Stretched Earlobes: Causes, Repair, and Prevention

Ear piercings can stretch over time, especially with the repeated and frequent wear of heavy earrings that pull and elongate the skin tissues in the region. A once tiny hole can become a very large hole - either via intentional body art modification or unwanted stretching of the earlobe over time. Whatever the reason a person finds their earlobes stretched beyond that which they desire, they have the option of selecting earlobe repair surgery, which is generally a simple procedure that usually requires only a local anesthetic.

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Reasons and Causes of Stretched Earlobes

There are several reasons that earlobes can stretch to the point of needing repair. An individual may have experienced the natural stretching of their ear piercings over time, due to age, gravity, and weakened tissues from wearing jewelry that pulls at their lobes. On the other hand, they may have suffered accidental injuries that have stretched or ripped the lobes - or they may have participated in the practice of earlobe stretching that they now want reversed.

A plastic surgeon can perform reconstructive surgery known as ear shaping on stretched earlobes. Also known as otoplasty, it is a plastic surgery procedure that provides a new shape for large earlobes or those that have been damaged due to stretching from heavy earrings or as part of an intentional body art modification process.

Gauges, Plugs, and Stretched Earlobes

Far from being a modern practice, the activity known as ear gauging or ear stretching has been around for centuries. Stretched earlobes were even found on Otzi the Iceman. His mummified body from 3300 B.C. was discovered near Austria and Italy, with nearly half-inch earlobe stretchings.

Cultures spanning from Nigeria in western Africa to Mursi women to Lahu tribes from Thailand to Asian tribes have practiced ear stretching. Higher-class men from the Aztec culture used gold and silver plugs to stretch their lobes, while others used animal bones, precious stones, and wood to accomplish the same body modification stretching process. Modern ear stretching is also a popular practice, however, some seek to reverse the body modification once they tire of the process or no longer desire stretched earlobes.

Reshaping Gauged Earlobes

Despite the fact that certain individuals have used gauges to stretch their tiny ear piercings to the circumference of a large knitting needle or much wider, a portion of those folks end up regretting their decision. They seek to have their earlobes restored to their previous condition.

According to JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association Facial Plastic Surgery, the correction of such defects caused by gauge earrings is an increasing request from patients. As such, plastic surgery procedures that close up the small holes created by smaller gauges are relatively simple and straightforward suturing sessions. However, medium and large gauge defects necessitate a more complex surgical procedure, with nearby skin used to fill the space where soft-tissue is missing, along with other advanced techniques to reshape the lobes.

Plastic surgeons are reporting that as the popularity of gauge earlobe piercings has risen over the years, so has the commonness of the surgery to reverse the stretched earlobes. Although people may have decided to undergo stretching procedures to alter their earlobes for spiritual reasons or to ride a fashion wave, after a period of time, a differing belief system or style sense may emerge. Similar to the growing segment of the population that chooses to undergo laser tattoo removal treatments to rid themselves of tattoos they no longer desire, there is also a portion of the population who no longer ascribes to the stretched earlobe look.

Whereby certain cultures attach deep spiritual meanings to their stretched earlobes and lip plates, others may have experimented with stretched earrings for a few years but have decided to reverse the choice after experiencing negative physical, emotional, or psychological reactions to the stretched lobes.

Possible Problems with Stretched Earlobes

Patients with earlobes that have been stretched as part of a body art trend may discover certain issues with small to large gauge earrings that they didn't anticipate:

Such body modifications may not appear professional and can limit certain career options The meaning behind the ear stretching ritual may have changed for them on a personal level and they want to reflect those new feelings There is an unexpected bad smell from the process, with large gauges typically possessing more unpleasant scents than smaller gauges

Stretched Earlobes from Heavy Earrings

Earlobe piercings may begin as tiny holes when a person first has their ears pierced - sometimes as early as an infant. However, the miniature original size of the piercings can grow to large holes over a period of time, due to heavy or larger jewelry that stretches the lobes seemingly past the point of no return.

Although certain individuals who practice earlobe stretching wear heavy jewelry on purpose, in order to intentionally stretch their piercings, other wearers do not desire to have their piercings stretched. Fashion followers may desire to wear huge beautiful earrings that are large statement pieces. But sometimes the side effects of sporting weighty earrings means that the wearer might be unwittingly stretching and weakening their lobes. Every single wear of their favorite dangling chandelier earrings can be an additional undesired stretch to the earlobes.

Additionally, the frequent donning of heavy earrings - or even mid-weight earrings - on days when heavy winds or rains pull at the jewelry even more than usual puts added stress upon the earlobes and makes them more susceptible to injury. For some folks with extensive lobe damage, it is only possible to wear pierced earrings again after earlobe repair cosmetic surgery.

How to Fix Stretched Earlobes

Earlobe Surgery The procedure to fix stretched earlobes is largely dependent upon the amount of earlobe damage, but overall, earlobe surgery is a relatively minor outpatient procedure. Performed oftentimes in a doctor's office under local anesthesia, the surgical process may involve more detailed factors when it comes to repairing lost tissue and vast injuries of the lobes.

How to Prevent Stretched Earlobes & Recurrence

Preventing stretched earlobes can be a matter of practicing the following habits:

  • Replace heavy earrings with lightweight ones
  • Remove your earrings while sleeping to avoid injury
  • Stay away from earrings that may get caught in other objects often, such as large hoops or ones comprised of wicker or “grabbing” materials
  • Only choose to wear heavy earrings on special occasions for brief periods
  • Wear "thread earrings" or "threader earrings," which feature strands of sterling silver, gold, or other materials that are threaded through the ear holes and held in place in the piercing by a strand, which may place less pressure on the earlobes.

These tips can help prevent earlobes from stretching prior to surgery as well as after undergoing plastic surgery to repair stretched lobes. During the healing process after earlobe reconstructive surgery, it's important to follow the post-operative instructions you've been given to help prevent too much scar tissue from forming. Wait until the optimal time to have your ears pierced again as instructed by your physician, and only in a earlobe location that is strong enough to withstand another piercing.

Going forward, it can help to continue to avoid heavy jewelry, especially if you know your earlobes have the propensity to stretch. Instead, seek earring designs that are lightweight and comprised of materials that won't be easily caught or snagged on other materials, and consider minimal designs that still make a statement.

Conclusion: The Future of Fabulous Earlobes Includes Fillers

The focus on earlobes isn't fading away, but only grows more intense as new cosmetic trends emerge and ancient beliefs persist. According to PubMed, larger earlobes are a sign of wealth and prosperity within traditional sects of Chinese culture. The focus on enjoying healthy earlobes has led to the process of treating earlobes like any other part of the body that requires dedicated skincare routines.

From retinol products to laser resurfacing treatments to chemical peels, earlobe treatments are pampering the lobes as passionately as the face, neck, and body. Whereas dermal fillers are a common treatment used to plump up the lips or other areas of the face that have lost volume, Restylane and Juvederm injections containing hyaluronic acid are also being used to provide volume to the earlobes. Small amounts of dermal fillers precisely injected near the piercings can provide volume and lift, helping stud earrings sit in a higher position and giving the ears a plumper, more youthful look. These types of injections require follow-up appointments twice yearly, and may not work for those who have experienced severe stretching.

In the instances whereby dermal filler injections alone won’t work, people with ear piercings that have been stretched quite a bit can still rely upon ear reshaping plastic surgery procedures to get the natural-looking and restored ear shape that they desire.

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