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Ear Stretching 101 : A Quick + Easy Guide

I've had this blog post partially written (okay, a little less than partially) for many moons now. I get a lot of emails and questions about ear stretching so I thought I'd do a generalized overview of the experience. I'm not a professional, I'm not a piercer, and I'm not a "know it all". I'm simply going off of what I've learned in the past (almost) 9 years of me stretching my ears (and the many many mistakes I've made along the way...)

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If your ears are pierced and you'd like to begin stretching, do as much research as you can first. Just to get an idea of what the whole thing is about. (Hello! This blog post!) Read up on various body mod forums and see what other people have to say about their experience. Be proactive rather than reactive. Body modification is something to take very seriously, even if it's only stretching your earlobes.

Starting off with a "stretching kit" is how I began back in high school. Just some tiny tapers and matching plugs with o-rings. You can use the expander tapers or you can use the claws/crescent tapers, whichever you prefer. Acrylic tapers and plugs are the most readily available, but they should not be used for a fresh/healing fistula. The stainless steel is a better choice. Acrylic and wood plugs can harbor bacteria. It's best to avoid that if possible, and only wear those after your lobes have been stretched for a few weeks. Start by thoroughly washing your hands, use jojoba oil on your ear lobe, and push in slowly. It should burn a little, but never be painful, and it most certainly should never ever bleed. You don't have to push the entire taper in in one go (or even in one day). Once your lobe gets red and hot, slide on your o-rings and wait it out a bit. Let the inflammation die down before trying to go further. After you get the taper all the way through, swap it out for a flat plug with o-rings on front and back, or a single flare plug with an o-ring on the back. Double flared plugs (or saddle plugs) are not recommended for use immediately after stretching. The flare is often 1mm or so larger than the actual size/taper, so trying to force them in can end in a very painful experience. Sit at this size for several weeks. Never rush your stretching. If you do, you'll run the risk of ripping your earlobe, experiencing a blow out (which is often permanent), and/or just all around ruining your ears. Be patient and gentle. 

♥ You should not wear tapers as jewelry. They hang all weird, can get caught on things, and they are just generally not advisable for every day use. When you're stretching, go slow. But once you've reached maximum girth of that taper, slide in a plug for normal everyday wear.

Do NOT skip sizes when stretching! This is so important. Sometimes the next size up is only a 1/16th of an inch, but that size is important. Skipping sizes puts you at a higher risk for blowouts. It's much better to take your time stretching properly than to fast track your way right into 'cat butt' lobe territory.

Other methods of stretching include "dead stretching" which is when you wear your plug for long enough that it becomes loose and you can size up without using a taper. Stone or other heavy materials can help with this process, but it's often much slower than tapering. Taping is a very popular and safe method of stretching (and one that I whole-heartedly recommend! Especially at anything over 2g or so, but that's just my personal opinion!)

Taping is when you wrap PTFE tape around the plug in small doses, then you reinsert it into the fistula. Over the course of a few days or so, the fistula will stretch and you can add a few more layers of tape. This is a very safe, completely painless way to do things. Tapers and claws in the larger sizes are really cumbersome, too. 

Continue to stretch until you reach your goal size. Find the material of plug that doesn't irritate your fistula. It may take some trial and error but find what works best with your ears and your body. For me? I can't wear acrylic for more than a day at a time, even with lobes that haven't been stretched in 2 years. Even with daily cleanings, the material is too harsh on my lobes and just causes them to get angry. You may have a similar experience with a material. If so, remove them immediately and go to something you can sanitize, like steel or glass.

Stone plugs often help stretch a little faster (on slightly larger lobes) due to the immense amount of weight in the plug itself. Be care though, because at certain sizes (usually 1 inch and above) they may stretch your ears so quickly that you can't wear them more than a few hours at a time. Wood is a great material for plugs (as long as the fistula is completely healed). They allow your ears to breathe, and they're safe. (Just try not to wear them in your shower/pool. The water expands the wood and allows bacteria to get in). Glass is another great material for plugs, too. Easy to clean and they keep your ears from smelling funky. (Yes, that's a thing. More on that below.) Do not wear silicone tunnels until your fistula is completely healed! Do not stretch with these! They're readily available at all body jewelry sources and they're super cheap so they're tempting. But they can quickly rip your ear when they expand. They're great to sleep in at night though if you don't want a big piece of whatever sticking you in the side of the head.

Clean your plugs and lobes every day. Pull your plug out, give it a washing, and same to your lobe. Also massage your earlobe with your fingers to get things tender. Massaging your earlobes with something like jojoba oil can help increase elasticity and stretching. 

&hearts: Sebum is what the yucky dead-skin-smelly-cheese odor is. The larger your lobes get the more noticeable it can become. Organic materials like wood help keep this odor from emanating from your ear, but your plugs should be cleaned daily regardless. 

In the event of an infected earlobe, do a salt water soak immediately. Clean whatever jewelry your were wearing thoroughly. Stainless steel is a great option for when your ears get angry, as the infection can't seep into the material and stick around. In the event of a blowout, downsize immediately. Massage your lobes 2x a day and gently work with jojoba oil.

Stretch only to the size your body will allow. Never force your lobe to go larger than it wants to. Every person's body is different and everyone has a max wall. Some lobes simply don't have the elasticity in them, and some lobes simply have too much scar tissue. Being patient and willing to go through the tedious process could be your ticket to larger lobes even if your ears are stubborn.

♥ The question I get most often is "How big can I stretch so that when I take them out for good my ear will go back to normal?" The generalized rule of thumb is a 2g is the "no go back zone". Once you hit this size, the likelihood that your ear will return to normal after removal is lower. It gets lower with each and every size you stretch. (I've stretched to 00g twice and my lobes went back to normal both times. Remember, this is a generalized overview and should just be used as a guide! Everyone's bodies are different!) It just takes a few months and plenty of lobe massages.

Your options for closing your lobe once you've exceed the No Going Back zone are pretty slim. For instance, having them sewn up by a plastic surgeon. On average this process seems to cost around $2,000. Obviously depending on geographic location and experience of the surgeon.

♥ Ear weights are a tricky topic because while they are regularly used in the body mod world, they can be very dangerous if used incorrectly. Weights put an inordinate amount of pressure on the bottom of the lobe which can cause it to thin out, or even worse... break! 

People who are very impatient often want to punch or scalpel their earlobes. Having your earlobe punched means you have that much less tissue to work with if you decide to go larger. (Having your ear punched is literally that. Having a hole punched in your ear at a certain size. It removes the tissue completely.) Having your ear cut with a scalpel means having it sliced to allow for a plug to fit in. It leaves the tissue intact but the it is not a uniform thickness all the way around. This can also make your fistula look weirder than it already will once you take your plugs out. In my personal opinion I think cutting of the lobe should only be done to correct a problem, but to each their own!

Plugs vs. Gauges: Ohhhh this is a good one! If you want to see the internet get riled up, call a plug (jewelry) a gauge. I made this mistake once when I was about 16 or 17 (didn't know any better!) and I thought I was going to get stoned to death through the internet. That's a little overdramatic but some people take the terminology very seriously. I've politely corrected people before but never exploded, as it's good to spread the correct information about body modifications. The general way to look at it is: A gauge is a unit of measurement (millimeters, inches, etc) and a plug is a piece of jewelry for a stretched piercing. It'd be like saying "Oh hey! I like your inches!" Being able to use the proper terminology will help you be taken more seriously by people who are serious about body modifications.

Invest in quality jewelry for your ears. Plugs can be very expensive, and they simply get more so the larger you get. But quality is the difference between happy, healthy lobes and a red hot pus-seeping mess hanging from the side of your head. A few great places to do your body mod shopping: Omerica Organic (this is where I get all of my wooden plugs. I highly recommend them and I've never ever been unsatisfied with my order. Their customer service is truly great, too! Shamless plug: You can save 20% on your order with the repCode KAELAH) -- BodyArtForms is another great place. Their forums can be a treasure trove of information about any and all modifications. Definitely worth a gander! -- Anatometal is professional-grade jewelry and what many local piercers supply in their shop. 

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I'm sure I missed plenty of vital information in this but I'll come back and add to it as I remember. If you have anything else to add (or to debate!), feel free to leave it in the comments. If this can be a one-stop shop for people who are interested in stretching, I'd love to have all of the best information possible!

35 comments:

  1. really great overview! i've found that my ears stretch easier after taking a hot shower and massaging them with oil while i'm in there. when i was stretching up i did the tape method after i got to 4g and it worked GREAT for me. really no pain at all. Before that I did tapers which I didn't like as much. I've been sitting at 0g for a few years now, and recently i've been thinking about going up. I love all those omerica plugs, and they look so much better in bigger sizes!

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    1. Ah yes, the hot shower is a very good point! I missed that completely in the post. I'm not a fan of tapers myself, though I did stretch that way, too. Taping is just so easy and simple and painless. It's hard to suggest anything else!

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  2. I stretched my ears very harshly to only 6mm and got a blowout. It's nasty and I would defintely recommend your advice of using every size available. But on the other hand my boyfriend whacked a 3 then a 6 then an 8mm in within a week so each to their own :)

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    1. While I definitely emphasis that every person's body is different and they will stretch differently (some much MUCH faster than others), I think it'd be best simply to abstain from advising the quick stretch ya know? Some people have wonder-skin and will have no trouble upsizing rapidly, but I'd feel really bad to say "oh yeah that's totally cool!" and watch someone rip their ear past fixing! Two totally different skin types between you two haha Some people get all the luck :P

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  3. I'm looking into getting my right lobe scalpelled because I stretched my second piercing so I don't have enough room to stretch higher than 12mm, I also have scar tissue from where I stretched my first piercing hole to 4mm and it completely closed. I can't wait to have even ears though.
    I've wanted plugs from omerica for so long, but I'm in the middle of stretching my left ear to 1 inch so there's not much point till I'm at an inch in both ears.
    Great post!

    Vicky xo

    describethesky.blogspot.co.uk

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  4. Awesome. Post. I read the entire thing and was almost at the end thinking "she didn't mention the gauge / plug debate? But you totally did. Awesome.
    Now can we talk about how awful piercing guns are for your ears and why I cringe every time I see some poor kid so excited for the shitty Claires / Walmart piercing?

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    1. SERIOUSLY!!!! I cry a little on the inside any time someone says they want to get pierced with the gun. NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

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    2. Why are piercing guns bad?

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    3. What's so bad about piercing guns?

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  5. This is such a great post! I've been stretching my ear for 6 years now. I'm only at 8mm (0g) and I'm still not sure if I want to go up one more. We'll see.

    Such great informtation here. I don't think you left a single thing out!

    Becky
    xx

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  6. Amen to this! I wish everyone I knew that was stretching their ears would take it as seriously as they should. But even when I'm asked for advice, people eventually just do whatever's the fastest way anyway, once they find out it really is a big responsibility (or hassle, to them) to take good care of your stretched lobes.

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  7. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this. I've had questions (and trolled the forums) for ages, but sometimes it's best to get it firsthand from someone who's done it all firsthand. I'm still considering stretching (though first I have to get mine pierced...whoops) and this really helped spur my decision-making. Thanks a lot!
    -Z

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  8. What a great post! While I have zero interest in every stretching my ears (just not my style + I have uber sensitive ears and I just don't they think they could handle it), I really enjoyed learning more about the process.

    I have to admit, though, that you are making me seriously consider re-piercing my ears... I forgot how much fun wearing jewelery on one's ears could be! ;D

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  9. Many many many years ago. Well say 10 years ago, my friend worked as a piercer and body mod specialist and when i started stretching my ears, the placement of my piecings was too low so he scalpeled my ears. Worst thing i ever did. I stretched to about an inch and a half and havent worn plugs in a few years and now they just look stupid. Ive baan saving to get them sewn up, but its annoying. I wish i wouldnt have done that but its a lesson learned. Thats just my experience. Also my ear got really infected afterwards. Bad situation all around. Saline was my best friend. Thanks for sharing. Xxo beca

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  10. Great post. My friends always ask why I've never considered stretching my ears, I guess cause I'd be the kind of person to do it? Not sure but it's always been in the back of my mind. Atleast now I have this great post to go by if I ever decide to. And the point about 'How big can I stretch so that when I take them out for good my ear will go back to normal' was great. I know alot of people always wondered that, especially meeee.

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  12. My husband and I have both had stretched lobes for over a decade, and it's refreshing to see someone making it a point to educate and inform those who are new to it. Kudos!

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  13. stretching and body piercings are this weird topic for me. I've been stretching since I was 16 (I'm now 36) I had many years of "silence" and staying at the same size..then will stretch up again. when i started (holy man 20 years ago!! how is that possible?!) i didn't even know it was a "thing" I just started putting lot of hoops into a piercing..then i went off to college - started dating a body piercer and lets just say i've had quite the extensive list of piercings over the years.

    when i started - it wasn't the cool thing to do - i got hateful looks all the time. looks of disdain. so when it started to become a "cool thing" to do and as i grew older it became more acceptable. i think there was this time frame where it actually became trendy (and still slightly is depending on where you live) and i grew almost embarrassed by my piercings because it seemed like everyone had them and it wasn't something different anymore.

    honestly i think the "trend" of it is dying back off. i am in this for the long haul - it's something i love and have always loved. when people ask me "what are you going to do when you are 80?" i always respond.."have large holes in my ears" i feel a bit bad for those that fell into it because "everyone else was doing it" it not like other piercings that may just leave a slight scar - if you go large enough..you are stuck unless you get surgery (and i've never seen the results of the surgeries)so i think it should definitely be said - IF this is something you are going to do.. you need to ask yourself WHY you are doing it. if its for YOU - full speed ahead! if its to "fit in with your friends" - STOP and find something else to do with yourself!

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  14. Super informative! I don't have stretched ears, and I don't plan on it, but I can't say I don't find the process quite interesting!

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  15. this is great info, kaelah. i wish this was around when i started stretching! i didnt follow all the rules but i luckily didnt end up with a cat butt ear ;p i reached my small goal of 1/2 inch and after thinking hard, i'm going back down. i'm at a 00 now and my ears have shrunken around the double flares nicely and i'll pop in some 0's soon enough. i thought about getting them surgically closed but i want to see if they'll go on their own first because i figure even if i can get to like a 10 or 12 guage, that isnt terrible and i can wear regular earrings. lucky for me, i work in dermatology and the doctor i work for has already said she will close them for me if i need to go that route. so we will see! i love your ears and i really wish i could keep mine but the maintenance has become too much and i'm sensitive to everything it seems which leads me to walking around with smelly ears no matter how much i clean them :( my sister was at the same size and i helped her stretch with tape and she reached her 1/2 much quicker than me as i took many long breaks lol...and she took hers out and shes at about a 14 in one ear and a 12 in the other so hopefully i have good luck closing up ;p

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  16. I remember a guy did this in my high school back in 1998 but I had no idea people still did it. He ended up having surgery to fix it about 7 years ago.

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  17. i love this post and actually, have enjoyed reading the other comments! i started stretching my ears a few months ago (for the second time) and really appreciate the information about going larger... i'm at a size 8 and eventually want to be around a 2. it's hard to remember to go slow, but def worth it! thanks!

    xx, kara

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  18. Decent post on the subject but, I just wanted to put in 2 things... tapers are tools not jewelry. Folks in the know will giggle if you wear them out. Also, hands down BEST way to stretch IMO is using plumbers tape, add a layer or 2 to whatever earrings you currently wear daily, or weekly until your new jewelry fits. If you take the process slowly change your tape every few weeks to keep it clean. I have never had pain while stretching, not even burning. Doing it right takes time.

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    1. I'm not sure if maybe you just skimmed over the post as opposed to actually reading it, but both of those points were made very apparent, multiple times. Plumber's tape = PTFE tape. And there is an entire section devoted to not wearing tapers as jewelry. I'm always welcoming of new/better information than what I've provided, but your comment is simply a reiteration of things that were already addressed. You're welcome to read back over the post in itself to see what I'm talking about. :)

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  19. You covered absolutely everything! Taping for life. Love that you mentioned the taper thing, I always have to stop myself from yelling at strangers I see wearing them as jewelry!

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    1. How do you stretch without people laughing at you then? I thought you had to leave the gauges in until the next size? :(

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  20. You covered absolutely everything! Taping for lifeee. Love that you mentioned the taper thing, I always have to stop myself from yelling at strangers wearing them as jewelry hah

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  21. Hi guys, sorry for being ignorant here, but what's the point of stretching your ears? Would you ever wear them without anything in your lobe?

    Maria xx
    www.cheekypinktulip.blogspot.com

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  22. thanks so much for this like ive been wanting to stretch my ears for ages now but i just have to convince my mum to let me im hoping to go to 8mm (0 gauge) but you never know, thanks again :)

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  23. Wow it was a lot to take in but amazing have been searching weeks gor a good all in one spot reference guide n I found it. I don't know if it was alot of info n I'm lost or just so excited to be on my eay to my beautiful 4g bone rose plugs!!(i know I have aehile):) I cannot comprehend a few points and want to make sure I am doing it right(would never go to piercer here just filthy)Ok. Is it possible someone can spell it out for me I am a 12g and at green earth I was told to buy horn n bone n not take out 4-6 weeks then wear whatever for1-4 weeks, and start all over. What exactly should I wear while healing I know steel,tit,glass but... Also aprox how long till I am a 4g if I am a 10-12g now. Also my holes are lower is there a way to strrtch so I stretch up more than done ie taping top of jewelry??? Thx n sry for all the questions. Btw ur adorable

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  24. Nice post! I stretched my ears very harshly to only 6mm and got a blowout. It's nasty and I would definitely recommend your advice of using every size available. Thanks for sharing..

    septum piercing

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  25. Oh my gosh!! I've loved your blog for years and I can't believe that when I was looking up stuff about stretching my ears, it brought me here! Must be a sign that I need to start reading your blog again!!

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  26. How do you taper without people laughing at you? :( I thought you had to leave the taper in until you reach the next size?

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  27. If you have small amount of blowout in one ear would you think its a good idea going to the next size by taping?

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  28. If you have small amount of blowout in one ear would you think its a good idea going to the next size by taping?

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