Stretching Methods for Ear Lobes
Before stretching the ear lobe, the skin must be completely healed from piercing. This typically takes six months to a year. While in the process of stretching the ear lobe, it is necessary to wait a minimum of one month between small stretches (20g down to 8g) and a minimum of three months for a typical 1mm stretch. Up to an 8g, the difference between stretches is about 0.5mm. From an 8g - 2g, the difference is 1mm. Beyond a 2g the increments double and even triple, but a safe stretch is no more than 1 millimeter at a time. Therefore it is important never to skip sizes when stretching ears, or else the “stretch” turns into a “rip”. When stretching bigger than a 2g (~6mm), it is important to continue stretching 1mm at a time despite what the next “gauge” size is.
Approaching the jumps from 2g to 0g and 0g to 00g, the difference between sizes increases to two millimeters. This is why the stretch is often difficult, and almost always results in ripped tissue. To avoid damaging the ear lobe, it is necessary to use “half sizes” to keep the stretches at one millimeter increments. The half size between 2g and 0g is 7mm, also known as 1g. The half size between 0g and 00g is 9mm and is occasionally called 00g.
Forcing a stretch too big or too soon will result in a ripped ear lobe. Even if the lobe is not visibly bleeding, micro-tears on the inside of the lobe occur. These tiny rips turn into scar tissue, which is tougher than other tissue and more resistant to stretching. Thus, skipping sizes or stretching too soon is counterproductive, because it will only make it harder to continue to stretch.
Using a single-flare borosilicate glass plug is the safest way to stretch. Glass is nonporous and therefore ideal for healing lobes. It can be worn for an unlimited amount of time and will not absorb bacteria. The rounded back of the plug combined with the smoothness of the glass means that there is no need for a taper; the jewelry will fit if the lobe is ready.
Tapers are a commonly used method of stretching ear lobes. The taper is a long, cone-shaped tool that gradually expands the hole as it is pushed through. Professional piercers tend to use threaded expanders to insert jewelry, which are much more gradual and allow for a smooth transition to the new jewelry. Tapers are available for sale in many materials (acrylic, steel, titanium, glass, etc.). When used to slowly expand the lobe, tapers can be helpful. However, tapers are easily misused because they can be forced through the ear lobe and create a tear instead of a stretch.
Another method of stretching is the use of skin-safe or medical grade tape. The tape is carefully wrapped around the piece of jewelry and (along with lubrication) inserted in the ear lobe. The jewelry should go in easily and not feel uncomfortably big. Tape may be added as needed, but as with any method of stretching it is important not to overstretch by taping the jewelry too much. Because the tape is porous it must be replaced often, perhaps every other day, or else the lobe may be exposed to bacteria. That means either a new piece of tape can be added, or better yet, the old tape is completely removed from the jewelry and wrapped with fresh tape to the same size it was before. In order to keep track of how big it is, it either needs to be measured regularly or the number of tape wraps around the jewelry must be kept track of.
While wearing heavy jewelry may help stretch out the lobe, the risks of stretching with weight outweigh the small benefit. Too much weight (or even moderate weight too often) restricts the blood flow throughout the ear lobe. Restricted blood flow in the ear lobes leads to thinning and in extreme cases tissue death. Blood flow is essential for healthy, stretchy ear lobes. When wearing heavy jewelry, it is important to give the lobes a break from the weight to restore blood flow. It is for this reason that ear weights are ornamental and not meant to be worn all the time.
- Brett Barnard