15 May 2008
this is a guide written on a website accesible to any one.
1) Stretching Basics:
What is stretching?
Stretching is the means by which one can gradually enlarge a pierced hole in the body. This is done by slightly stretching the tissue, causing micro-tears to form, and maintaining the hole at the new size until these tears completely heal. The process is then repeated. This can be done a virtually unlimited number of times as long as it is done correctly, thus allowing for extremely stretched holes to be produced.
How often should I stretch; how long does it take to heal?
Stretching is a very individual activity, and there is no set time frame that will work for everyone. You should only stretch when your ears are completely healed. As a general rule, most people feel that their ears are healed after approximately 1 month. When you feel that your ears are healed, then wait another 2-3 weeks before stretching. A good rule of thumb is one stretch every other month.
Maximum size that will heal up (otherwise known as
the growing up complex)
This question pops up quite regularly, and unfortunately, the answer is extremely vague. Everyones body is different, and therefore everyones lobes will shrink up to a different point. Generally speaking, 2 gauge is widely considered the point of no return - where your lobes become significantly less likely to heal even to the size of a standard earring.
Stretching is not an exact science and should not be taken lightly. There is never any guarantee that your ears will shrink back up. If you are going to stretch, please make sure that you will be comfortable at that size as an old wrinkly person, and with having your children and grandchildren ask you why you have huge holes in your ears.
2) Stretching Methods:
Before even discussing stretching methods, it is important to discuss proper waiting periods. When stretching, you need to only stretch one size at a time (14-12, 12-10, etc.) - and you MUST wait until your ears are completely healed before stretching again.
Tapering is the most effective way to stretch your ears with minimal stress. To taper your lobes, you first need to procure a taper (a metal or acrylic device that tapers from your ending gauge down to your starting gauge - for example, the large end would be a 10 gauge & the small end would be around a 12 gauge). Once you have the taper, lube it up with some water-based lubricant such as KY Jelly and slide it through your ear in one fluid motion. When you get to the end of the taper, butt your jewelry up against the end of the taper so that it looks like an extension of the taper, and push the taper the rest of the way through with the jewelry. This entire process should not take more than a few minutes at longest, and is usually just a few seconds.
Note: This process should never be painful! There might be a slight discomfort from the pressure, but there should never be anything more than that. Your ears should NEVER bleed while tapering!
The tape wrap method of stretching is an alternative method of stretching for larger gauges where tapers are less available and significantly more expensive. To use this method, purchase a roll of PTFE (Teflon) tape at any hardware store. Once your lobes are completely healed, take out your current jewelry and put one wrap of tape around it, then reinsert the jewelry in your ear. You can do this every few days as your ear adjusts to each new wrap of tape - thus gradually stretching your piercing up to the next size.
While this method works quite well for many people, some people find that the Teflon tape gets stuck/attached to the inside of their ear after insertion, thus making removal of the jewelry significantly more difficult. If this happens, you can also try bondage tape, which is available online and at most adult stores.
What size comes after 2ga/00ga/this huge size I saw that guy with?
The following is a list of the industry standard jewelry sizes with approximate conversions where most commonly utilized:
16ga / 1.3mm
14ga / 1.6mm
12ga / 2.0mm
10ga / 2.5mm
8ga / 3.2mm
6ga / 4.1mm
4ga / 5.1mm
2ga / 1/4" / 6.35mm
0ga / 5/16" / 7.9mm
00ga / 3/8" / 9.5mm
000ga / 7/16" / 11.1mm
1/2" / 12.7mm
9/16" / 14.2mm
5/8" / 15.8mm
11/16" / 17.4mm
3/4" / 19.0mm
13/16" / 20.6mm
7/8" / 22.2mm
15/16" / 23.8mm
1" / 25.4mm
3) Caring for stretched lobes:
Allowing lobes to relax:
There are many benefits to allowing your lobes to relax for a few hours each day. While wearing jewelry, no matter what type, stress is being put on your lobe, thus restricting the flow of blood, oxygen, nutrients, etc. to the bottom of your lobe. Over time, this can cause your lobe to thin out, and also cause it to become irritated. One of the best ways to alleviate this problem is to take your jewelry out for a few hours each day to allow the piercing to breath and increase blood flow to the bottom of your lobe. Over time, this will promote healthier lobes, including thickening the tissue, thus providing more room to stretch in the future.
There is no steadfast rule on when it is a good idea to start allowing your lobes to relax. We personally believe that at ANY size it is beneficial to leave your plugs out for at least a little while, and that at any size larger than 2 gauge (1/4) anyone should be able to leave their jewelry out overnight. If you are concerned about leaving your jewelry out, take it out for a progressively longer period of time each day until you find the amount of time that is the longest you feel comfortable with. If you have trouble reinserting your jewelry after leaving it out, a hot compress for 5-10 minutes and some lube along with a taper will quickly resolve your problem.
There are as many methods to heal fresh stretches as there are people stretching, but there are some methods that are significantly more agreed upon than others - these will be discussed here.
Sea Salt Soaks:
Sea salt soaks are the #1 most important and best thing that you can do to heal a fresh stretch. To perform a sea salt soak, first dissolve 1/4 (one quarter) teaspoon of sea salt (available at most grocery stores) in 1 cup (8 oz.) of warm (slightly cooler than shower temperature) water - preferably deionized or distilled water, but tap water will do. Then submerge your ear in the solution for 10-15 minutes. This should be done 2-3 times per day & soothes your piercing while drawing out impurities from your piercing, thus allowing it to heal faster. Note: Do not overdo it on the salt - too much salt is extremely bad for your piercing.
Dr. Bronners Soaps:
Dr. Bronners soaps are widely considered to be the highest quality soaps available to care for your fresh stretch. They are gentle on the skin and revitalize your piercing, allowing it to heal more rapidly. Dale has had great success with Dr. Bronners Tea Tree Oil soap.
This is what most piercists recommend for a fresh piercing. Make sure that you are using a gentle brand. Satin & Provon are both high quality gentle soaps that will serve you well. Dial & similar soaps, as well as products like Bactine should be avoided - they are just too strong.
By far the two most important things that you can do for healed lobes are oil massages and relaxing your lobes. Relaxing your lobes is described above. For massaging your lobes, the two most popular types of oil to use are jojoba oil and Vitamin E oil. Jojoba oil is good because it is an extremely close match to the oil that your body naturally secretes, and it therefore much less likely to irritate your skin. Vitamin E oil also has an extremely beneficial effect, as it breaks down scar tissue. In stretching, scar tissue is the enemy, making future stretches much more difficult and making your lobes less supple. By doing Vitamin E oil massages, you help enable the breakdown of any scar tissue that has formed and keep your ears as healthy as possible. Another benefit to oil massages is that it helps to promote blood flow throughout your lobes, thickening them up (often substantially) over time.
What is this gunk on my jewelry? I thought my ears were healed...
If your ears are healed and you seem to have some funky suff on your jewelry when you take it out, this is most likely dead skin cells. Your entire body sheds dead skin cells as it grows new skin, you just don't see it (guess what a good part of the dust in your house is!). Since there's a signifigant amount of skin touching your plug, those dead skin cells don't have anywhere to go, so they build up on your jewelry. This effect and the smell that goes along with it varies from person to person and from material to material, with metals generally seeming worse than other materials, like organics. See the materials section for more information.
4) After stretching my lobes are very sore / bleeding - HELP!
If you are experiencing any of these problems, then you have stretched your lobes too quickly. Unfortunately, this means that you are going to have to backtrack to heal your lobes before you can consider stretching again. Downsize your jewelry to at least your previous size (if not farther) and treat your ears as if they are a fresh piercing or fresh stretch (refer to information above). Once you think that your ears are completely healed, wait another two weeks and begin doing vitamin e oil massages for at least another month prior to stretching. Properly healing your piercing after a damaging stretch should take 2-4 months to be safe.
4.5) I think I have a blowout! What exactly is this and what do I do about it?
A blowout happens when one stretches too fast. These generally happen during or immediately proceeding (within 48hrs) a stretch. A blowout occurs when the pressure on the insides of the piercing is too great, and the hole deforms itself by twisting inside out, resulting in the "blowout," or section of tissue that appears as a flap on (generally) the backside of the piercing. There are a few things you can do to try and recover from a blowout. First a foremost, you must downsize immediately. Being stubborn and not taking this action could result in the blowout healing, which almost always requires surgery to fix. Second of all, the piercing absolutely must be treated like a brand new piercing. This means religious sea salt soaks and aftercare. Blowouts go hand in hand with tears, and most blowouts result in at least minimal tears to the lobe, so the aftercare becomes especially important.
What materials are appropriate for fresh stretches?
Titanium, Niobium, 316L or 316LVM implant grade surgical stainless steel (sss), Glass, implant grade PTFE (Teflon)
Benefits of certain materials (organics & glass):
There are certain materials that offer something extra to the person who is stretching their ears because they offer additional properties that make them more appealing. Glass is very popular, as it is a special material termed a super-cooled liquid. This means that there is much less chance for any edges, and that the surface is super-smooth. Glass is also hypo-allergenic, which is a great advantage for people who have skin that is very sensitive.
The other group of materials that have something special to offer is organics. We are both personal advocates of organics in healed piercings. Many people have found that the body tends to accept them extremely well, often resulting in increased comfort and decreased amount of smell and ear cheese being given off.
Dangers of acrylic / improper materials:
An entire book could be written on the dangers of acrylic and other improper materials being utilized as long-term body jewelry. There are many different types of NOVELTY jewelry that are produced out of a wide array of materials. This jewelry is just what is says: a novelty. There is no great danger in wearing them for a short while, but they should not be the primary jewelry worn as they are not of the same high quality as the other materials available. Acrylic is a porous substance and its use can lead to infection. It also begins to react with your skin over time - breaking down tissue and releasing toxic chemicals/fumes to be absorbed by your skin.
Using other objects either to stretch or as jewelry is a bad idea - we wont even discuss the dangers here, as they should be self-evident.