History and CultureEdit

Ear stretching is a modification practiced by and originating from indigenous peoples. Tribes in various countries in Africa, Eurasia, America and other indigenous lands have practiced the ritual of ear stretching for cultural, religious and traditional purposes. This is a ritual that has been practiced by people all over the world from ancient times. Bone, horn, wood, and stone were generally carved for ear stretching, but other organic materials that had the right shape naturally, from shells to teeth and claws, were also used. 

Health IssuesEdit

There are few health issues directly related to stretching piercings. Most stretching methods do not create a wound. If an individual's skin elasticity and vascularity allow, most piercings can be stretched far beyond their initial size. Anywhere from 2g (6.5 millimeters (0.3 in)) to 13 millimeters (0.5 in) is normally given as the "point of no return" for earlobe piercings, as over this size there is a significant risk that the hole will never shrink back to the size of the original piercing. Many variables affect whether or not a stretched piercing will return to its original size, such as the length of time taken to stretch and the amount of time the piercing is fully healed at a particular size.

Jewelery for stretched earsEdit

There is a large variety of jewelry available for stretched piercings. Many jewelry materials can be used in the manufacturing of jewelry for stretched piercings; materials that would ordinarily be too delicate or brittle to be inserted in smaller-gauge piercings are freely used. Stone, fossilized materials, wood, bone, horn, amber, bamboo, silicone, and glass are not uncommon in stretched piercings. Some of these materials "breathe" better than metals or plastics, preventing the buildup of sebum in the enlarged ear lobe. Jewelry, however, is still often made of acrylic or metal. There are dangers associated with wearing porous materials such as acrylic, stone, wood, bamboo, horn, bone, or other materials with small or microscopic holes, in a freshly stretched piercing. These materials not only have microscopic holes that will trap bacteria and can cause infection, but also cannot be autoclaved or properly sanitized, and are therefore unfit for a fresh stretch or piercing. The best materials for a fresh stretch that is not vulnerable to bacteria are surgical steel, titanium, and glass. This is because these materials are non-porous and can withstand the heat and pressure of an autoclave, so that they can be properly sanitized before insertion.

The typical jewelry worn in a large stretched piercing is a plug. It is solid and usually cylindrical, and may be flared out at one or both ends (saddle-shaped), or kept in place by o-rings fastened around the ends. A variation on this is the flesh tunnel, which is shaped in the same way, but hollow in the middle. Claw-, talon-, and spiral-shaped pieces are also commonplace. Ear-weights in varying degrees of size are also worn, commonly made from silver or bronze, though other metals such as copper or brass are occasionally used. However, some people are easily irritated by some metals; therefore, care should be taken when metal jewelry is worn. Ear cuffs (such as the gold ones utilized in South India provinces) or wrapped bead work (common amongst the Maasai of East Africa) are other options, though are not usually seen in modern Western contexts.

Methods of StretchingEdit

Tapering — Tapering involves the use of a taper, a conical rod usually made specifically for this purpose. It is lubricated and pushed through the fistula until the widest part of the taper is level with the skin surrounding the piercing. Larger jewelry is then pushed through, parallel to the back of the taper. Tapers come in a variety of sizes and are usually identified by the gauge of the large end. They can vary in length, but most tapers are about 2–3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm) long. Most tapers are made of surgical steel or acrylic and some have threads extending from the wide end to allow the attachment of barbell  jewelry, to make insertion easier. Improvised objects like knitting needles and porcupine quills or cocktail sticks are sometimes used as tapers by people stretching at home; however, this is not recommended by professionals, as their gauge cannot be exactly determined and sterile practices are rarely followed at home. Tapering is discouraged at sizes above 2g (6.5 millimeters (0.26 in)). The use of a taper makes it easier to stretch a piercing before it is ready, which can lead to tearing the fistula, pain, bleeding, swelling, blowouts, and scar tissue.

Teflon tape stretching — The existing jewelry is removed and a thin layer of non-adhesive Teflon (PFTE tape), which is inert and safe for piercing use, is wrapped around the jewelry. Non-adhesive bondage tape and heat-shrink tubing are also frequently used. The jewelry is then re-inserted, and as the piercing adapts to the new diameter of jewelry, the process is repeated with increasingly thicker layers of tape.

Dead stretching — Dead stretching is the process of inserting a larger piece of jewelry into an existing piercing without any other equipment. As with tapering, this can lead to injury if the fistula is unready: either a tear of the skin, or a "blowout", in which the fistula is pushed out through the back of the piercing. Some piercings will stretch slightly on their own and larger jewelry can be inserted without the potential for unpleasant side effects, especially piercings that see a lot of "play", such as tongue piercings. Self stretching can be induced in other piercings by massaging the tissue, playing with the jewelry, and tugging it in small circles. Dead stretching is very safe if the lubricated jewelry slides easily into the piercing. The jewelry should never be forced in place

Weights — Large, heavy jewelry or weighted objects can be used to stretch piercings. This method is not widely used in modern-day, as it tends to cause piercings to migrate and can, especially in ears, lead to a thinning of tissue that is disfiguring or requires reconstructive surgery. However, it is a method that has been traditionally utilized by various tribes, such as the Dayaks in Borneo, that practice extreme earlobe elongation.

Silicone Plugs — These plugs are soft and malleable, allowing a relatively large plug to be inserted into the fistula. Once folded and inserted into the ear, they expand, stretching the earlobe. However, stretching with silicone is often a dangerous decision. Its not recommended to use silicone plugs to stretch, due to the tacky, porous surface. The stretched fistula can adhere to the silicone if the lubricant used is pushed out by the pressure of the stretch, and an airtight seal can be created, trapping infection and causing it to spread internally. Also because silicone expands and contracts in temperature change, they can swell and potentially blow out a newly stretched fistula.

Jewelry SizesEdit

20 .032 approx. 1/32" .812
18 .040 > 1/32" 1.024
16 .051 < 1/16" 1.291
14 .064 approx. 1/16" 1.628
12 .081 > 1/16" 2.053
10 .102 < 1/8" 2.588
8 .128 approx. 1/8" 3.264
6 .162 > 1/8" 4.115
4 .204 < 1/4" 5.189
2 .258 approx 1/4" 6.544
0 .325 5/16" 8.251
00 .365 approx. 3/8" 9.266
000 .410 7/16" 11.110
0000 .500 1/2" 12.710
9/16" .563 9/16" 14.287
5/8" .630 5/8" 15.875
3/4" .750 3/4" 19.050
7/8" .875 7/8" 22.225
1" 1.000 1" 25.400

Pictures of Stretched earsEdit