All About Gauge Earrings (Plugs and Tunnels)

Stretched ears or ‘gauged ears’ refer to pierced earlobes that have slowly been stretched to accommodate gauge earrings. These earrings are called plugs and tunnels, but you also get other types of stretched ear jewelry. The size of gauged earrings can range from the diameter of a pencil to a soda can.

Ear stretching is a gradual process. Doing it incorrectly can result in scarring or permanent damage, and increases the chances of infection. Ear stretching is also irreversible in many cases, so consider your options carefully before committing to this kind of body modification.

In this article, we explore the history and art of ear stretching and the types of gauge earrings you can wear. We also provide a brief how-to on the correct way to stretch your ears and what to do if you want to reverse your ear gauges.

A Brief History of Ear Stretching

Evidence of ear stretching has been found across many ancient cultures dating back millennia. The famous Ötzi, or Iceman, the natural mummy of a man who lived more than 6,000 years ago, found high in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991, appeared to have stretched earlobes.

Today, ear stretching is still widely practiced by tribal groups such as the Huaorani in the Amazon and the Maasai in Kenya. It has also become a modern fashion statement that many use as a form of self-expression.

Types of Stretched Ear Jewelry

Stretched ear jewelry, or ear gauges, are available in many different designs, including plugs, tunnels, hangers, and saddle hangers (also called spreaders). Plugs are shaped like solid cylinders and fit inside a stretched piercing hole. Tunnels are almost the same as plugs, except they are hollowed-out. Hangers, also known as dangle plugs, hang from the stretched piercing.

You can find ear gauges in various sizes to suit the diameter of your piercing. There are also a range of styles on the market, from traditional circular plugs to more intricate designs like teardrops or spirals. Furthermore, you can experiment with ear gauges made from different materials, such as silver, gold, stainless steel, titanium, acrylic, wood, glass, and precious stones.

You also don’t have to feel limited to plugs, tunnels, and hangers with stretched ears, as you can still wear other types of earrings. You can adorn your tunnels with dangle earrings or stack clickers with your gauged earrings.

What You Need To Stretch Your Ears

If you already have pierced earlobes that are fully healed, you can go ahead and start the process of stretching them. The only equipment you’ll need is the following:

  • Lubricant
  • Tapers
  • Plugs


Lubricant allows for the easy insertion of the taper through your piercing hole. Any kind of safe lubricant will do. You can find commercial-grade lubricants at most jewelry shops, but you can also use plant-based lubricants like jojoba oil or coconut oil.

Avoid using lubricants containing additives or chemicals, as these might irritate your piercing and increase the risk of infection.


Tapers are the tools you use to stretch the skin of your ears. They are shaped like a needle or spike, with one end getting progressively smaller until it forms a point. Tapers are available in various gauges, depending on how far you want to stretch your lobes.

Tapers are made of either steel or acrylic. Steel tapers are highly recommended as they make insertion easier but are more expensive than acrylic tapers. The choice of which one to use is completely up to you.

When shopping for tapers and plugs, check the quality of the pieces to ensure maximum comfort. Only opt for hypoallergenic materials and avoid buying cheap items of unknown quality.


Plugs are the round accessories that sit inside your piercing hole to keep your lobe stretched. They come in a variety of materials, each with its own pros and cons:

  • Stainless steel is affordable and durable.
  • Titanium is similar to steel but lighter and more hypoallergenic.
  • Silicone is another hypoallergenic material, making it a great option for highly sensitive ears. It may need to be cleaned more often.
  • Organic materials include finished wood, glass, horn, bone, and polished stone.

Most plugs have ‘flared’ edges that make it easier for you to put them in. We recommend that you stock up on these so you don’t have a hard time inserting your plugs.

How To Stretch Your Ears

Once you’ve gathered all your equipment, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to stretch your earlobes:

  1. Make sure your piercing is fully healed. Check that there is no discharge, swelling, itching, etc.
  2. Sterilize all your piercing equipment with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rub your earlobe to warm up the skin. You can even take a hot shower or bath to increase the blood flow to the area.
  5. Apply your choice of lubricant to your piercing and your taper from the one side to the other.
  6. Slowly and gently push the slimmer side of the taper through your piercing hole. Stop if you feel any discomfort.
  7. Insert your plug at the wider end of the taper and into your piercing hole once you can push the taper all the way through.

Tips For Caring For Your Ears During and Post-Stretching

Stretched ears don’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process that takes time and effort. If you jump the gun and stretch your lobes too quickly, you risk damaging or tearing your ear cartilage.

Follow the tips below on taking care of your ears while stretching them and once you’ve reached your desired gauge for the best results:

  • Wait a minimum of six weeks before increasing the size of your gauges, but keep a close eye on your piercings. You may need to wait longer than six weeks, depending on how long your body takes to heal. Importantly, if you see any redness or swelling, don’t go up to the next gauge.
  • Gently rub your earlobes at least once daily with a natural oil like jojoba or coconut to keep them moisturized and encourage healing.
  • Clean your piercings at least twice daily with warm water and a mild soap.
  • Soak your earlobes at least twice daily in a warm water and salt solution. Use about 1/4 tsp of salt for every 250ml of water.
  • Avoid touching the area so you don’t introduce bacteria into the piercing hole.
  • Try to avoid getting anything snagged or caught in your piercings, like clothing or hair.
  • Expect a slight odor. It’s perfectly normal for gauged ears to smell a little while you’re in the process of stretching them. This is due to the build-up of dead skin cells that can’t be washed out of the piercing. However, if the odor persists after cleansing, see your doctor.

Precautions For Gauged Earrings

As mentioned, it’s important not to rush the process of stretching your earlobes, as this can lead to permanent damage and scarring. It can also cause your earlobe to tear down the middle or result in an infection. Common signs of infection to look out for include:

  • Painful swelling or redness
  • A bleeding piercing
  • A piercing oozing cloudy yellow or green discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever

Reversing Stretched Earlobes

Stretched ears can return to a more or less normal size, provided you haven’t stretched them too far. However, if they’ve been stretched beyond a certain point, there’s a good chance you’ll have permanent holes in your lobes. That being said, stretched ears can be repaired via a surgical procedure.

It’s important to bear all these factors in mind before you commit to getting gauged earrings.


Gauged earrings are a unique form of body modification that many use to pay homage to their cultural roots or express their individuality. Ear stretching is safe if done with patience and following the correct procedure. Going up in the diameter of your gauges too quickly will injure the skin and may result in permanent damage or an infection.

Looking after your piercings while stretching is also essential. You risk infection or the build-up of scar tissue without a proper care routine.

The bottom line is, stretch your ears gradually and take the necessary care steps until you’ve reached your desired gauge.


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