Gauging is the process of stretching a piercing to accommodate larger jewelry. Most ear piercings are performed at an 18 or 20 gauge, which is very small; however, the lobes can be stretched to 3 inches in diameter or more. While it is possible to use a scalpel or dermal punch to cut ears to a large gauge right away, professional piercers often recommend piercing with a 4 or 6 gauge needle and stretching the piercing slowly to the desired gauge. Visit a piercer certified by the Association of Professional Piercers to ensure piercing and stretching are performed correctly.
Remove your current jewelry and clean earlobes with iodine or surgical scrub on a sterile gauze pad. Your piercer may use surgical scrub as both disinfectant and lubricant; this is normal and acceptable. Gently massage the lobes while cleaning.
Lubricate a stainless steel taper with a tip the size of your current piercing and an end that is the size to which you want to stretch. If the lobes were cleaned with iodine, use a water-based lubricant.
Insert the small end of the lubricated taper into your current, healed piercing. Take a deep breath and exhale. On the exhale, the piercer will push the taper through and complete the stretch.
Hold the larger, autoclave-sterilized jewelry against the end of the taper. As you push the taper out, slide the jewelry in.
Care for your stretched piercings just as you would new ones. Once daily, mix a solution of 1/8 teaspoon non-iodized sea salt with 1 cup warm water. Pour the solution into two unused disposable cups and soak each earlobe for 15 minutes, leaving the jewelry in. Afterward, wash your lobes with unscented antimicrobial soap.
Stretch with a taper no more than once every six months. Remember that slow is key.
Wrap your plugs with Teflon tape when your earlobes have stretched beyond the available taper sizes. Wrap the tape around once, reinsert the plugs, and wait several days before wrapping again. Stretch one wrap at a time until your piercings are the size you want.
Ask a professional piercer to help you select appropriate jewelry for stretching. Purchase jewelry no larger than two sizes bigger than your current piercing, preferably made of stainless steel or titanium that has been autoclave-sterilized.
Stretching ears too fast can lead to "blowout," in which a small lip of skin is forced outside the tunnel of the piercing. The way to avoid blowout is to stretch very gradually, allowing freshly stretched piercings plenty of time to heal.