Jewelry for Stretched Piercings
When stretching piercings, especially ear piercings, there comes a time and size when “traditional” metal jewelry (i.e., rings and barbells) is no longer appropriate, and enlarged piercings will often need a less-heavy alternative. The purpose of this section is to expand on those alternatives, and to explain when it is appropriate during the stretching process to wear each material and/or style of jewery.
The most basic type of jewelry for stretched ear piercings are plugs, (sometimes called “gauges”), and are available in one of three styles: straight (or non-flared), single-flared, and double-flared. Straight, non-flared plugs are the same diameter for the entire length of the plug and are usually held in place by o-rings on either end. Double-flared plugs are “saddle-shaped,” meaning they are wider at the ends (“flared”), so the plugs stay in place on their own. Single-flared plugs, unlike their double-flared counterpart, are wider only on one end (the front) and are secured by an o-ring on the back. (O-rings are most often made from one of two materials: synthetic rubber or silicone. Black o-rings, made of a synthetic rubber, can be irritating in piercings that are healing or freshly stretched, while clear, silicone o-rings have less chance of irritating your piercing. If given the choice, go with silicone.)
When looking for plugs to stretch with, go with either a straight or single-flared design. It is not advisable to stretch with double-flared plugs, as this often means stretching two jewelry sizes at once—and comes with a good chance of tearing your piercing. For example, if you normally wear 4 gauge plugs and attempt to insert 2 gauge double-flared plugs, you will be forced to enlarge your piercing to close to 0 gauge to get the jewelry in—and this can easily damage the surrounding tissue. There is also a chance that double-flared jewelry will get stuck; all-in-all, avoid double-flared jewelry until your piercing is comfortably at the size of plug you’re inserting. Make sense?
Lastly, while weights have become increasingly popular, they are not typically used during the stretching process. The information below focuses on plugs and eyelets only.
Steel and Titanium Eyelets
For those still looking for the look (and feel) of metal, steel and titanium eyelets are the obvious choice. Available in solid (for smaller sizes) and hollow styles, these usually come with straight, single, or double flares. Since implant-grade steel and titanium have been proven to be biocompatible, they are the obvious choice for healed, and healing, piercings. For more information about the steel and titanium-made jewelry pieces, see our section on jewelry materials.
Silver is not usually a good choice for initial piercing jewelry (as it tarnishes easily and can lead to difficulty in healing), but it is usually fine for healed, stretched piercings—and it is available in ornate options that are not possible in machined steel or titanium. What’s more, since silver can be plated with different shades of gold, such as yellow or rose, it is a less expensive than solid gold would be in the same design.
Copper Alloys (Copper, Brass, and Bronze)
Weights for stretched ears are also traditionally available in copper, brass, or bronze. Over time these materials tarnish, which can produce a beautiful patina on the jewelry but can also produce a reaction for the wearer. For this reason, copper alloy plugs are not recommended and copper alloy jewelry, in general, should be worn for short periods of time only.
Although glass does not have ASTM specifications regarding biocompatibility, like implant-grade steel or titanium, it is an inert, relatively inexpensive, and non-porous material that has a long history of use in body jewelry. This makes it an appropriate and affordable option for stretching. However, when stretching with glass, a condition referred to by piercers as “wet ear” can occasionally occur. This is where the skin in contact with the jewelry secretes too much fluid, creating a sticky, moist, “sweaty” layer between the ear and the jewelry. If this happens, replacing the glass plugs for a short period of time with jewelry of another material is usually enough to get things back to normal in a few days.
For more information on glass as a material for initial piercings, view our page on jewelry materials.
Silicone is a flexible, squishy material which comes in a variety of colors. It is inexpensive and extremely flexible, making it a good choice for stretched piercings where more rigid jewelry can sometimes be uncomfortable, such as enlarged septum piercings, genital piercings, or large-gauge ear piercings when sleeping. Silicone is safe to wear while showering or swimming, and comes in several different “skin tones”—admittedly, this includes a pretty small selection for those with darker skin—that can be used to make your stretched piercing a little more discreet.
Despite how easy it may seem to stretch with silicone jewelry, do not stretch your piercings with silicone eyelets, as this almost always leads to problems. Likewise, silicone eyelets should not be used for healing piercings.
Care for silicone eyelets is minimal; simply wash with mild soap and water, but keep in mind small nicks can lead to the jewelry ripping—so don’t throw your silicone plugs in your bag with your keys.
Plastics and Acrylics
Tygon and PTFE are chemically inert and considered biocompatible, and are sometimes used for surface piercings. However, at Infinite we stick with metal (or sometimes glass) for initial piercing jewelry.
Acrylic should never be used for initial piercings—period. For more on why, check out our jewelry materials page for more information.
When people talk about body jewelry made of “natural materials,” they are usually referring to organic materials (of plant or animal origin) in addition to other naturally occurring minerals, such as semi-precious stones or natural obsidian. These materials have different levels of porosity and biocompatibilty and require a little more effort and care. It is not recommended to use natural materials for initial piercing jewelry, or to wear in freshly stretched piercings, but for healed, stretched piercings, natural materials can be just what your ears need.
Wood jewelry comes in a wide range of shades, from pale yellow to black, is breathable and sustainable, and will last years if properly cared for. Over time, you may find that the grain raises slightly, especially if it’s exposed to moisture. When this happens, you can smooth it out again with extra-fine sandpaper (#300 or higher) and then buff it on cardboard or denim. After sanding and buffing, wash the jewelry with mild soap to remove any residue then oil or wax it. Good-quality wood body jewelry will not be made with synthetic sealants.
While there is no comprehensive list of what woods are appropriate for use as jewelry, The Point: The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers, issue #40 includes a good article on what woods should not be used.
Though it behaves much like a wood, bamboo is technically a grass. Unlike wood, bamboo is not made-to-size: the outside diameter is simply the thickness of the section of the stalk the jewelry is cut from. This means that its sizing is not usually as exact as with other types of jewelry. Even so, bamboo is an incredibly lightweight, low-cost, wood-like alternative.
Horn, bone, and ivory
Infinite sells several different materials in this range. Horn is typically black or very dark brown, bone is creamy yellowish-white, and mammoth ivory is, well, ivory-colored. (Ivory differs from bone jewelry in appearance because of its cross-hatched surface patterns). Horn and bone, like wood, should be periodically oiled to seal and prevent cracking, especially in colder, drier climates. Wiping down with a small amount of grapeseed or jojoba oil on a cloth or paper towel will usually do.
While sales of elephant ivory are prohibited in many countries by CITES treaties, fossilized mammoth ivory is an acceptable alternative that is often used for jewelry.
Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap) and comes in a range of beautiful hues, from light yellow to deep brownish-orange. Compared to other organic materials like bone or wood, it is quite soft and scratches easily. It’s also susceptible to heat, so be careful wearing amber on extremely hot days—and definitely don’t leave it in a car or on a windowsill in the summer.
Be aware that most of what is sold as amber body jewelry is actually a plastic resin. If you see amber for sale at around the same price as a piece of acrylic, it is most likely more plastic than amber. To ensure what you are getting is amber and not an amber synthetic hybrid, simply heat a pin and touch it to the jewelry. If the small waft of smoke smells of pine, it’s amber. If it smells like burning plastic, it’s plastic.
Stone jewelry covers a wide range of materials: from naturally-occurring obsidian to common minerals, like jasper, and semi-precious stones, like amethyst or jade. While some types are okay for stretching (material with a score of five or higher on the Mohs scale; the rating system for mineral hardness and density), not all are. Oracle Body Jewelry has more information.
Stone jewelry requires minimal maintenance; simply wash it regularly with soap and water. It is also important to check the wearing surface of your stone pieces to ensure they are free of pits, pins holes or abrasions of any kind, as these can irritate your freshly stretched piercing and may cause additional trauma.
Caring for organic jewelry
Most jewelry made from organic materials requires special care. Unlike metal or glass jewelry, organic materials are semi-porous and sensitive to moisture. If possible, take your jewelry out when you shower or swim, and wipe it off if you’ve been sweating. The organic jewelry that Infinite sells hasn’t been treated with any kind of synthetic varnish or sealant. This means that it needs some form of oil or wax to keep it from drying out completely, which can cause cracking. If you wear your jewelry regularly, the oils from your skin may be enough to keep it in good shape, but if your jewelry loses its luster, it usually means it needs oil or wax. You’ll also want to oil jewelry before you wear it for the first time, when you haven’t worn it in a while, or if the weather is unusually dry or cold.
When selecting an appropriate oil for wood jewelry, stay away from most edible, food-grade oils, like vegetable or olive oil, as these can go rancid in your piercing. Grapeseed oil is great, and jojoba oil will work as well—although some people do discover they have a sensitivity to jojoba oil. You can also use beeswax on wood or bone plugs to make them somewhat water-resistant and seal up tiny cracks. To use, break off a small piece from a beeswax block (available at craft stores) and roll it between your fingers to warm it up. Rub it into your jewelry, brushing off any excess. But like jojoba oil, some people will experience they have a sensitivity to beeswax, especially if they have pollen allergies. In short, use whatever works best for you and your body.