Stretching

 

The enlargement of pierced holes has been practiced on nearly every continent, among countless people for thousands of years. The Buddha himself was known to be a king when he was born with his earlobes already gracefully enlarged, marking him as wise and destined for greatness.
 
We hope you may find some helpful info in this portion of our site.
 
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?
There are several different ways to go about stretching. The key to all of them is time. Your body's tissue needs time in between stretches to adjust, heal and grow new cells. The slower you stretch, the easier and more comfortable it will be, and the further you will be able to go. We recommend going no faster than one size every two or three months (e.g. 12g to 10g, 00g to 7/16") at the smaller sizes, remembering that the harder the stretch or the bigger the size, the slower you go. Keep in mind that each stretch is bigger than the one before. Jewelry is measured in diameter, but what your body feels is circumference, which increases far more quickly. If you do not allow sufficient time for tissue regeneration, your skin may tear (requiring lengthy healing) or become thin or scarred (limiting future stretches). If you go slowly enough and keep your holes healthy, you can go on forever.
 
Massage can help maintain healthy tissue and promote cell growth. It increases circulation and may speed healing and the breakdown of scar tissue. Gently knead the skin between your fingers with or without Holey Butt'r® or oils (Jojoba, Emu, Vitamin E, etc.), can increase your overall stretching and healing success.
 
How big can I go before they won’t heal up?
This question pops up quite regularly, and unfortunately the answer is extremely vague. Everyone’s body is different, and therefore everyone’s lobes will shrink up to a different point. As a general rule of thumb 2 gauge is widely considered the “point of no return”. This is where your lobes become significantly less likely to heal even to the size of a standard earring.
 
Stretching is not an exact science. There is never any guarantee that your ears will shrink back up. If you are going to stretch, make sure that you will be comfortable at that size.
 
Plugs
 plug Jewelry
Probably the most popular method of stretching is by gradually inserting larger and larger plugs in holes (primarily earlobes), leaving in for 2 or 3 months to heal up. This works especially well at smaller sizes, when the next size can simply be pushed into the hole. After a few weeks, the hole will begin to loosen around the new jewelry, and when a good amount of light can be seen above it, you are ready to go on.
Keep them clean! Keep in mind that it is hard to get dead skin cells and other matter out of plugged holes without removing jewelry. After the piercing has adjusted to the stretch (a few days), begin popping plugs out in the shower to clean your ears. The larger the hole, the greater the internal surface area. This creates more dead skin cells and more stink. Keep them clean! Also the action of removing the plugs daily and massaging the tissue with soap helps keep skin supple and helps you stretch more easily.
 
Tape Wrap
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, PTFE (Teflon)  plumber's tape is used. 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, but take care not to overlap the ends of each layer, as it will create irritating uneven spots.
You can do this every few days as your ear adjusts to each new wrap of tape. This will increase the circumference by smaller increments 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.
 
Tapering
Tapering is the most effective way to stretch your ears with minimal stress. An insertion taper is a graduated piece of metal, which begins at or below the current hole size, and increases smoothly in diameter to the desired size of the hole. Once we have the taper, we lube it up with some Techni-Care® and slide it through your ear in one fluid motion. When we get to the end of the taper, we 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, and is usually just a few seconds. This is a service offered in most shops.
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! and never push past what is comfortable. Don't force it; it will get there!
If you are not quite ready for the next size, or don't want to buy new jewelry, you can slip all kinds of things in your hole with the old plug. Any extra rings, barbells, straws, beads, etc. can be put in with the plug to pack the hole. Move the objects around periodically to relieve any sore spots, and avoid using thin or sharp pieces, which may cut skin under pressure. One method is to wrap plugs with non-reactive tape (surgical tape, good quality black electrical tape or Teflon plumber's tape works well), but take care not to overlap the ends of each layer, as it will create irritating uneven spots. With this method you increase the circumference by smaller increments.
 
Weights
Perhaps the most common method of stretching worldwide is by adding heavy weights to existing holes, allowing gravity to work for you. Adding more pieces as your skin adjusts can gradually increase weight. This is one of the gentlest ways to stretch, and it allows you to wear more variety of jewelry than just plugs. Beautiful silver, brass, copper and gold weights can be found from cultures around the world, from the Dayaks of Borneo to the Maasai of East Africa. Wearing weights, either for stretching or simply for their elegance, provides you the opportunity to wear some of the jewelry people originally began stretching their holes to wear. Weights can also be used in combination with plugs, adding the weights below an outgrown plug or through an eyelit.
 
Stretching Tips
A few bits of advice that may help you on your way
 
Heat. The best time to stretch is after a hot bath or shower, or after using hot compresses on the area. The warmth will cause the tissue to expand and soften, making your skin stretch more easily and much more comfortably. It also increases circulation, which speeds healing.
 
Massage.   A good place to start, a week before the stretch, message the part you are going to stretch for a few minutes with Jojoba oil, once a day, this will help prepare and help for doing the stretch.
 
Lubrication. Lubricate any tapers or new jewelry to ease insertion and minimize pain and tearing. Water-based-soluable lubricants have less chance of irritation, and wash off easily afterwards. These include K-Y jelly®, Surgilube®, and soap. Oil-based lubes are also okay in moderation, but may leave behind an oily film, which keeps oxygen and cleaning solutions out. Common examples are Neosporin®, Bacitracin®, triple-antibiotic ointment, Vaseline®, and olive oil.  Jojoba oil is a natural seed extract, which is excellent both as a lubricant and to condition skin.  It is available in health food stores.
 
Cleanliness. Keeping your piercing's clean during stretching is of utmost importance! Just because it was healed doesn't mean you can leave it dirty without risk of infection/irritation. The stretching process causes irritation and tiny tears in the skin, which leave openings for bacteria. Antibacterial soap in the shower will not only kill these germs, but also remove the dead skin cells, which make your holes itch and stink.
 
Patience. One more time: Go Slow! Patience is the key to healthy stretching. This is not a contest for speed and size, but an interactive experiment with your body's limits and how to extend them. Find what works for you and go with it.
 
Forethought. Do not assume this is reversible. There is no set size or time limit that divides what will shrink back and what will not. Most people's holes begin shrinking immediately after their jewelry is removed, particularly if they are irritated. However, you should never enter into any form of body modification without forethought and the understanding that you and your body will not be the same again. Fashionable as it may be at the moment, body modification is not a trend but an intrinsic way of being.
 
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.
 
Materials
What materials are appropriate for fresh stretches?
 
Implant-grade stainless steel: 316LVM (ASTM F-138) Implant-grade titanium: 6AI4V ELI (ASTM F-136) Niobium, implant grade PTFE (Teflon), Borosilicate glass, which meets ISO 3585, Soft Glass aka soda-lime glass.
 
Plastic / Acrylic
An entire book could be written on the dangers of acrylic and other improper materials being utilized as long-term body jewelry. We do not carry plastic / acrylic  plugs , because of the problems we have seen with them.  The cost is what people like most about plastic / acrylic, it's cheap. While not appropriate for fresh piercings,  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.
 
 In general, try types that are less porous and more dense (or surgical grade) as they are less likely to cause reactions, and keep a few key points in mind. Hard acrylics (such as polymethyl methacrylate, aka Lucite®/Plexiglas®) scratch easily, and may shatter from impact (biting!) or sudden temperature changes. Also, like many other plastics, they will break down from exposure to solvents such as alcohol, ammonia, and petroleum products.  Remember that Listerine and most hair products contain large amounts of alcohol, and keep petroleum-based lubes to a minimum.
 
More flexible plastics, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, Teflon®), monofilament nylon, and Delrin can also be used in piercings. Monofilament nylon (fishing line or Weedeater cord) makes excellent discreet retainers to keep piercings open--especially useful for surgery, X-rays or pregnancy, when hard or metal jewelry may be problematic.  Just cut off a piece a little longer than your piercing, burn one end with a flame to melt it into a ball. Insert the non-burnt end through the piercing, and melt the other end into a disk with a heated knife. When you no longer need the retainer, simply cut one end with scissors and remove.
 
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the usual component of Fimo® and Sculpy clays, and fetish gear. While some people are okay wearing it, it is generally more reactive than the other plastics listed above. If you do use it, make sure to bake it first (according to manufacturer's instructions), and then to coat it with a clear nail polish or polyurethane sealant. Let this dry for at least 24 hours before wearing.
 
If you do try wearing plastics, remember that they are all petroleum-based chemical compounds. This means they are not naturally in contact with living tissue, and are created in ways, which exploit and/or destroy the environment. Plastics come from industries, which are actively endangering the traditional cultures that gave us stretching to begin with. Beyond this, reactions to synthetic products often develop over time, with repeated exposure. Even if you were fine with plastics in the past, keep an eye on your piercings.  At the first sign of excessive discharge, itching, swelling or heat, take them out!
 
Organic Products
Wood, bone and other natural products have been used for thousands of years as body jewelry. They come from the earth and from timeless human tradition. However, organic jewelry will require a little more care than machine-tooled metals and plastics.
 
When you buy wood or bone jewelry, it has usually already been oiled and/or waxed. However, it is still a good idea to reseal the piece before wearing it, to condition the material, maintain luster and keep moisture and bacteria out.
 
Most organics respond well to oils. After washing the jewelry in a non-chemical soap and drying, simply rub the jewelry down with an oil-soaked cloth and let it dry. Jojoba oil, available at health food stores, is excellent as it is readily integrated into body tissue and does not go bad. Grape seed, peanut or olive oil will also work. However, food grade oils may become rancid over time or in excessive heat. So from time to time (especially in the summer), wash jewelry with a non-chemical soap and re-oil. Do not use vegetable oil.
 
Beeswax can also work well as a sealant, except for people with pollen allergies. Small wheels of wax are inexpensive at craft and sewing stores. Break off a small piece of beeswax, warm it in your hands, and rub it into the jewelry surfaces, which will touch your skin. Wax does not condition most organic materials as deeply as oil. It also does not deepen wood color, as oil sometimes does.
Reapply wax or oil periodically, whenever jewelry surface begins to look dry. Over time the oils will soak into your skin, conditioning it and breaking down scar tissue.
 
From time to time the wood grain may begin to expand, making the surface rough. When this happens, sand with a 400-grit fine sandpaper (wrap around finger to get inside curves) to remove swollen cells, and then polish on a piece of cardboard. Wash with mild soap and water to remove residue. After dry, re-oil or wax, and wear. Lighter, softer grained woods may need sanding more often than darker, denser ones.
Avoid wearing wood or bone jewelry in water if possible. The more it is exposed to moisture, the more you will need to maintain it.  Wash jewelry periodically, keeping in mind that porous organic materials may act like a sponge. Remember any chemicals you put on them will be absorbed and gradually released back into your skin. So you may want to use a mild non-chemical soap to clean them. Try glycerin, milk soap, or diluted Castille soap. Or clean them with tea tree oil if you are not allergic to it. Do not autoclave organic jewelry!!
 
Common Sense & Troubleshooting
Some organic products may not be appropriate for some people, even when properly sealed. Allergic reactions are possible, you should pay attention to your body. Some woods in particular are often the source of irritation. Any woods with a high tannic acid content, or which leave a bitter burning sensation on the tongue should not be worn. Most rosewoods are also rather volatile, as is Purple Heart. Ebony works well for most everyone.
 
Pay attention to your new jewelry, and at the first sign of allergy, take it out! See Allergic Reactions section for suggested care.
 
A note on Amber
Amber jewelry (made from petrified tree sap) is widely prized for its warm glow and radiant beauty--both to the eye and the skin. It comes in all the colors of a sunset. From milky white and pale yellow, to glowing orange and deep opaque red. It is particularly found near the Baltic Sea, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Mexico. It's density and hardness depend largely upon its origin. It makes great body jewelry as well, and is easily maintained.
 
Wash your amber as needed with a gentle soap. (Dead skin cell build-up is especially apparent on translucent jewelry.) Amber does not do well in extreme heat -- it wants to melt back into its original sap form. So remove it before sunbathing, sitting in the sauna or walking across a desert. Don't try to autoclave it boy will you have a mess to clean up. Amber that is not worn often, or especially old or porous pieces may need re-oiling periodically. Again, Jojoba oil works well; other oils can also be used. If you wear it often, the oil from your skin may be enough. Note beeswax is not ideal for amber, it tends to obscure the surface.
 
Watch out for fake amber, here is a test. Rub the amber back and forth on a paper towel, tear a small piece of paper towel, put the amber right over the small piece and the amber should pick up the piece of paper towel, because real amber can make static electricity. The fake amber will not do this.
 
In Case of Trouble
Allergic Reactions no matter what materials you choose during stretching, allergic reactions are always possible. Human bodies are all-unique, and are always changing. They can react to virtually anything, even if it is usually hypoallergenic, even if your friends can wear it, even if you could wear it last year. Changes in your health, environment, and lifestyle can also change your body's tolerance to foreign materials. As long as you keep an eye on your piercings, you should quickly realize what works for you.
 
If you suddenly begin to get excessive itching, swelling, rash, redness, heat or clear fluid discharge, take your jewelry out immediately! Put in something less reactive if possible (glass, implant grade steel, niobium, titanium), or leave the hole empty if your body insists. Soak your piercing in hot salt water several times a day until cleared up (1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt to 8 ounces hot water in a glass). This will help draw out any fluids or chemical residue in the skin, and will calm the skin and help speed healing.
 
Avoid chemical soaps (including antibacterials) and solutions if you are having an allergic reaction. Adding extra chemicals may exacerbate the problem. Try Castille or glycerine soap, or Ivory, or irrigating it with saline. Milk-based soaps are sometimes helpful, as they soothe reactions to acidic compounds. Some people have luck using cortisone creams on allergic reactions; others find these products make them worse. Use your judgment and pay attention to your body's own reactions.
 
Tearing / Blow-outs
If you tear a piercing during stretching, you will usually know immediately. You will often get some bleeding, and the piece that was so hard to push through a moment ago suddenly slides easily. If this happens downsize to your original jewelry immediately.  You can also soak the piercing in warm salt water as described above for a few days, until it seems better. Once it is no longer scabbing or crusty, start massaging the skin with Jojoba oil, vitamin E or cocoa butter several times a day. This will speed healing and soften any developing scar tissue.
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, and if you do tear or blowout your holes, take it as a reminder to stretch more slowly next time.
 
Taking care of your well heal hole
Holey Butt'r® is a premium ear care crème to maintain stretched ear lobes. Contains a natural blend of emollients and moisturizers including Karanja oil, Shea Butter, Jojoba Oil, and Soy wax.  Here’s a little information on each of the ingredients:
Scientific research has confirmed that Karanja oil is non-toxic and an effective antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, dermatological and dental agent. This oil has been used for centuries to aid in the healing of topical skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, rashes, burns and acne. It is rich in fatty acids and glycerides and together with its healing properties, provides an excellent natural moisturizing base for skin care formulations.
 
Shea Butter has a yellow, buttery color with a rich, creamy nut aroma. Used predominantly for skin care, Shea butter is hailed for its protecting and emollient properties and as a treatment for minor skin wounds and irritations. Rich in cinnamon acid, it protects the skin from UV rays
 
Jojoba oil is a liquid wax. It closely resembles the sebum of the skin, and is rich in vitamin E. This promotes a glowing complexion.
 
Soy wax is extremely high in Lecithin, Sterolins, Vitamin E, B vitamins and anti-oxidants. It has an advanced softening and moisturizing action that leaves the skin soft and supple so it is very suitable for very dry & dehydrated skin.
 
Emu Oil for Stretching
Apply emu oil daily as needed on clean surface with clean hands. Emu oil will keep area moist and pliable. Helps prevent tears and blow-outs on ear stretching. Put a drop of emu oil on larger gauge jewelry before insertion to ease discomfort and increase slide.
 
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 stuff 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 significant 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 will vary from person to person and from jewelry material to material, with metals generally seeming worse than other materials, like organics.  See the materials section for more information.