Stretching is a ritual that has been performed in countless cultures for thousands of years. When done correctly, it can be a very rewarding process. It is not, however, something to be taken lightly. Proper technique and forethought are required for any successful stretch, and that is why we have put together this guide. This guide contains all of the information and tips you’ll need to properly stretch your body piercings.
The number one thing to remember about enlarging piercings is to listen to your body! Your body knows when something isn’t working, and learning to hear what it’s telling you is important.
Stretching piercings takes time and patience. Scar tissue can build up and create ugly, problematic piercings that can be difficult to stretch. A good general rule is to wait three times as long as it took to heal before the first stretch. This allows the new skin some time to thicken and toughen up before it gets traumatized by the enlarging process.
Each new size becomes larger exponentially. 10ga to 8ga doesn’t seem like much, but 1/2″ to 9/16″ is a major jump even though it is the very next size. The larger your hole, the more time you should allow between stretchings. Start out with a month or two between stretchings and, as you get larger, begin extending that time frame. Stretching piercings can be traumatic and sometimes painful, but it doesn’t always have to be. Knowing how and when will help.
Since lobes are the most commonly stretched piercings, special attention must be paid to them. Lobes get plenty of circulation so they tend to heal quickly and grow new cells easily. But it’s also easy to injure the soft tissues of the lobe. To avoid injury, soak the tissue in hot water prior to stretching to increase circulation and soften and relax the tissue. Massage is also a good way to help the tissue relax.
Using insertion tapers is the best way to stretch a piercing. A taper is a long, needle-like tool that gradually thickens to the size you desire. There are tapers available in every gauge from 18ga to 00ga, and even up to 1 inch and larger-the more gradual the taper, the less traumatic the stretch. Lubricants should not be water based unless the stretching is taking place in the mouth, or is an easy, quick stretch. Water based lubricants tend to absorb and liquefy too quickly.
Petroleum based ointments are difficult to clean out from piercings, can harbor bacteria, and we simply don’t know the possible effects these products can cause by being used inside skin. Better lubricants would include Satin Soap or other mild, liquid soaps such as Provon or even Dial (Sensitive Skin Formulas). Many piercers choose to use Technicare, a surgical scrub containing the same active ingredient found in Satin and Provon. Soaps rinse away and are extremely slippery. While they can be difficult to control, liquid soaps make for great lubrication. Remember, a tiny amount goes a long way. You can even add water to make them even more slippery. Only enough lubricant to ensure a smooth insertion should be used…too much can make the jewelry too slippery to hold on to.
When you’re ready to begin stretching, it’s wise to see a professional piercer. The stretching procedure should be completed following the same aseptic techniques used during the piercing procedure. Even though a piercing is healed, the skin can become so thin that it can become susceptible to infection or even rip. If you are going to stretch your own piercings, be sure to wash your hands with hot water and a liquid, antibacterial soap.
Specific Tips and Hints
Lobes: If you plan on getting your ear lobes stretched, you might as well start out with 10ga or 8ga piercings. After 6-9 months you should be ready for your first stretch. Captive rings work well in this case because they’re not extremely heavy and they are easy to care for. Once you get to 4ga or 2ga, begin wearing lighter jewelry like eyelets and plugs.
When inserting wood plugs that are just slightly too tight, try putting them in a zip-lock baggie and then letting them sit in the freezer for 10-20 minutes. The cold causes the wood to constrict and then they’ll warm and expand in your ear. This should only be done with healthy ears and plugs that are slightly too tight to get in easily.
A new, tight sponge can be cut to about 1/2″ larger than the plug you want to wear. Wet the sponge and squeeze it into the lobe. As the sponge dries and expands overnight it can stretch the ear quite a bit. Be careful taking the sponge out, as the skin can get quite a grip on it.
Weights are probably the most common way to stretch lobes, but they’re not always the best way. Unless the weight is distributed to all the tissue inside, the piercing the only stretching going on is where the weights actually touch the skin.
Massage regularly with jojoba oil or even extra virgin olive oil, but avoid vegetable oils as they tend to become rancid quickly.
Tongue: Not only is the tongue a popular piercing, but stretching it is becoming more and more popular. Special care must be taken to avoid damaging the soft palette and the teeth and gums. The balls of a barbell get larger with each gauge. Eventually the size of the balls alone can make wearing jewelry impossible. At high gauges, custom jewelry with domed balls or disks work much better than large barbells.
Stretching the tongue can cause an amazing amount of discomfort…sometimes much more than the original piercing. It’s usually better to start out large (10ga) than to wait for a thinner bar to heal and stretch later. Piercing with 14ga and 12ga bars does not hurt any less than a 10ga, and if you’re planning to stretch, why not start with the larger bar? Sometimes swelling can last a little longer with the 10g bar, but in the long run, it won’t matter.
Cartilage: Cartilage is a firm, structural support for the ear and nose. Unlike skin, it does not have its’ own blood supply. Cartilage receives almost all of its’ blood from the surrounding skin, so stretching cartilage is an extremely slow process. If ear cartilage is stretched too quickly the tissue can become so tight that blood cannot get to the cartilage which can cause necrosis (tissue death). Cartilage can also crack or even shatter like glass. This damage can be irreparable and even dangerous to your health. Slow way down when stretching cartilage, way down…maybe once a year for some. The thicker and more firm the cartilage, the slower you gotta go.
Nipples: If you like your nipple piercings, you’ll probably love them as they are stretched larger. Nipples can be stretched to huge sizes with time and patience. But be careful, heavy jewelry, or jewelry that gets knocked around a lot, can lead to keloiding, migration and rejection. Go slow and steady.
Genitals: In general, genital piercings are easy to stretch and tend to do so on their own with time. These highly vascular areas heal very quickly and produce new skin at an amazing rate-especially Prince Alberts and Labia. Listen to your body.
Navels: Since navel piercings take such a long time to heal, it can be 3-4 years before some navels are ready to be stretched. Navel piercings are glorified surface piercings, so they require extra attention to size, weight and time. Listen to your body.
Septums: The proper placement of a septum piercing puts it through skin rather than cartilage. But, even a perfectly placed septum piercing can be nearly impossible to stretch (depending on the individual nose). This is an easy one to “listen” to because it can become extremely painful to stretch, and remain painful for days following a stretching.
Using Tapers to Stretch
Assuming the ear is healed, massaged or soaked, cleaned, and ready:
When using a taper, it is important to have enough lubricant without having too much. Spin the tapers’ tip and front 1/3 in anti-microbial soap and then wipe off any excess globs onto the back of your glove. Begin by pushing the taper into the piercing gently until it meets resistance. At that point you need to look to see how much taper is through and how much is left. If the taper is more than half way through then the stretch will usually be fairly easy. Take a slow, deep breath and, as you exhale, push the taper through until only about 1/4 inch is left. There should be some resistance. If there is no resistance or, if you feel no burning or pressure, you can probably try the next size. If you do feel a burning sensation, or even a bit of pain, then the stretch was perfect. It’s better to allow the skin to thicken and heal before attempting to stretch further.
If the jewelry requires 0-rings, then have the one furthest from the taper already in place. Making sure that the jewelry is the same gauge as the taper, and that just the tip of the jewelry is lubricated, begin to breathe again. While exhaling, and while supporting the surrounding tissue just like a new piercing, insert the jewelry. Now place the other o-ring onto the taper and push it all the way down to the thickest end of the taper. Place that end up against the other side of the jewelry and make sure you have a very good connection. Push the o-ring right onto the jewelry. This is another place where too much lubricant causes problems.
When inserting eyelets or plugs, a tight connection between the jewelry and the taper is essential to avoid cutting the tight tissue. Once the jewelry is in, clean off excess lubricant and make sure the jewelry is long enough that swelling won’t be a problem.
It is a good idea to soak newly stretched piercings in hot salt-water 2 times per day, just like a new piercing (just in case the skin is susceptible to infection). After a week or two the piercing should feel good and healthy.
Sometimes the skin can rip during a stretching session. If this happens, you may want to consider putting the original jewelry back in to allow for healing. Wait a month or two and try again. In some cases the torn tissue will heal just fine with the tighter jewelry, but if healing isn’t happening quickly the jewelry should be downsized 1 time.
If you are going to use tapers more than once, wash them off under hot water with anti-microbial soap before each subsequent use.
Using Ring Expanding Pliers
The pliers should be taped with simple tape or band-aides to keep the pliers from scratching the inside of the ring.
If done carefully, Ring Closing Pliers won’t be needed. Use the Ring Expanding Pliers to gently open the ring just enough to be able to pull the bead out. If the right amount of force is applied, the ring will not change shape…it’ll just spring right back to its original diameter.
When putting the bead back into place, the same procedure applies. Practicing taking the bead in and out a couple of times will give you a good idea of what’s required. Having someone else re-insert the bead is a good ideal…it’s hard to do on yourself in a mirror.
The larger your holes get the more dead skin, moisture, bacteria, and dust can collect in them. This smelly, oily substance which forms (called sebum) needs to be cleaned out on a regular basis. To clean, take out your jewelry, wash your skin and the jewelry with anti-bacterial soap, and then dry thoroughly. Find out how to take care of your jewelry-some need to be oiled, others cannot get wet, and others require their own, unique care.
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, soak the piercing in warm non-iodized salt water 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 blow-out is an uneven distribution of skin and/or scar tissue from stretching too far too fast. It may look like your piercing is turned inside-out. The soaking and massaging methods described above will come in handy here, but you may still end up with permanent scar tissue. Once healed, start your next stretch from the other side, so you are “tucking in” the excess tissue. And if you do tear or blow-out your holes, take it as a reminder to stretch more slowly next time.
Note: Please keep in mind that this guide represents the opinions of many body piercers, but it is not fact. Consult with your body piercer when attempting any stretching. And above all, listen to your body!