A Beginnerís Guide to Plugs
for Advanced Composition, ETSU, December 2009
††††††††††††††† Standard earlobe piercings have become a staple in the American womanís arsenal of femininity. Many girls were so young when they got their ears pierced that they donít even remember it happening. Society has also widely accepted men with ear piercings Ė this is evidence of societyís adaptive nature to body modification, and as body modification becomes more socially accepted, it also becomes more common. Examples of ďon-the-edgeĒ body mods that have become increasingly more common and well-received by the general public include facial piercings, visible tattoos, and the subject this tutorial is based around Ė gauging; more specifically, gauging your earlobes because, believe it or not, there are several other piercings that are prime targets for gauging. (Nose, septum, and ear cartilage are some tame examples).
††††††††††††††† Before continuing, it is important to understand that when I write down these instructions, these are the tips and tricks that have worked best for me personally. I gauged my ears almost 3 years prior to writing these instructions, and I experienced only a few bumps in the body mod road.
I do understand that everyoneís different, and Iím not a body modification deity that knows everything about everything there is to know Ė Iím judging primarily from my own personal experience, and this is not the end all of gauging facts; thereís still plenty of interesting information to be had on this unique look.
A Closer Look into Gauging
- gauge Ė the verb used to described the gradual process of stretching a piercing from size to size. Used colloquially as a noun to describe the body jewelry that you put in your ear once itís stretched, but technically, this isnít the right term for them.
o Often times, I use the words ďgaugeĒ and ďstretchĒ interchangeably.
o Many other ways aside from stretching exist to get your ears to a large gauge; For instance, many people choose a dermal punch. This is a hollow needle that, in not so many words, slices out a chunk of skin big enough for a plug. Often, gauging by stretching is picked over a dermal punch because it is less painful and much less permanent, as I will describe in the next section, ďEvaluation.Ē
o ďGaugeĒ is also the universal measurement system for all body jewelry, piercing needles, etc.
- plug Ė the correct term for the jewelry you wear in your ears once they have been stretched.
- taper Ė the conical piece of jewelry used for transitioning from size to size.
A standard earlobe piercing, when pierced with an earring gun very similar to a hole-punch, is considered 20 gauge, or .81 millimeters. Sizing goes up in millimeter but down in number, but odd numbers are not used. To explain, the next size bigger than a 20g (or 20 gauge) is 18g. The size after that is 16g, and so on. Obviously, gauging size reaches 0g. What happens next? The next widely accepted size is 00g, and some people then go to 000g, but most mass produced plugs change into inch measurements at the 000g size. 000g is comparable to 7/16ths of an inch. Size descriptions then increase by sixteenths of an inch. For example, the next size is 1/2 inch, then 9/16ths, and so forth. After the transition from gauge to inch, all tools and jewelry are measured in inches.
Important Considerations before the Process
†Body modification isnít a temporary tattoo that you can wash off in the shower, nor does it feel like cherub angels gently caressing you to sleep Ė it will certainly not be a painless experience. Also, itís a lengthy process. Personally, it took me almost two years to get to half inch plugs I have now. Itís very important to understand and commit to where youíre going with this process. Can you genuinely do that to your own ear? Also, how do you feel about having a permanent body mod? Lastly, can you commit to keeping your ears clean and not putting yourself at the risk of infection?
††††††††††††††† One very important decision to make is ďWill I want these forever?Ē Removal and healing is one of the most important deciding factors when you are considering plugs. Once your ears are gauged sized past about a 0g, there arenít many options if you want them gone. If youíre still at a relatively small size, say 00g, you can take them out and your holes will generally heal up to about normal size, but this varies from person to person based on several different factors.† Another option for closing up larger gauge ears is cosmetic surgery. A plastic surgeon can suture your ear shut, and while you will have scarring, it is completely closed. This is a costly and assumedly painful procedure that is not covered by most insurance plans, understandably. While other methods of closing exist, they are far less safe. Sutures are a good solution because a medical professional performs this practice, but as you can tell from the picture, it does not make your ear look like you never had plugs.
What youíll need for Stretching
1. A good pair of plugs for sizing up. Plugs are manufactured from many types of materials and come in many different shapes and sizes.
a. Iíve personally had plugs made from silicone, wood, jade, metal, and plastic. For sizing up, metal and plastic work the best. They are smoother, so they tend to stay slippery longer and slide in your ear easily.
Various standard plug shapes
b. Above is a chart of cut that applies to almost all plugs. Flares are designed to keep your plug in without the help of an o-ring; the ends of the plug are cut to a bigger gauge that makes the plug immobile in your ear. Generally, smaller gauge flares (6g and smaller) are very difficult to get in, especially if you are already sizing up. Flared plugs are generally intended for larger gauge ears (0g and bigger) that are healed completely and able to be much more elastic without causing pain. I would recommend anything with a normal surface; even the top hat shape is good because it has one solid end that you can slide in your ear without having to put the flared side in at all.
2. A taper that fits to the desired size. Donít buy a 2g taper and only put it in half way because you want a 4g plug in. Doing such could potentially cause ripping; ripping causes scar tissue, and scar tissue is almost impossible to stretch normally.
3. A healed earlobe piercing or gauge! This is vital to the success or failure of your gauging experience. If your piercings are tender, sore, or puffy, do not gauge them. This could increase chance of infection and potential scarring.
While the aforementioned can seem obvious, the following items may not be as clear:
5. Any non-fragranced, non-dyed antibacterial soap
7. A well lit area with a mirror that you donít have to hold up, because youíre probably going to need both of your hands to gauge.
As I have previously mentioned, the methods I suggest are what worked best for me. There are several other procedures that could fit different peopleís ears and comfort levels more efficiently. I only recommend this process for gauging earlobes, not any other piercing or body part.
1. If you are in the bathroom, plug up your sink. Iíve lost many of plug and o-ring by dropping it down the drain. I would also recommend laying down a solid colored towel so jewelry you may potentially drop is easily found.
2. Wash your hands, ears, the taper, and the plugs with the soap I recommended before. Dry everything thoroughly.
3. Remove the earring or plug you currently have in your lobes and dip the end of the jewelry into the Vaseline. Put it back in your piercing, so as to lubricate the inside of the piercing.
a. Note: you may want to wipe off your hands after handling the Vaseline; the plug and taper may become too slippery to hold onto properly.
4. Dip the end of the taper into the Vaseline. The more the merrier on this stuff; itís only going to make your ears more lubricated, so donít worry about getting too much.
5. Once you have the taper lubricated and you feel like you have a good hold of the top of it, insert it through your ear. Itís much easier said than done.
a. It will take some effort to get this through, so be patient, but donít overexert your ear; it could rip.
b. Iíve had some minor bleeding upon tapering my ears, so donít get freaked out at the first sight of blood.
6. Once youíve got that taper through to the big end, grab your plug. Remove all of the o-rings (if applicable) and dip the end in Vaseline. Again, it may be difficult to keep a good grip, so apply as much as you feel necessary without being too slippery on your fingers.
7. Remove the taper right before youíre going to insert the plug; earlobes retract quickly and you may miss your opportunity to insert you plugs if you donít get the plug in there immediately after you remove the taper.
a. If this step is giving you trouble, reinsert your taper and give it a rest; 20 or 30 minutes with your taper in should leave time enough for you to get your plug in.
8. After you have your plugs in, you have officially gauged your ears! Wash up the Vaseline from your lobe as best as you can; too much touching may irritate your already sore ears.
9. Mist your lobes with Bactine. It is an anti-bacterial spray, and it also contains a slight numbing agent that will make your ears feel a lot better.
There are several important factors in maintaining the health of your ear.
- Wash your earlobes and the area around your plugs with soap at least once every day.
- Apply as much Bactine as you see fit.
o Note: no matter how much your ears hurt, donít put rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on them. It will dry up your skin and cause an adverse reaction in your lobes.
- Always make sure that your o-rings are not too tight on your skin; generally, plugs have a notch in which the o-ring can fit snugly in, so be sure they are in this notch. If you donít, your earlobe can overtake the o-ring and it will have to be surgically removed.
- Do NOT touch your ears excessively or handle them without washing your hands properly first. This keeps the risk of infection way down.
- Infection in your plug can usually be reversed with washing and bactine, but thatís nothing to mess around with. If you feel like the infection has gotten beyond your control, see a doctor. Some signs of infection are:
o Excessive itching on the earlobe.
o Red, puffy lobes.
o A hot sensation on your ear.
o A swollen lymph node on your neck right below your ear
- One major thing about plugs that everyone with gauged lobes can attest to is their smell. Why yes, this is quite disgusting! But if you notice a repulsive smell on your fingers after you touch your ears, donít get frightened. Iíve had my plugs for over three years and they still emit the grossest stench to ever hit my nostrils. Generally, if you keep them washed well, the smell stays under control.
o An off-white gunk that Iíve so cutely named ďear cheeseĒ is usually what causes this. I donít know what it is or where it comes from, but everyone has it. Again, washing will help with the ear cheese control.