What to Know About Ear Stretching

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 12, 2023
3 min read

Ear stretching is a specific type of body modification that affects the earlobe. Many people stretch their ears so they can wear “spacers,” or earrings with holes in the earlobes. Ear stretching can be a fun way to decorate your body, but you need to understand how to take care of the stretched skin, so it heals correctly. Here’s what you need to know about how it can affect your health.

Ear stretching is the process of expanding an earlobe piercing hole over several months. This is a type of aesthetic body modification. Some people stretch the hole just a little bit to accommodate larger earring posts. Other people stretch their ears until it’s possible to see through the hole. ‌

Ear stretching allows people to wear unique types of jewelry in their ears known as “spacers” or “gauges.” Some people stretch their ears because of cultural traditions, while others just like how it looks. You can safely stretch your ears with the right tools, but you should understand how it affects your health first.

If you choose to stretch your ears, you need to make sure you do it slowly and carefully. Your skin doesn’t stretch like this on its own, after all. If you irritate your ear or stretch it too quickly, you can suffer what’s known as a “blowout.”

Blowouts are formed when you stretch the ear too quickly. The inner ring of skin around the piercing will become red and irritated, and potentially even lumpy. It will most likely be itchy or painful, and you may also experience an infection

These blowouts are the result of your skin being stretched too far and failing to heal properly. Instead of slowly forming new skin cells in the stretched area, the stress caused microtears that became irritated. If you only slightly overstretch your ear, a minor blowout may develop, which can be reversed with the proper care. However, the blowout could become permanent if it gets infected. 

You should also know that, after a certain point, your earlobes will not return to their original size on their own. If you stretch your ears above 2 gauge (6mm) size, you will likely need surgical assistance to return them to their original condition.

When you stretch your ears, you’ll use tapers, or spikes, made of body-safe materials to slowly start widening your piercings. You insert these tapers into your piercing, and they will sit in your piercing and slowly stretch it over time. Some people will also use an oil or lubricant to help the taper slide through the piercing more easily.

Stretching your ears can take months or years, depending on how large you want them to be. During this time, your ear will be sensitive. However, they should never be painful or stressed. A good rule of thumb is to go up one gauge size every four to six weeks. This gives your ears time to fully adjust before you expand them more.

The entire time you’re actively stretching your ears, they are slowly healing themselves. Taking precautions during the stretching process can help you avoid blowouts and infections. Here’s how to protect your ears while you’re gauging them:

  • Always take your time. If you’re not sure if your piercing is ready to go up a jewelry size, then wait. As your gauge gets bigger, it will take longer for your ears to recover. Taking it slow can help you avoid having to drop down in jewelry sizes for your ears to heal.
  • Keep your ears clean. Clean ears are less likely to get irritated or infected. Always wash your hands before touching your piercings, and sterilize your earrings and tapers with alcohol before putting them in. You can also rinse your ears with a homemade saline solution to reduce irritation and keep them clean.
  • Use the right jewelry. Many people are allergic to certain metals, especially nickel. Use body-safe materials like stainless steel, acrylic, or titanium in your tapers and earrings to avoid an allergic reaction that can lead to a blowout.
  • Massage your ears. Some studies suggest that gently massaging your ears with a moisturizer like coconut oil may help some people reduce scarring. That keeps your ears in better condition so that they can withstand more stretching. Massage your ears once a day to keep them healthy while you stretch.‌