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The popularity and pitfalls of ear stretching

The attraction and dangers of having large lobe holes
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Having your ears pierced has been a rite of passage for teenagers for decades, but nowadays those holes may be getting a whole lot bigger!

Ear stretching, or ear gauging, is becoming more common.

So what is ear stretching?

It’s basically having a larger-than-average hole in your ear lobe so you can wear various jewels, plugs or so-called flesh tunnels.

ear stretching

These can be made of metal, bone, wood, horn or stone.

You start out with a normal piercing then gradually, using special tapers or plugs, make the hole bigger. You can have it done at a piercing parlour or there are kits for you to do it yourself at home. There are all sorts of different ear jewellery on the market to help you stretch and complement your look.

How popular is ear stretching?

It’s impossible to get exact figures, but anecdotally it seems to be becoming less niche and more common.

Even Dougie Poynter from McFly, who won I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! is a fan.

Mark runs on online shop based in Brighton selling ear stretching jewellery and kits.

"It’s very popular nowadays, almost mainstream, now people on telly have them," He says.

Mark reckons it started gaining momentum as an underground craze in about 2004.

Who has ear stretching done and why?

Marcus Mellor has had both of his lobes stretched. He runs a piercing shop in Manchester and has been doing stretching for ten years. He says: "We get all types of people coming in for ear stretching, including solicitors and doctors."

He thinks most people have it done for aesthetic reasons - they think it looks good.

How do you do ear stretching?

There are different ways to stretch ear lobes.

The advice from Mark and Marcus is to do it gradually and carefully.

Marcus advises to only increase the hole in one-millimetre increments.

Mark says: "Go up in jumps of 1mm or 2mm then wait four to six weeks before stretching again."

"If you do it properly and not too quickly, it doesn’t hurt."

Is bigger better?

There are no general size rules; it depends on the person and the skin on their ears.

"Some people like them huge, say 50mm," says Mark. "The most popular size used to be 6mm or 8mm. Now it’s 10 or 12mm."

History of ear stretching

Ear stretching has a long history. Tutankhamun the mummified boy Pharaoh was discovered with stretched ears. Statues of Buddha are often seen with dangling lobes, maybe the result of the heavy gold jewellery he wore.

Tribes like the Masai in Kenya are known for their big lobes.

Marcus says: "Ear stretching is found in tribal culture all over the world."

Large ears were classed as a "sign of wisdom."

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