Ear stretching or gauging: what is it and how is it done?

Ear stretching is a type of body art which has become increasingly popular and which involves deliberately expanding a pierced area of the body.

Stretching is most frequently carried out with ear piercings, but other popular areas are the nasal septum, tongue and lip.

The first recorded use of ear-stretching was Ancient Egypt, and can be seen in the sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

While some people may not understand the appeal and it may even make them feel slightly uncomfortable when they see one, those who decide to get them done find them an attractive method of body modification.

It has become easier to find DIY kits and there is now a wider range of jewellery available for stretched ears, such as flesh tunnels and flesh plugs, as people from all walks of life are deciding to get them. They are popular as they can be hidden by hair if necessary.

The method

Stretching is done by either gradually widening a pierced are with different sized tapers, which takes patience, as each one is used for approximately a month, or by a method called dermal punching, which literally punches a hole in the area.

Most experts advise the gradual widening, increasing approximately 1mm every month and not forcing the process. If it is done too fast it will be painful and leave scarring, sometimes even splitting the lobe.

The point of no return

There comes a point when the skin can no longer go back to the original size of the piercing, but this depends on each person and the elasticity of their skin. However, experts say that if you go beyond 20 to 30 millimetres, going back would require reconstruction if you regret it. Doctors who have had to carry out such work say that the regret is usually work-motivated.

How ear stretching is done

First, you need to have a piercing. Once it is fully healed (usually about six months), you will need tapers, plugs and plant-based lubricant to help them slide into the piercing more easily.

Tapers are like spikes that you put into the piercing to start stretching it. They are usually made of acrylic or steel, and although steel is more expensive, it is recommended to slide through the piercing better and reduce the risk of irritation.

Plugs are put in to keep the area stretched, and can be made of steel, titanium, silicone, glass, wood, bone, horn, stone, etc

Plugs made of porous materials should never be soaked, as they will swell up. Instead, clean them with a damp cloth mixed and pat them dry. You can use oil to polish them every few months.

Plugs are solid, while tunnels are hollow and can be seen through.

Getting started with ear stretching

Massage the earlobe to warm and stretch the skin, or take a hot shower.

Wash your hands carefully.

Sterilise your taper with alcohol

Put lubricant on the piercing and along the taper.

Push the taper through the hole, thin end first, very slowly and rotating as you do it.

Put the plug in immediately the taper has gone all the way through.

Wait at least a month (preferably six weeks) until you increase the gauge.

If you have trouble inserting this size, go down a size


Wash it twice a day with warm water and soap

Soak it twice a day in clean warm water with salt

If there is any bad smell AFTER washing, see a doctor

Massage once a day with natural oil to moisturise and help healing.

If you see any swelling or irritation, don’t increase the gauge

If there is any infection, see a doctor

Don’t pull or stretch the piercing

Ear stretching can tingle or sting but it shouldn’t hurt. If it does, or if it feels tight then you should go for something smaller and give it a bit more time to heal.

If you want to get a tattoo or body piercing on the Costa del Sol and you are looking for a reputable studio to advise you and do great work, then check out Jaganath Tattoos and Piercing, Calle Ramon y Cajal 42, Fuengirola

Jaganath tattoos and piercing Costa del Sol

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Written by

Jennifer Leighfield

Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics. Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.


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