Earlobe stretching is the practice of increasing the diameter of a "standard" earlobe piercing for the purpose of wearing larger gauge jewelry. Standard earlobe piercings, performed with commercial ear piercing instruments, are typically 20 gauge for piercings receiving 14 kt. gold piercing studs, or 18 gauge for piercings receiving 24 kt. gold plated surgical steel piercing studs. For earlobe piercings performed by professional body piercers, using hollow body piercing needles, larger initial gauges are common.
Stretching an earlobe piercing, or any other body piercing, is usually done by use of a taper pin. In order to avoid tearing the earlobe tissue, stretching is often performed in increments of one or two gauge sizes, with sufficient intervening time to allow for the body to adjust to the stretched piercing, and for the healing of any micro-tears.
Once stretched to a sufficient diameter, it is possible to wear a variety of jewelry designed for larger gauge earlobe piercings. Ear plugs, ear tunnels, heavy captive bead rings, padlocks, and open earlets are some examples.
When the jewely is removed, the piercing will ordinarily shrink by several gauges, but larger diameter piercings will never completely disappear.
In order to quickly attain larger diameter piercings and avoid stretching, one can undergo a procedure known as scalpelling. Scapelling is currently practiced by a small number of body piercers, and involves cutting a slit in the tissue with a surgical scalpel then inserting the jewelry with the aid of a taper pin. Scalpelling does not remove any tissue.