The Beauty of Stretched Ears
I remember when stretched piercings first hit mainstream America – I was a teenager, swooning over the punk band boys, and thinking to myself, “That is just so undeniably kinky”. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something that even as a “mature” adult I find so endearing about stretched piercings.
Though this has only been a fashion trend in Europe and North America for a decade or so, ear stretching is an age-old, cultural practice in many parts of the world and a beautiful one at that. Even King Tut had his ears stretched, and the images of African tribes with massive three inch-plus discs in their ears are humbling to those of us that timidly aspire to reach 9/16”.
This is a form of body art that goes well beyond the ear lobe, with many body piercings having the potential to be stretched. When I met my husband several years ago, he had actually stretched his labret stud to a 4 – something I found wildly attractive.
Aside from the usual plastic and acrylic plugs, there are a number of unique ways to make stretched ears work with your look – from polished stone and bone, all the way down to porcupine quills. It’s a stunning way to portray your body and makes a statement like no other type of piercing can.
The Risks Involved with Stretching
During the very long period of time I spent gauging my own ear lobes, I learned a lot of important (and often painful) lessons about the process, and quickly started using my brain to plan my size-ups, instead of ‘Oh I really want to wear these new jade flares.’
Yea, don’t buy new jewelry before you’re at the right size for it – it’s a dangerous temptation to have around.
While stretching your piercings isn’t necessarily dangerous, it can have a lot of nasty consequences if you don’t do it sensibly:
- Infection – To a certain extent, the tissue might break a little as you stretch it, which means you’re going to have some raw, tender flesh on the inside of your piercing. Infection is definitely a risk, particularly since the jewelry needs to stay put for a while to facilitate healing. Be sure to use freshly sanitized jewelry, and to keep your surrounding body clean and dry.
- Excessive tissue damage – I’ve seen some funny looking “gauge holes” in my time, but I always cringe to think of the damage done to achieve the puckered, scarred holes left behind. If you’re not careful, you can and will tear your ear lobe, and it may not look the same after it heals.
- Getting them caught on things – Okay, I know this sounds laughably obvious, but seriously, you don’t know how much bulkier a piercing is going to be until after you’ve stretched it up and stuck a two-inch taper through it. You’re not going to be used to it, and there is nothing quite so painful as getting a freshly stretched taper snagged under your bra strap while you’re getting dressed. Go slow my friends, and be mindful of your new ear baggage.
How to Stretch Your Ears (Safely)
Gauging your ears doesn’t have to be a painful process, but no matter how slow you go with it, you’re likely to experience some discomfort, as with any piercing process. The idea is to gradually stretch the tissue, but depending on the elasticity of your skin, it may be a more or less painful process. Here are a few tips to manage the discomfort and stretch your ears safely:
- Use temperature to your advantage
When you go to size up, know that the temperature of your skin can really affect how gently a piercing will stretch. When I was sizing up, I always did it right after a shower, when my skin was warm and pliable. As soon as you get out of the shower, make sure you have everything ready to go – your piercing will stretch much easier.
- Lube is everything
I know it sounds obvious, but having a lot of lubricant (and the right kind) is going to make stretching your ears so much less painful. Don’t be shy with it – glob it on the taper, the inside of your piercing, and the surrounding skin. As far as what to use goes, I prefer something natural, but heavy.
Coconut oil is a popular choice, but not necessarily an effective one. The reason this oil is such an effective moisturizer is because its fat molecules are smaller than the pores in your skin, allowing it to pass through for deep moisturization. However, when gauging your ears, you want moisture on the surface, so coconut oil is really only an effective pre-lubricant moisturizer.
When it came to gauging my ears, I wanted something relatively thick, so a lot of times I reached for vaseline, which was relatively effective. However, if you’re looking to avoid petroleum based products, as I am now, castor and almond oil were a couple of my favorites.
The best thing to use to stretch and heal your piercing is this stuff – Gauge Gear Organic Ear Stretching balm. I wish I’d known about it ages ago. The ingredient list is sound, with things like tea tree oil to prevent infection, and a blend of oils (including jojoba and sweet almond) to lubricate and heal, all in one little balm. You can use it for the initial stretching process, then use it a bit more in a few days when it’s time to rotate your taper a bit. It smells nice, it’s petroleum free, and is completely all natural – win, win, win.
- Have tapers on hand
Sizing up is generally going to be a process that requires you to spend some money – you’ll need to buy at least one taper for each size you go up, then of course new jewelry to fill out your new size. No need to splurge though – acrylic tapers are inexpensive and get the job done perfectly well. If you prefer something more compact, spirals and pincers are a little less likely to jab you in the neck. Just make sure you get the rubber rings to go with your stretching jewelry to hold it in place during the healing period.
- Take your time.
One thing I see a lot of people do that can really cause some damage to your piercing is rushing into your new jewelry before your freshly stretched piercing is ready. Everyone is different, but at least wait until your piercing is no longer sore, red, or raw to put new plugs or tunnels in.
- Improvise tapers if the jump is too big
Okay, this one may not be kosher with the professional advice that’s out there, but sometimes when I went to size up my piercings, no matter how well healed my ears would be, sometimes the jump between sizes was too big.
I seem to remember going from a 2 to a 0 in excruciating pain, and thinking, ‘What the hell?’.
Some sizes just seem to hurt a heck of a lot more than others, and in realizing that, I did some tinkering to come up with a way to make the sizing even more gradual. Just wrap a layer or three of electrical tape, in a graduating pattern, on your taper to make the stretching more gradual between extra difficult sizes. Since the material is non-porous, it’s kind of perfect for this use. As your gauge heals, just add a layer or two, until you’re ready for the next size taper.
The Healing Process
After you stretch your piercing, healing is pretty straightforward – the less you mess with it, the better off you’ll be. A little moisture is natural, but give it a few days before you rotate the piercing at all.
Once the swelling has gone down (if any), apply a little antiseptic and lubricant to your taper, and maneuver it a little in the piercing to ensure you’re not letting a “crust” trap moisture and inhibit healing. Have a q-tip or two on hand to wipe the jewelry clean when you’re done, then leave it alone for another few days.
Be sure to limit activities that involve roughing up your ears at all. This may sound weird, but you really don’t think about what’s going to hurt your ears until you’re doing it, and your tapers are being squashed against the side of your neck. I once went spelunking with some freshly gauged 00 tapers in, and let me tell you, helmet straps and squeezing through cave tunnels is not fun with freshly stretched ears.
Will My Stretched Ears Ever Shrink Back?
I know a big concern for a lot of people when they start stretching their piercings is if they ever decide they don’t want them one day. Are your holes ever going to shrink back down?
Again, it really depends on the elasticity of your skin, but it’s definitely possible, to a certain extent. Of course, the larger the holes, the more difficult it will be for them to snap back, so keep that in mind with your sizing goals.
If you allow your piercings ample time to heal between stretching though, they’re much more likely to bounce back, and not wind up with pucker marks I went up to a ½”, with size 4 eyelets, and wound up back to about a 6 and 14, respectively. I now just wear hoops and my beloved chandelier earrings, and occasionally dip back into my old plug collection.
The bottom line – take your time, baby your skin, and remember that it’s going to look all the better down the line if you just wait till things heal up before you shove some flares in there.