

Every piece of body jewelry has a gauge size! Whether you’re sporting a belly button ring, double flare plugs, or a pair of bright yellow statement hoop earrings, your jewelry has an identifiable gauge size.

If you’re not sure which gauge size you’re wearing, we recommend asking a professional piercer. It’s important that you get to know this number or numbers so you know what to look for while jewelry shopping.

While two surgical steel barbells may look identical to the naked eye, they may be very different in gauge size! Refer to a gauge size chart while jewelry shopping in order to identify the correct body jewelry size for your piercing. A few warning signs that you may be wearing the wrong gauge size are pain, redness, and inflammation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I measure the gauge size of a piece of jewelry?

A: Gauge measurement is tough to execute at home! The units of measure used to determine gauge sizes are very small, making it a challenge to accurately identify them on your own.

First, check your jewelry’s packaging for gauge size information if you still have it. If you do not, take your jewelry to a professional piercer. There, they may use a tool such as a gauge wheel to identify where your jewelry falls on the gauge size chart. A gauge wheel is a circular disc with notches that correspond to each gauge size. Jewelry is inserted into each notch until it fits, thus identifying its gauge size.

Generally, “standard” earrings fall within the 20 to 16 gauge range. However, only a professional piercer or jeweler will be able to identify your gauge size with certainty.

Q: What’s the biggest gauge size?

A: 00 is the largest gauge size on our conversion chart. However, larger jewelry exists! Beyond the 00 gauge, jewelry is measured in millimeters or inches. Refer to our gauge size chart to get an idea of how tiny and how large body jewelry can be!

Q. Will earlobes return to their normal size after stretching?

A. No two bodies experience earlobe stretching the same way. Depending on factors like age, skin elasticity, and genetics, your earlobes may or may not return to their natural state after stretching.

The 2 gauge size is sometimes referred to as “the point of no return.” This means that you should not stretch your earlobes beyond the 4 gauge size if your goal is to eventually restore your earlobes to their original size and shape.

Q. Does ear stretching hurt?

A. While everyone experiences pain differently, ear stretching should not be excessively painful. By allowing your ears to heal completely between each gauge size increase, you should avoid severe pain. Pressure and some discomfort are to be expected, however. Remember to refer to gauge charts before upgrading your jewelry in order to avoid switching to a size that is too large or too small!

Q. How can I clean my piercings?

A. Piercing aftercare is absolutely necessary in helping to prevent infection. To promote proper healing, we recommend using H2Ocean Aftercare spray or saline solution.

Q. Where did the gauge size system come from?

A. Gauge sizes are based on the gauge system used by electrical workers to measure wire thickness. Because wires and jewelry are similarly narrow in size, the same units of measure can be used to identify their gauge sizes.

Q. Are ear plugs heavy?

A. Ear plugs vary in weight depending on the type of jewelry you’re wearing. For example, stone plugs, steel plugs, and glass plugs tend to be slightly heavier than wood plugs.

Steel plugs are ideal for ears that are in the process of healing, as they’re durable, non-porous, and fairly easy to sterilize. Glass plugs share the same non-porous and easy-to-clean properties as steel plugs, but their weight may slow the healing process. Wood plugs are a great lightweight option for healed ears. Note that wood plugs may gradually darken over time, especially if you regularly use oil on your ears.

Q. I think I’m wearing the wrong ear gauge size; my piercing hurts! What should I do?

A. First, remove your jewelry. Even with the risk of your piercing closing up, you should always remove jewelry if it’s causing pain or discomfort. Contact a professional piercer or healthcare professional to talk about how to proceed.

When you’re eventually ready to insert body jewelry again, ask a professional piercer to determine the right ear gauge size for your body piercing. Most jewelry shops have ear gauge size charts available to help you select the right body jewelry! Gauge measurement is an important step in choosing jewelry that will allow a piercing to heal properly.