Ear stretching has ancient roots, but the trend skyrocketed in popularity in the ‘00s thanks to a number of prominent musicians and models. There’s something empowering about swapping out dainty pearls for eye-catching plugs. Plugs, tapers, and other forms of bold body jewelry represent counterculture at its coolest, and we’re totally on board with boundary-breaking styles. We’ve created this ear stretching guide to help you in your ear stretching journey. Let’s start stretching!
Of all of the tools you’ll need to stretch your earlobes, patience is the most important. Stretching your earlobes too quickly can lead to tearing, infection, or even a blowout. A blowout occurs when a piercing is stretched too quickly, causing a buildup of irritated scar tissue. The most effective way to avoid a blowout is to stretch the earlobes slowly, while gradually increasing gauge sizes over time.
While the experience of pain varies from person to person, ear stretching should not be excessively painful when done correctly. Before we explore the in-depth process of ear stretching, here are some fundamental rules:
- Take it slow: Never attempt to stretch your earlobes more than one gauge size at a time. Additionally, never force a stretching session that is excessively painful. While it may sound impossible to wait more than a month between each stretch, your fully healed, beautifully stretched ears will be worth the wait.
- Keep it clean: Before each stretching session, wash your hands, clean your piercing site, and clean your jewelry. Keeping your body piercing and jewelry clean can help to prevent infection.
- Listen to your body: Allow your earlobes to heal completely after fresh stretches. If a stretch feels excessively painful, stop the process and try again in a few days or weeks.
- Manage your expectations: Skin elasticity, pain tolerance, and healing times are different for everyone. You may begin your ear stretching journey with the ultimate goal of wearing 1” plugs, but your body might not allow it. Advance your stretch by one gauge size at a time, and wait until your earlobes have healed completely to consider moving on to the next gauge size.
- Know when to stop: Some piercing professionals recommend stopping at a 2 gauge size when stretching your earlobes. In most cases, stretched earlobes will return to their original size if 2 gauge plugs are removed and allowed to heal for approximately 2-3 months. If you choose to stretch your earlobes beyond a 2 gauge to 0 gauge, 00 gauge, or larger, the likelihood that your earlobes will not shrink back to their original size increases. Stretching too much or too quickly can lead to injury that may require surgery to correct. Remember that no two bodies are identical; some earlobes may return to their original size from 0 gauge jewelry, while others may not.
Choose Your Method
There are two primary methods of ear stretching: the taper method and the taping method. Although these methods sound similar in name, they are completely different processes. We’ll describe each approach below.
The Taper Method
Tapers are cylinder-shaped tools that can be used to gradually stretch a piercing. The narrow end of a taper is inserted into a piercing and slowly pushed through. The broad end of a taper determines its gauge size. Once a taper has been carefully pushed all the way through a piercing, a new piece of jewelry that matches the taper’s gauge size can be inserted into a piercing. For example, if you’re currently wearing 8 gauge jewelry, you’ll use a 6 gauge taper to prepare your piercing for a 6 gauge plug.
What you’ll need:
- Piercing cleaner or disinfectant: H2Ocean Body Piercing Antibacterial Soap
- Lubricant: Pierced Nation Healing Jojoba Oil. Not only is jojoba oil an excellent moisturizer, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and is easily absorbed by the skin.
- Tapers: Tapers are sold both in individual pairs and in stretching kits. By shopping for tapers one pair at a time, you’ll enjoy the freedom to choose from unique colors and patterns with each stretch. Acrylic tapers and surgical steel tapers are common choices among experienced ear stretchers. Alternatively, an ear stretching kit offers the convenience of both smaller sizes and larger sizes of ear tapers that will last throughout your entire stretching journey. Both routes are great choices.
- Body jewelry: You should have a clean pair of plugs, tunnels (or flesh tunnels), pinchers, or spiral tapers ready to be inserted into your stretched earlobes before you begin stretching. It’s important that you have your body jewelry nearby, as tapers are not meant to be worn for an extended period of time. Because tapers are narrow at one end and broad at the other, they create an uneven weight distribution when worn in your earlobes. Their job is to gradually open earlobe piercings to accommodate new body jewelry. It’s generally recommended to limit taper wear time to no more than a few hours before inserting new body jewelry.
If you’re interested in wearing plugs or tunnels, note that they come in many different forms. While this list highlights ear plugs, the same functional characteristics apply to tunnels. Tunnels differ from plugs in that they are hollow in the middle.
- Straight plugs: Straight plugs feature a consistent thickness or gauge size from end to end. O-rings are used to hold them in place. Straight plugs are ideal for newly stretched earlobes, as they can be eased directly into a piercing following a taper or other stretching tool.
- Single flare plugs: Single flare plugs are flared at one end and straight at the other. An o-ring is sometimes used to hold the straight end in place. Single flare plugs can be used to create the illusion of a larger ear gauge size, as the flared end is visible when looking at the wearer straight on.
- Double flare plugs: Double flare plugs are flared at both ends. Double flare plugs are appropriate for fully healed ears. The flared ends of a plug feature a larger gauge size than the wearable middle. For this reason, the ears must be able to comfortably stretch to the gauge size of the flare in order to insert them.
- Saddle plugs: Saddle plugs are essentially the same as double flare plugs, but they feature a more gradual curve at both ends. Double flare plugs often include a sharply defined lip at both ends, whereas saddle plugs feature a smooth arc shape. Saddle plugs are often created in materials such as stone or glass. Glass plugs and stone plugs like these rose quartz plugs are stunning options for gauged ears!
- Screw fit plugs: Screw fit plugs offer the appearance of double flare plugs, but with the ability to screw one or both ends on and off. Screw fit plugs are often created in surgical steel or other body-safe materials. Screw fit plugs feature either an externally or internally threaded closure. When tightening a screw fit plug’s threaded closure, be careful not to apply excess pressure. Tightening a screw fit plug too hard or too far can lead to jewelry breakage.
- Wash your hands thoroughly, and remove your current body jewelry. Massage 3-5 drops of Pierced Nation Healing Jojoba Oil onto the front and back of each earlobe. Repeat this process at least twice daily to condition the earlobes and prepare them to be stretched.
- Grab a sterilized taper and remove the o-ring closure that’s closer to the narrow end. Lubricate the taper itself using 1-2 drops of jojoba oil.
- Slowly push the narrow end of the taper through your piercing until you’ve reached the thickest part of the broad end. At this point, you can either replace the o-ring closure and allow the taper to sit in your earlobe for a few minutes, or immediately insert new body jewelry.
- Once you’re ready to insert new body jewelry, align your body jewelry as closely as possible with the broad end of the taper. As you pull the taper completely through your piercing, push your new body jewelry into its place. Secure your new body jewelry with o-rings or a threaded closure if needed.
- Wait at least 6 weeks to attempt to stretch your ears again after a fresh stretch. Your earlobes must heal completely before you stretch them to a new gauge size. Stretching your earlobes before the healing process is complete may lead to pain, infection, or scarring.
Healing time: 6+ weeks
The Taping Method
The taping method of earlobe stretching refers to the practice of wrapping tape around body jewelry to gradually increase its gauge size. This method is popular among stretchers who want to achieve larger gauge sizes like 00 and beyond.
The taping method allows you to control exactly how much you want to stretch your earlobes. You can wrap your plugs, tunnels, or other body jewelry with one layer of tape or four. It’s up to you. Simply wrap your body jewelry with tape, insert it, and repeat the process until your body jewelry feels reasonably tight. It’s strongly recommended that you wrap one layer of tape around your body jewelry at a time. Insert your body jewelry after each wrap to assess how it feels in your ear. Wrapping multiple layers of tape around your body jewelry and forcing it into your stretched earlobe may lead to unnecessary pain or skin tearing.
While the taping method of earlobe stretching sounds simple, it’s important that you use the right tools and pace.
What you’ll need:
- Piercing cleaner or disinfectant: H2Ocean Body Piercing Antibacterial Soap
- Lubricant: Pierced Nation Healing Jojoba Oil. Skin conditioning is an important step in the taping method of earlobe stretching.
- Tape: Use polytetrafluoroethylene tape (better known as PTFE tape or thread seal tape) when applying the taping method.
- Body jewelry: Select a clean pair of plugs, tunnels, pinchers, or spiral tapers to be inserted into your stretched earlobes.
Healing time: 6+ weeks
When it comes to ear stretching, slow and steady wins the race. Skin tearing, blowouts, and infection can set you back months in your ear stretching journey. A little patience and a lot of cleanliness go a long way in ensuring that you get to wear the gauge size that you’ve always dreamed of. Your hard work and discipline will be so worth it when you get to go shopping for your favorite body jewelry.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of ear stretching, here are a few helpful ear stretching FAQs:
Q: What’s the smallest gauge size?
A: 20 gauge earrings are very small. The standard ear piercing is done using 18 to 16 gauge body jewelry.
Q: What’s the largest gauge size?
A: 00 (or 3/8”) is the largest gauge size on most gauge size conversion charts, but larger body jewelry exists. For example, 1” plugs are very popular!
Q: Does ear stretching hurt?
A: The experience of pain differs for everyone. However, ear stretching should not be excessively painful when done properly. By waiting for the ears to heal completely between each stretch, using clean tools, and wearing quality body jewelry, excessive pain may be prevented.
Stretching your ears slowly each time you insert a slightly larger gauge size for the first time is an effective way to minimize pain. While any form of body modification may be painful, you should consult a professional piercer or a medical professional if the pain becomes too great or lasts for an extended period of time.
Q: How do you know when to stop ear stretching?
A: Everyone has unique preferences when it comes to ear stretching. You may wish to stop ear stretching when you’ve reached a desired look or are able to comfortably wear your favorite pieces of body jewelry. If your goal is to stretch your ears as far as possible, however, go for it! Be mindful that your ears may not shrink to their original size beyond a certain point (usually beyond a 2 gauge size). Possible indicators that you are stretching too soon or too quickly are pain, bleeding, and a white ring on the skin surrounding your body jewelry.
Q: Can you sleep with ear tapers in?
A: It is not recommended to wear ear tapers to sleep, during exercise, or for more than a few hours. Tapers should be used exclusively to gradually stretch the ear to accommodate proper body jewelry.
Q: Are tapers and taping the only ear stretching methods?
A: No. While tapers and the tape wrapping method are widely considered the safest methods of ear stretching, other methods involve the use a scalpel or a dermal punch to create a large hole in the ear.
Q: How long do stretched ears take to heal?
A: Healing times vary from person to person, but it generally takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months for ears to heal completely. We recommend waiting as long as possible between each stretch. If you’re not sure whether your ears have healed completely between stretches, consult a professional piercer or a medical professional.
Q: Can ear stretching be reversed?
A: Reversing the process of ear stretching depends on several factors. If you have stretched your ears beyond a 2 gauge size or have experienced a blowout while stretching, your ears may not return to their original size without surgical intervention. However, with slow, hygienic stretching, proper skincare, and natural skin elasticity, your ears may shrink to their original size after stretching.
Q: Is it normal for the ears to smell bad while stretching?
A: Yes. Odors caused by dead skin cells and bacteria can occur throughout the process of ear stretching. To minimize foul smells during ear stretching, clean your ears, wash your hands, and sanitize your jewelry regularly.
Q: How much does ear stretching cost?