Ear stretching can be a great looking, versatile and ultimately rewarding body modification. However, it is a process that calls for a little know-how, more than a little patience and most of all respect and understanding of your own body. The most important 'rule' to remember when stretching is to be safe!
Stretching is the means by which one slowly enlarges a body piercing to accommodate increasingly larger sizes of jewelry. This is done by slightly stretching the tissue and allowing it to relax and heal at an increased size.
Plugs & TunnelsCommon styles of earrings include plugs, tunnels, hangers, and tapers.
Plugs are the most commonly worn gauged earring type and come in a variety of styles. The gauge size for a plug is measured from the middle of the plug; when the sides of the plug are a different gauge size than the center it's referred to as a flare. Flared plugs can either be single or double flare, with single flared plugs being uniform in size to the center on one end and flared on the other. The size of the flare varies, but it can make for a challenge to insert, especially with double flared plugs, also referred to as saddle plugs. When moving from one gauge size to another, only use single flared or no flare plugs to avoid damaging your ears due to over stretching. For single or no flared plugs an o-ring can be used to keep the plug in place if it's not staying securely within the gauged ear. Tunnels are a variant of plugs that are hollow in the center, allowing the viewer to look completely through the gauged ear hole.
Tapers are conically shaped, with the largest end representing the gauge size of the taper. Lengths can vary widely, but in general they're between one to two inches in length and are typically straight. While mainly used for stretching to the next gauge size, tapers can also be used for aesthetics, but the practice is usually discouraged. If you're actively stretching your ear or if you're still healing from a new stretch, it is definitely not recommended to wear tapers with the exception of the short period they're in while inserting the next gauge size (in the stretching process described below). The main reason not to wear tapers when you're in the middle of stretching your ear is that the gauge size can be inconsistent based on where you are wearing the taper. Additionally, because of the way tapers stick out from the ear, the weight of the taper is unevenly distributed over your ear, which can negatively impact the health of your lobes. While we typically don't recommend wearing straight tapers in for long periods, wearing curved tapered hangers that more evenly distribute the weight is typically fine provided your ears are healed fully.
Hangers, as the name suggests, are designed to hang from the lobe and vary widely in shape and size. Hangers insert similarly to tapers in that they usually taper off at the end and gradually increase in diameter until reaching the specified gauged size. The similarity typically ends there though, as hangers are curved and do not necessarily decrease uniformly in size from end to end. Hangers are often very intricate in design and can be made from a variety of materials. In general we recommend wearing lightweight materials such as wood, bone, or acrylics for comfort and to avoid unintentionally stretching your ears more than desired. While weighted or heavy hangers can be used as a tool for stretching, do not use excessive weight as it can ruin the elasticity of your ears and lead to permanent damage.
Non-Circular Plugs and Tunnels - Uniquely shaped plugs and tunnels have become more popular in recent years, and include styles such as teardrops, rectangles, and triangles. Similar to other non-standard styles uniquely shaped plugs and tunnels should only be worn for short periods of time, and generally should not be worn while sleeping. The reason they should not be worn for longer periods of time is that they apply pressure unevenly to the ear, with most of the pressure being exerted at the corners or hard edges of the plugs. One of the major drawbacks to uniquely shaped plugs is that sizing them against standard circular plugs isn't completely straight forward, which can lead to issues with proper fit. As with any new stretching jewelry pay close attention to how your ears feel; if you start to experience pain or discomfort then you should change them out. With that said, uniquely shaped plugs can create a very distinctive look and are safe to wear provided proper care and attention is exercised when wearing them.