Conventional ear piercings use a 20-gauge needle. That’s also the starting size for ear gauging, a modern trend that imitates the ancient tribal means of body decoration. Ear gauging is a gradual process; starting with the 20-gauge piercing, tapers are slowly slid into the piercing to widen it until a larger plug or tunnel can be inserted.
A 20-gauge piercing, or conventional ear piercing, is the usual starting point for first-time ear gaugers.
A few hardy souls start with an 18-gauge piercing, which is .2mm wider than an .8mm diameter 20-gauge piercing. Regardless of your first piercing size, you must wait for the piercing to heal completely before stretching the hole in your earlobe to the next gauge size.
16 Gauge to 0 Gauge
Successively smaller ear gauge numbers correspond to larger ear plugs or tunnels, which you insert into the hole in your earlobe. A 16-gauge ear plug measures about 1.2mm in diameter. The next size up, 14-gauge, measures about 1.6mm. A 12-gauge plug is 2mm in diameter, and a 10-gauge plug measures 2.4mm and is twice as big as a 16-gauge plug. The 0-gauge plug, which measures 8mm in diameter, is twice the size of the 6-gauge plug.
Stretching your ears too far or too fast can result in bleeding, infection, scarring or even blowouts, which require surgical repair. So, no matter what your ultimate gauging goal, you should never skip gauge sizes, and you should always wait for each new stretching to heal completely before moving on to the next size.
According to EarGauges.net, a professional ear gauger evaluates your earlobes for elasticity and vascularity, determining how large a stretch they can safely take. For most people, a 00-gauge, or 10mm diameter, gauge is the largest they can safely tolerate. But there’s no guarantee that your earlobes will be able to tolerate this large a size, and even if they do, they might not return to normal shape if you choose to reverse the ear gauging.
As with piercings and other body adornment methods, there are dangers when stretching your ears. Issues may include: the ear lobe stretches to a shape that is beyond repair; you may develop keloids in the ear lobe and the ear flesh hangs freely out of the lobe. Also, restoring the stretched-out ear via reconstructive surgery is expensive.
Lisa Maloney is a travel and outdoors writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. She's written four outdoors and travel guidebooks, including the award-winning "Moon Alaska," and regularly contributes to local and national publications. She also has a background in personal training, with more than 6,000 hours of hands-on experience.