Ears stretchers are used for precisely what they sound like--for stretching ear piercings. Stretching gradually enlarges the hole in a pierced ear lobe to a desired size. In some cultures, the holes expand over time to become quite large. Choosing the proper ear stretchers and following professional advice is important for the health of individuals participating in ear stretching.
Types of Stretchers
Two of the most common types of ear stretchers are tapers and tape wraps. Tapers are cone-like objects (usually metal) that gradually increase in size. Stretching occurs by pushing the taper's small end, which matches the size of the current piercing, through the ear to the larger end, which acts to stretch the hole. Tape wraps are most commonly used by people who have larger stretched ear holes. Tapers at this size are more expensive and so many choose to wrap Teflon or bondage tape, one layer at a time, around their current jewellery to increase its size and thus stretch the hole.
Ear Stretcher Sizes
The size of an ear stretcher is measured in gauges. The larger the gauge, the smaller the size. For instance, a 16 gauge stretcher is only 1.3mm in diameter, while a 0 gauge is 8.2mm. Various sizes are available in between. 00 gauge indicates a 9.2mm diameter and a 000 gauge indicates an 11.1mm diameter piece. Gauges go much higher--as high as an individual would like, given the proper conditions--but are measured in millimetres or inches after 000 gauge.
Materials for Ear Stretchers
According to Onetribe Organics, the type of material used for an ear stretcher--particularly when the stretch is fresh--is important to prevent infections and other problems. Appropriate materials include titanium, Niubium, implant-grade surgical stainless steel (316L or 316 LVM), glass or implant-grade PTFE (Teflon). Organic material can also be used under professional supervision. Particularly improper or dangerous materials include unsterilised objects, acrylics, novelty jewellery and any other object that is not intended for stretching. A respected professional piercer is a good resource to find quality ear stretchers.
Use of Ear Stretchers
The proper use of ear stretchers is important for the ear to stretch properly and to prevent problems. Stretching cannot be done too quickly--with too large of a stretcher--or the ear can tear painfully and bleed. Even properly executed stretches create micro-tears in tissues that take time to heal. Only when one stretch has healed completely can another stretch be safely started, states Onetribe Organics. The general rule of thumb is one stretch every other month, though some will need more time.
Ear Stretching Throughout History
Ear stretching is an ancient practice--so ancient, in fact, it's difficult to determine when it began. One of the oldest known examples of ear stretching is Otzi, or the "Iceman," who was buried in ice around 3300BC. He was discovered almost entirely preserved--and with stretched ears. Scientists believe his ear stretchers may have been constructed of wood. The Moai statues of Easter Island, dated to around 1100 CE, display elaborately stretched ear lobes, and certain indigenous tribes still practice the art as of 2010, using local materials to stretch the holes. The Masai people of Kenya customarily stretch their ears, as do the Huaorani tribe in the Amazon Basin.