Ear stretching, also known as ear gauging, is the practice of stretching pierced holes in the earlobes. Even though it may seem like a modern trend, humans have been stretching their ears for thousands of years.

A blowout is one of the most common complications of ear gauging. It’s a ring of scar tissue that forms behind the jewelry and gives the piercing the appearance of turning inside out.

Blowouts usually occur from trying to stretch the hole too quickly. They often cause sharp pain and inflammation.

In this article, we’ll help you identify when you’re dealing with an ear blowout and take a look at the best treatment options.

Overstretching usually causes a blowout. Stretching out your ear should be a slow and gradual process.

If you increase the size of your jewelry too quickly, you can develop blowouts and other complications, like lobe tears and infections.

In the United States, jewelry size is measured in gauges, commonly abbreviated to “g” (not to be confused with grams). Countries that use the metric system often use millimeters (mm) instead of gauges.

Standard earrings are normally 20 gauge or 18 gauge. As earrings get wider, the gauge size decreases. So, once you reach 0 gauge, the next size is 00 gauge, which is about 3/8 of an inch wide in diameter.

Sizes larger than 00 gauge are measured in inches and increase by 1/16th of an inch.

It’s usually recommended that you go up one gauge at a time (expressed in measurements of 2) when moving to a larger piece of jewelry to avoid developing a blowout.

Many people also recommend waiting 4 to 6 weeks before increasing sizes. The amount of time you need to wait may increase as your jewelry becomes larger.

The development of a blowout causes a ring of skin to form behind the piercing. This ring is usually red, irritated, and painful. A blowout may give the piercing the appearance of turning inside out.

Overstretching your ear may also lead to an infection. This may cause:

You can often treat minor infections at home. However, if the infection spreads or doesn’t improve within 2 days, reach out to a healthcare provider.

You can reduce your chance of developing an infection by regularly cleaning objects that come in contact with your ears often, such as your phone, headphones, and hats.

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Ear blowout following stretching. Illustration by Diego Sabogal

If you think you may be developing a blowout, take action as quickly as possible. Catching a blowout early can help you avoid permanent damage to your ear.

Massage your ear

There’s some evidence that massaging scar tissue might help break it up. Many people recommend lightly massaging your earlobe for 5 to 10 minutes with an oil to help prevent a blowout from forming.

Apply oil

Using oil on your gauged ears helps keep them moisturized, which promotes stronger skin and reduces the likelihood of tears.

Many types of oil are effective for keeping your gauged ears moist. Some of the most common types include:

Start with the right gauge

Most standard earrings are 20 or 18 gauge. It’s often recommended that you start with 16 or 14 gauge when you first start stretching your ears.

Stretching your ear larger than 2 gauge is often considered “the point of no return.” Once you stretch your ear to this point, you’ll likely need surgery if you want the hole to fully close.

If you have a blowout, the following methods may help you treat it.

Downsize your gauge

If you’re starting to develop a blowout, drop down to a smaller size of jewelry.

Many people recommend dropping down two or three sizes (for example, 4 gauge to 6 gauge). Once your blowout heals, you can slowly increase the size of your gauge again, one size at a time.

Rinse with a saline solution

You can clean your blowout three times a day by dunking your earlobe in a cup filled with a saline solution.

Premade saline solutions are widely available, but you can easily make your own. Simply mix 1/4 teaspoon salt with 8 ounces distilled water.

Surgery and other removal techniques

In some cases, your blowout might be permanent, especially if you develop a raised type of scar known as a keloid scar. In this case, you may need surgery to remove the blowout.

There are various surgical techniques to close a gauged ear. One of the most common methods, called wedge resection, involves making an L-shaped cut and folding the ear lobe over itself.

Some other treatment options for keloid scars include:

Developing a blowout is usually a sign that you’re stretching your ear too quickly. Here’s how to safely stretch your ears and avoid a blowout:

  • Go up one size at a time. Stretching your ear too quickly can tear the skin. Only increase your jewelry by one size (2 gauge) at a time.
  • Wait 4 to 6 weeks before increasing sizes. Wait for inflammation and pain to subside before increasing the size of your gauge.
  • Moisturize your earlobes. Applying oil to your stretched ears helps keep the skin healthy and reduce the chance of tears. Many jewelry stores sell lubricant specifically for ear stretching, but you can also use plant oils like coconut oil or jojoba oil.
  • Stop when you feel pain. Stretching your ear safely shouldn’t cause sharp pain or bleeding. These are signs that you’re trying to stretch your ears too quickly.

Blowouts are rings of irritated skin that form behind the piece of jewelry when you stretch ear piercings. They’re usually a sign that you’re stretching your ears too quickly.

To minimize your chances of developing a blowout, patience is key. Wait 4 to 6 weeks before increasing the size of your gauge, and only go up one size at a time.