Are my gauged ears a lost cause?
June 27, 2013 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some issues with my 2g ear holes. Perhaps you could help me address them.

I started stretching about a year and half ago, and I've been using stainless steel tapers and tunnels. I'm now at 2g, wanting to complete the taper set I have and go up to 0g. I'm having a lot of trouble, in that they just don't seem to want to move up. I can deal with that, but the real issue is whether or not I should. Here are the problems:

--The holes still smell bad.
--The holes still leave a not-nice residue on the tunnels when I take them out for cleaning.
--The holes don't hurt, but still sometimes itch.
--The holes are red inside.

There is no abundant discharge or pus, no blood, no swelling, no constant itching, etc. I don't think they are infected, but I'm not sure what's going on. Could I be allergic to stainless steel? Is there another option I'm not familiar with? Or is this all just par for the course?

Also, if this is a question for a professional, would that professional be a doctor or a piercist?

Thanks in advance.
posted by starbaby to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Sounds like a yeast infection. Rubbing canesten over the skin a few times a day will clear it up if it is. If that works, then be sure to let the skin breath regularly to prevent it from happening again.

I have a very confusing mental image of you smelling your ears
posted by Dynex at 4:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

With my plugs (50mm) I would occasionally have some pain and discomfort like you're describing. I found that it pretty much went away when i switched from metal to wooden plugs. If you haven't just stretched to 2g, maybe try wooden plugs for a bit?

I also made sure not to wash with soap; only water. Soap dried them out and made the plugs less comfortable.
posted by dubold at 4:05 PM on June 27, 2013

Dynex: everyone with plugs has smelled their ears.
posted by dubold at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, try non metal. I have bad reactions to silicone, and some stone. I wear glass or amber now with few problems. (I am at 19mm and have been for 12 years).

Also, I don't sleep with my plugs in anymore. They get stinky and unhappy if I do.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:32 PM on June 27, 2013

How often do you clean? If it isn't every day or every other day, try that. As someone said, just use water. If you feel you need more, try the plainest of unscented soap or something like Satin or Provon, something that people recommend for piercings. The residue and stink are somewhat part of life with plugs, but if it's excessive then maybe try something that isn't steel. I don't recommend plastic, but perhaps something like glass. I wear silicone earskins almost exclusively because they're light and I run, but some people have problems with that material (and it should NOT be used on unhealed ears). There are other metals you can try also.

As for continuing to stretch, if you are unsure about whether your holes are healthy enough at this point to do so, talk to a professional. I had trouble stretching at different points. My ears gave up on me at 3/4" and I've been here for years with no movement. You can try taping, which lots of people have success with. I tried it, but was not patient and didn't do it right. You may also just need to give your ears some more time at 2g. I always recommend at least a month between stretches if not more.
posted by itsacover at 4:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

A little bit of smell and residue on your plugs is normal. That's the natural oils and dead skin cells that slough off every day. How often are you cleaning the piercings, and with what? I rinse mine every day with water in the shower and clean with Dr. Bronner's lavender soap every few days, when they start to get a bit itchy.

Redness inside the holes is not ideal - that indicates that the tissue is inflamed. What I would recommend is to stop attempting to stretch for a couple weeks, baby the shit outa your ears, do a bunch of massage with Bio oil or similar (which you should really be doing on the regular anyway if you're stretching them on an ongoing basis), and then do some research into the taping method. The jump between 2g and 0g is notoriously difficult. If you can find some 1g plugs (maybe more common in the UK, I'm not sure), that's a better intermediate size. Either way, using tape (I use bondage tape because it only sticks to itself and has no residue; again, do your research as to what's appropriate to use on freshly stretched lobes) will be slower, but there will be less potential for damage from tears.

As a final thought, while using organic (wood, bone, etc) plugs can help with ear funk and cheese problems, they aren't appropriate materials for a freshly stretched piercing. There will still be micro tears in the skin after any type of stretch, and you need to be healing with a material that you can keep clean. Stainless steel and glass are the two materials that I know of that fit that criteria. Once you're up to your desired size and the lobes have healed again, though, by all means, go crazy with organics.
posted by catch as catch can at 6:03 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might also try using titanium. I've heard of some people developing a minor sensitivity to the stainless steel unless it's implant-grade [316LVM, I believe?] and titanium is a good alternative. It's a bit more expensive, but for me it was definitely worth it. Also, you can get it in super pretty colors!
posted by gloraelin at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seat salt soaks are good for whatever ails any piercing. 1/2 tsp seat salt (not table salt) to a cup of warm water. Soak for 5 minutes or so, once a day. Then leave 'em alone for a bit.
posted by Acarpous at 3:39 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to throw in some cents here, I've had 0g holes for about 10 years, and the following are true right now:

--The holes still smell bad.
--The holes still leave a not-nice residue on the tunnels when I take them out for cleaning.
--The holes don't hurt, but still sometimes itch.
--The holes are red inside.

Them's just the ropes. For me, moving to 4g was the hardest part, but 2-0g was plenty difficult. Go slow, don't hurt yourself, and if you get blood, move back down and wait a couple of months before trying again.

And, you can always approach a professional with any questions. If they're worth their salt, they'll be psyched to help you.
posted by General Malaise at 7:28 AM on June 28, 2013

20 years with mine now. I'd definitely second anodized surgical titanium. And Dr Bronner's or something similar. I remove & clean them every day, but a little funky biofilm is just part of the deal."
posted by rock swoon has no past at 8:20 AM on June 28, 2013

Tapers are not a good way to stretch, especially at the sizes you are getting to. The difference between gauges is just too much. Let your ears heal at this gauge for a while until they settle down, and yes, maybe switch to a better quality jewelry, you may be sensitive to steel.

Once your ears are happier, and you are ready to stretch again NO MORE TAPERS! You want to stretch very gradually, so you don't cause trauma and thinning of your ear lobe. Do this by using tape. I used a white plastic-y medical tape, (can't remember the name, I'm sure a little googling or checking out could name some brands or other types) every day or every other day, add a wrap or two of tape, whatever you can get back in with a minimum of pain. Be sure to lube you ears well every time. This takes time, but it is by far the best way to stretch ears, especially at larger gauges. It should be painless, and will allow the skin to stretch and develop, so you don't get thinning or develop keloids. If yo,ur ears are ever getting irritated, stop and let them rest for a week or two.

Source: lots of research, and happy ears stretched to 1 inch for over 10 years.

As a side note, I and others have noticed that the state of our stretched lobes also serve a a gauge of overall health. If I am catching a cold or something, my ears are the first thing to get irritated and act up.
posted by catatethebird at 9:40 AM on June 28, 2013

Also, with my healed ears I usually wear buffalo horn plugs, and there is pretty much no smell. But I've also had good luck with Pyrex glass plugs, and there are tons of really cool ones out there. Check out, they have a huge selection, good prices, and excellent customer service. (I'm not affiliated with them in any way, except as a customer.)
posted by catatethebird at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2013

I've had my 2g holes for more than a year and I have all the symptoms you describe if I wear metal tunnels for an extended period of time. I'm currently wearing acrylic swirls and the itching/redness/smells have went away. I'd say it has more to do with the material you're wearing in your ears and less to do with your ears being infected or unable to stretch. While I'm not an expert, I also wonder if tunnels don't simply cause bacteria to get trapped inside the holes and that's causing the smell and residue to be worse.

Perhaps it's possible we're both slightly allergic to the certain metal materials that are used in the tunnels we wear? Either way, I don't see any reason for you to not be able to stretch your ears to a 0g regardless.
posted by camylanded at 12:37 PM on June 28, 2013


I do go to one of the premier piercing studios in my state. The owner is responsible for creating the oversight agency that governs hygiene and cleanliness for all tattoo and piercing studios in New Mexico. They recommend using an anti-bacterial soap such as Provon, and regular rinses with sea salt water.

Specifically, add 1/4 tsp to 8oz of warm water, mix, and soak. For ears, I recommend taking your sea salt soak and pouring into a pair of shot glasses, and just dunking your lobes in!

Metal and Pyrex is usually recommended when stretching ears. Silicone is OK, but not recommended. Do NOT use naturals! It'll tear the tissues, harbor bacteria, etc. Now, having said that, there's a lot of cheap jewelry out there masquerading as hypo-allergenic, but it ain't. Rule of thumb: Under 20 bucks, and it's cheap quality. Don't trust it!

My every day jewelry is a pair of double-flared 1/2" s.steel tunnels bought from Noah Babcock at Evolution Piercing. (Name-dropping, oh noes!) I spent $75 for the set, and love 'em. I've been at 1/2" for the past few years, and lemme tell you, they still get smelly and sometimes crusty. This is especially true if I've accidentally damaged my holes, and they need to re-heal. Don't sweat it! Just clean very gently, use your salt soaks, and let things heal naturally.

But stay away from bone, horn, wood, and stone. This will increase the risk of rejection while stretching. Remember, high-quality metal or pyrex. Ditch the pretty stuff until your ears calm down and heal fully.
posted by endotoxin at 12:00 PM on June 30, 2013

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