It’s well established that people have been piercing their ears for as long as people have had ears to pierce. In fact, the worlds oldest body piercing is a stretched lobe dating back over 5000 years. Some people consider lobe stretching a modern western fad, but this is clearly far from the truth.
In the UK (at time of writing), first lobes are most commonly pierced at 18g (1mm), 16g (1.2mm) or 14g (1.6mm). Lots of factors determine the initial size for a piercing, including client/piercer preference, jewellery style, anatomy and desired aesthetic. These sizes would be considered ‘standard’ sizes.
For many of us, lobe piercings are our first venture into the weird and wonderful world of body piercings and a lot of people tend to have their first lobes pierced at a young age. So what happens if you have your ears pierced at a ‘standard’ gauge and change your mind later about the size you’d like your lobes to be? No problem! Due to the soft, elastic nature of ear lobes, stretching the piercing channel to create a larger diameter is absolutely possible and lobe stretching has been practiced by many cultures all across the world for thousands of years.
How It’s Done
A quick search on Google or Youtube will bring up a plethora of information about how lobe stretching is achieved. As with anything, there is a tonne of misinformation and unsafe practices being preached over the internet. We always recommend visiting a professional piercer to discuss your goals with ear stretching and never to undertake the journey alone. And it is definitely a journey.
Ear stretching takes a heck of a lot of patience in order to achieve your desired goal safely. You need to be willing to give your body plenty of time to adapt and heal in between the different stages of lobe stretching. This is not a process to be taken lightly and doing so will have life-long implications (more on that later!)
Once you have decided to start your lobe stretching journey and you’ve discussed your goals with a professional piercer, your lobe should be stretched in millimetre increments. The best way to do this is to allow your piercer to stretch your lobes for you. Although you can stretch at home, leaving it to the professionals is the best way to avoid mistakes.
The physical stretch can be performed in two main ways. The first – Dead-Stretching – is simply waiting a long enough time that the lobe has naturally stretched out and the larger size of jewellery can be simply slotted into place. The second method uses an insertion taper to guide the new jewellery into place. The Gold Standard for stretching jewellery are single-flared Glass Plugs. These are comfortable, smooth, non-porous and safe to wear long term.
Tapers are often considered ‘the devil’ when it comes to online stretching advice! This is not necessarily the case. Like any tool, they can be used correctly or incorrectly. The main thing to know is that tapers should never be left in the piercing channel and worn as jewellery. Many tapers sold online are made from material such as acrylic which is not safe for long term wear on the body – You can read more about safe materials here. Tapers are much longer than plugs and tunnels which puts you at a higher risk of snagging your piercing, and yet the gradient of the stretch is so steep that you risk tearing your piercing. Tapers are simply an insertion tool to guarantee the smoothest introduction of the next size of jewellery. They are best left in the hands of a professional – We do not recommend their use at home.
Once the taper is inserted, a plug or tunnel will be inserted whilst the channel settles and relaxes into its new size. The plug or tunnel should be made of biocompatible material such as ASTM F-136 Titanium, ASTM F-138 Steel or borosilicate glass. The jewellery needs to be non porous as otherwise it will allow for the collection and growth of bacteria- The most common cause of that classic stretched lobe odour.
You should be leaving at least 6-8 weeks in between each 1mm stretch in order to let the channel settle, heal and relax into it’s new size. Stretching too quickly is a very risky procedure that often ends with very poor results. Everyone will stretch differently – the above time is often the minimum appropriate length of time. It is not at all unusual to wait far longer.
What Happens When It Goes Bad
Lobes are very forgiving – The most forgiving piercing when it comes to stretching. However this doesn’t mean they can be abused. The most common causes of issues with stretched lobes are caused by:
- Stretching too quickly.
- Stretching using tapers as jewellery.
- Wearing inappropriate jewellery in unsafe materials.
- Wearing jewellery that is too heavy.
- Using threaded jewellery that traps a portion of the piercing fistula inside.
The most common result of these issues is a blowout. So, what is a blowout?
The inside of a piercing channel is called a Fistula. This fistula is made from a type of collagen scar tissue. Scar tissue is far less elastic than the normal skin that surrounds the lobe piercing. When this scar tissue is not given the appropriate amount of time to relax after a stretch, it can be split, damaged or pushed out of position. This extruded scar tissue is called a blowout.
Blowouts are difficult to repair. When caught early on, the best way to help minimise them is to immediately remove your jewellery for an extended period of time – 3-4 weeks. Once any initial irritation has settled, it is recommended to gently massage the lobe with a neutral oil like Jojoba. Once the blowout has completely settled, you can gently reinsert jewellery. Often this jewellery will be much smaller in diameter than the one that caused the blowout – A fair cautionary tale against rushing the process.
If a blowout has progressed too far, it is often too late for an easy fix. A true permanent blowout can only be repaired via a surgical procedure to remove the blown out tissue and stitch the lobe back together. This is outside the legal remit of piercers in the UK, however we can recommend artists outside of the UK who can perform this for you. Within the UK, the only route is to visit a plastic surgeon. Depending on their experience with this procedure, results may vary.
Lobe Stretching Maintenance
Once you have started to stretch, or when you have reached your goal size, this does not mean the work stops! Maintaining stretched lobes means getting into a routine of cleaning and caring for them.
- Clean your jewellery on a daily basis. Once you have sat at a size for a few weeks, we recommend removing your jewellery in the shower so that you can wash your entire lobe with a gentle fragrance-free soap. You should also be washing your actual jewellery in the same way. This is the best way to avoid a dirty or odorous lobe that can cause irritation later one.
- Once you have cleaned your lobes, it is important to dry them well to avoid moisture irritation.
- When your lobes are squeaky clean and dry, you should gently moisturise them with a neutral oil such as Jojoba oil. Less is more – Use your oil sparingly.
In the winter, it is very important to protect your lobes from extremes of temperature. Ensure they are covered with a hat if you are outside for prolonged periods of time, and make sure they do not experience a temperature shock when you re-enter a centrally heated home. It is not at all uncommon to need to downsize lobes in the winter and take extra care when cleaning and moisturising as the lobe tissue will dry and contract. The annual cycle of downsizing and upsizing can improve blood flow and ensure your lobes stay healthy in the long run.
In the summer it is so important to keep them clean when swimming. And the most important thing which people often forget: SUNSCREEN! Ears in general are susceptible to burns, and your stretched lobes are very fragile. Take good care of them and avoid sunburns. A cause that is very close to Kat’s heart: Skin cancers often begin on the ear due to years of neglect when it comes to sun protection.
The Pay Off.
The journey of lobe stretching is long, often tedious and requires a lot of commitment, time and patience but let’s have a look at why it can be so, so worth it! The styles of jewellery worn in large-gauge lobes are simply not available to the general public, and the sheer variety of options is pretty mind blowing.
At Rogue, we do a lot of large gauge work whether that’s initial piercings or long term stretching projects and one of our all time favourite large gauge jewellery creators are Gorilla Glass. Based in Oaxaca, Mexico, the Gorilla Glass artisans have been hand making high quality soda-lime and borosilicate glass jewellery since 2002.
Gorilla Glass are our go-to for single-flared glass plugs – The gold standard for stretching jewellery. These are an affordable, safe option when it comes to stretching. We carry a wide range in-studio and can custom order anything from their website that you could possibly want!
- Let a professional do it for you whenever possible.
- Take it slow – Wait 6-8 weeks between stretches as a minimum. If it hurts –> Stop!
- Wear single-flared glass plugs when stretching and wait at least 3 months after stretching to change styles.
- Never wear tapers, pinchers, spirals or other asymmetrical jewellery when stretching.
- Keep your lobes moisturised with a light oil.
As always, we are available 7 days a week to stretch your lobes or provide jewellery upgrades and troubleshooting. You can book your appointment here.