- present participle of gauge
Stretching (sometimes erroneously referred to as gauging or scalpelling), in the context of body piercing, is the deliberate expansion of a healed fistula (hole in the skin) for the purpose of wearing body piercing jewelry. Ear piercings are the most commonly stretched piercings, with nasal septum piercings, tongue piercings, industrial piercings and lip piercings/lip plates following close behind. All piercings can be stretched to some degree, however. Cartilage piercings are usually more difficult to stretch, and more likely to form hypertrophic scars or keloids if stretched quickly. Healing is very important in between stages of stretching.
Stretching is usually done in small increments to minimize the potential for damaging the healed fistula or creating scar tissue. In North America, most stretching methods go up by a single even-sized gauge at a time. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, jewelry is metric, but the increments between standard sizes are similar.
There are several common methods used to enlarge piercings, of various origins and appropriate for different circumstances.
- Tapering — The most common professional technique for stretching piercings, tapering involves the use of a taper, a conical rod usually made specifically for this purpose. It is lubricated and pushed through the fistula until the widest part of the taper is level with the skin surrounding the piercing. Larger jewelry is then pushed through, parallel to the back of the taper. Tapers come in a variety of sizes and are usually identified by the gauge of the large end. They can vary in length, but most tapers are about 2-3 inches (approx. 5-7 centimetres). Most tapers are made of surgical steel or acrylic and some have threads extending from the wide end to allow the attachment of barbell jewelry, to make insertion easier. Improvised objects like knitting needles are sometimes used as tapers by people stretching at home.
- Dead stretching — Any stretching where no equipment is used and larger jewelry is forced through an existing piercing. This can lead to two types of injury: a simple tear of the skin, or a "blowout" in which the fistula is pushed out through the back of the piercing by pressure. A buildup of scar tissue may be created, which will weaken the fistula and can make it more difficult to stretch in the future. Some piercings will stretch slightly on their own and larger jewelry can be inserted without the potential for unpleasant side effects, especially piercings that see a lot of "play", such as tongue piercings, and those that have loosened to the extent that, when gently pulled on, light can be seen over the top of jewelry being worn.
- Teflon tape stretching — The existing jewelry is removed and a thin layer of non-adhesive Teflon tape, which is inert and safe for piercing use, is wrapped around the jewelry. The jewelry is then re-inserted, and as the piercing adapts to the new diameter of jewelry, the process is repeated with the next application of tape being thicker than the previous one. This is done until the fistula has stretched enough to accept new jewelry altogether. This is the safest way to stretch piercings and is recommended by most professionals.
- Weights — Large, heavy jewelry or weighted objects can be used to stretch piercings. This method is not widely used in modern-day, as it tends to cause piercings to migrate and can, especially in ears, lead to a thinning of tissue that is disfiguring or requires reconstructive surgery. However, it is a method that has been traditionally utilized by various tribes, such as the Dayaks in Borneo, that practice extreme earlobe elongation.
- Scalpelling — Rather than expanding a healed fistula, this method involves extending the size of the piercing by using a scalpel to cut the edge of the fistula, expanding its diameter. It is often used in earlobe piercings. This technique is also often used to alter the placement of a large piercing.
- Scalpel and taper — After an area of flesh is removed (using the scapel method), a large taper can be inserted directly after, allowing skin to instantly be stretched to large diameters; several inches can be achieved. This method is much rarer and can be extremely painful. The use of a dermal punch, followed by tapering, is also used in this procedure.
- Silicone Plugs — These plugs are soft and malleable, allowing a relatively large plug to inserted into the fistula. Once folded and inserted into the ear, they expand, stretching the earlobe. However, stretching with silicone is often a foolish decision. Kaos Softwear does not recommend using silicone plugs to stretch with, due to the tacky surface.
Health issuesThere are few health issues directly related to stretching piercings. Most stretching methods do not create a wound, and properly stretched piercings will heal after stretching, although If an individual's skin elasticity and vascularity allow, most piercings can be stretched far beyond their initial size. Piercings smaller than 7-8 mm will often close up if jewelry is removed, although some take longer than others depending on the individual body part and age. However, each person's tissue will differ, and many variables—such as a person's age, length of time taken to stretch, time fully healed at a particular size, skin elasticity, and scar tissue formation, amongst others—can affect the ability of the skin not only to stretch, but also to close up. However, if you stretch them correctly and let them heal for at least 4-6 weeks before going bigger, your lobes should be healthy and will shrink at least a couple sizes after the jewelery is removed.
If taken beyond the body's ability to stretch, or if done improperly, damage caused can require minor surgery to repair, or may not be repairable. Blowouts from over -stretching, especially ones caused by "dead stretching", can create scar tissue, which can lead to keloiding or hypertrophic scarring. Stretching too quickly, or skipping from one smaller gauge to a gauge more than one size larger, can cause bleeding and infection and eventually lead to a buildup of scar tissue. Scar tissue is more difficult to stretch than unharmed skin, and can make further stretching difficult.
However, application of tea tree oil, vitamin E, Jojoba oil or other similar oils can reduce the size of blowouts and enhances the circulation of blood flow going to the skin around the stretched fistula, thickening the flesh and allowing more elasticity and a healthier piercing.
Silicone is ok to stretch with as long as it is done slowly and the right style of silicone tunnel is used, the cotton reel style is the only style that works as it is flexible enough to allow the stretch to occur over a few days and to heal within a week or two.
Jewelry for stretched piercingsThere is a large variety of jewelry available for stretched piercings. Many jewelry materials can be used in the manufacturing of jewelry for stretched piercings; materials that would ordinarily be too delicate or brittle to be inserted in smaller gauge piercings are freely used. Stone, fossilized materials, wood, bone, horn, amber, bamboo, silicone, and glass are not uncommon in stretched piercings. Many of these materials "breathe" better than metals or plastics, preventing the buildup of sebum in the enlarged ear lobe. Jewelry is still often made of acrylic or metal, however.
The typical jewelry worn in a large stretched piercing is a plug. It is solid and usually cylindrical, and may be flared out at one or both ends (saddle-shaped), or kept in place by o-rings fastened around the ends. A variation on this is the flesh tunnel, which is shaped in the same way, but hollow in the middle. Claw-, talon-, and spiral-shaped pieces are also commonplace. Ear-weights in varying degrees of size are also worn, commonly made from silver or bronze, though other metals such as copper or brass are occasionally used. However, some people's piercings are easily irritated by some metals; therefore, care should be taken when metal jewelry is worn. Ear cuffs (such as the gold ones utilized in South India provinces) or wrapped beadwork (common amongst the Maasai of East Africa) are other options, though are not usually seen in modern Western contexts.
History and culture
Stretched piercings are probably almost as old as piercing itself. Earlier versions of all modern stretching techniques are known to exist, in one degree or another. Evidence from statuary, especially in Asia, shows us that stretched earlobes were common thousands of years ago and the practices of many African and South American tribes today include stretched lip piercings, some of phenomenal size.
In contemporary times, the re-emergence of body piercing in the developed world has been accompanied in an interest in stretched piercings. Much of this activity was initially associated with the modern primitive movement, but like piercing in general, it has become a more mainstream activity, common amongst young people and members of many subcultures as an identifier and due to its aesthetic appeal.
Gauges and other measuring systemsBody jewelry is measured in gauges from 20g up to 000g; sizes larger than that are measured in fractions of inches. In Europe they are measured in millimetres.
The table below uses rounding; conversions are not precise.
- Picture database of people's stretched earlobes: Body Modification E-Zine
- Encyclopedia entry on stretching: Body Modification E-Zine
- Encyclopedia entry on gauge, including a table comparing different measurement systems: Body Modification E-Zine
- Encyclopedia entry featuring a chart showing a comparison of knitting needle sizes to common piercing gauges: Body Modification E-Zine
- Interactive Gauge Chart: TongueStud
- Highly Accurate Conversion Chart: Gauges, Fractional Inches, Decimal Inches, and Millimeters: Organic: Natural Body Jewelry
- Stretching Guide: Tribalectic
- Ear Lobe Stretching FAQ: Onetribe
gauging in German: Dehnen von Piercings
gauging in Simple English: Stretching (body piercing)
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