All About Plug Earrings: How to Choose and Wear Them Effectively

Plug earrings, a bold and distinct choice in the world of body modification, have been gaining popularity. While they offer a unique way to express personal style and stand out, it’s important to weigh their pros and cons. From making a fashion statement to requiring careful maintenance, plug earrings present both exciting opportunities and notable considerations.

Let’s explore the advantages and challenges of wearing plug earrings, helping you make an informed decision.

What are Plug Earrings?

Plug earring on ear close up

Plug earrings, earplugs, earspools, or flesh tunnels, as they are often called, are very simple devices – they are short, cylindrical pieces that are meant to fit in large-gauge body piercing holes. Such holes can be pierced in various places on your face or body – your nose and lips being two other more popular places.

However, the earlobes are the most common places for a plug earring as large-gauge holes are easy to make there and they don’t obtrude a person’s day-to-day activities.

Due to their typically simple design and large size, earplugs can be made from various different materials: glass, metal, bone, and silicone are among the most popular materials but you can also get flesh tunnels made out of acrylic glass, wood, stone, horn, porcelain or others.

If the ear hole is stretched carefully and properly, and if the earplug is of good quality and is disinfected, fitting a plug earring should be completely risk-free. However, to make sure that that’s the case, it’s best to get your earplugs only from reputable vendors.

History of Plug Earrings

Man wearing plug earrings

Plug earrings, also known as ear gauges, have a history spanning thousands of years across various cultures. They started in ancient civilizations and served different cultural, spiritual, and aesthetic purposes. In ancient Egypt, people made plugs from precious metals, signifying wealth and status. In Mayan and Aztec societies, ear stretching was a symbol of wisdom, status, and beauty, with materials like jade and gold for the elite.

Tribes in Africa and Asia have long practiced ear stretching. For tribes like the Mursi and Maasai, it marked adulthood or social status, with larger plugs indicating higher status. In Buddhist Asia, stretched earlobes, as seen in Buddha’s depictions, symbolized wisdom and compassion.

The practice gained popularity in Western cultures in the 20th century, especially in the punk and alternative scenes of the 1970s and 1980s. Today, it’s a form of self-expression for people of all ages, moving beyond its subcultural origins.

Modern plug earrings use various materials like glass, stone, wood, and metal, reflecting personal styles and the historical use of diverse materials. This tradition of ear stretching, evolving over time, shows its lasting appeal and importance in human decoration.

Types of Plug Earrings

Plug earrings come in various types, each offering a unique style and feel. Here’s a rundown of the different types:

1. Single-Flared Plugs

These plugs have one flared end and a straight end with an o-ring to keep them in place. They’re easy to put in and take out, great for beginners or those with new ear stretches. The flared end adds style, and the o-ring secures the plug. They’re comfortable and offer various materials and designs for different preferences.

2. Double-Flared Plugs

These have flares on both ends for a secure fit. They suit fully healed stretched ears, as they’re harder to put in and take out due to the wider flares. Double-flared plugs have a sleek look without o-rings and come in many materials and designs.

3. Screw-On Plugs

These plugs have threads on one end, allowing you to screw the back on. This design makes them easy to use, perfect for those who change plugs often or need to remove them regularly. They’re convenient and secure, a popular choice for plug wearers.

4. Tunnel Plugs (Eyelets)

Tunnel plugs are hollow, creating a tunnel effect in the earlobe. Available in single-flared, double-flared, and screw-on styles, they’re known for their distinctive look. They come in various materials and designs, offering a unique appearance.

5. Teardrop Plugs

Shaped like a teardrop, these plugs offer a different style from circular plugs. They’re best for healed piercings, fitting comfortably in the earlobe. Teardrop plugs are stylish, available in various materials, and add a unique touch to your look.

6. Tapered Plugs

These plugs narrow towards the back, shaped like a taper. They can be more comfortable due to their ergonomic design and offer a unique style. Tapered plugs transition smoothly from wide to narrow, reducing earlobe pressure.

7. Organic Plugs

Made from natural materials like wood, bone, horn, or stone, these plugs have unique textures and patterns. They’re lightweight and breathable but need more care, like regular oiling. Organic plugs suit those who like a natural look and are willing to maintain them.

8. Glass Plugs

Known for their smooth texture and variety of colors and designs, glass plugs are hypoallergenic and easy to clean. They’re suitable for sensitive skin and offer many styling options. The smooth surface and material weight add comfort and quality to these plugs.

Do Plug Earrings Hurt?

Girl with plug earrings

Whether plug earrings hurt depends on your pain tolerance and how you stretch your earlobes. Stretching your earlobes for plugs might be uncomfortable or painful at first. It’s important to stretch slowly and carefully. Rushing the process can cause tearing, scarring, or infection, which can hurt a lot.

Once your earlobes are stretched and healed, plug earrings usually don’t cause pain. Make sure to use the right materials and sizes to prevent irritation or damage to your earlobes. With the right approach and proper care, wearing plug earrings can actually be comfortable.

How to Stretch Your Ears for Ear Plugs

The whole process of stretching an ear hole usually takes about 25 minutes once every month or two. Ear stretching is done slowly and gradually with the use of stretching tapers.

Between each stretching session, there is a rest period with the new gauge flesh tunnel of a month or two so that the ear can get used to its new shape. That month-long period is typically 100% pain-free unless, of course, you hit or damage your ear in any way.

It’s the 25-minute stretching session once per month that’s uncomfortable. Where standard ear piercing involves a short and sharp pain, ear stretching is more of a medium stinging and burning sensation in your earlobe that’s very tolerable and that passes as soon as the stretching stops.

And that’s about it. If the stretching is done carefully and slowly, there won’t even be a wound – the earlobes will just stretch a little bit.

Do Stretched Ears Grow Back?

Girl with plug earrings

With plug earrings, there’s a “point of no return” after which the ear can’t shrink back to its original size. The precise point for this is different for most people as different men and women have different levels of skin elasticity.

Still, the generally accepted average for this “point of no return” is 6mm or 0.24 inches. Stretching your ear piercing beyond that size will almost always mean that it won’t ever shrink back completely.

It’s possible for you to “fix” this with surgical procedures but those tend to be quite pricey. So, if you’re not 100% certain that you want your ears permanently pierced and stretched, it’s best to stay below the 5-6 mm size.

What’s the Process of Getting a Plug Earring?

1. Starting with a Standard Piercing.

To get a plug earring, you start with a standard earlobe piercing. This small hole needs full healing before you stretch it for a plug. Healing can take several months, depending on how fast you heal and how well you take care of the piercing. Good hygiene and leaving the piercing alone during this time are key.

2. Choosing the Right Size

Stretching begins with a small gauge size, usually 16 or 14 (1.2mm to 1.6mm). It’s important to pick the right size to stretch safely and comfortably. If you stretch too fast to a big size, it can tear or blow out your earlobe, causing pain and long-term damage. Learn about different gauge sizes and their measurements before you start.

3. Gradual Stretching

Use tapers, cone-shaped tools, to stretch your earlobes slowly. Insert the taper into your piercing and gently push it through. Rushing can tear your skin, causing scars and pain. Listen to your body; if it hurts or feels too tight, stop and wait before continuing.

4. Waiting Between Stretches

Let your earlobes heal after each stretch. This break can be a few weeks to months, based on your healing and how much you stretched. Stretching too often or too fast can harm your earlobes, cause infections, and slow down healing. Keep your earlobes clean and watch for any signs of trouble during this time.

5. Using Plugs

When your earlobes are stretched enough, replace the taper with a plug. Plugs come in various materials like wood, glass, or metal, each with different weights and styles. Choose materials that are comfortable and safe for your skin. Avoid materials that can irritate or cause allergies. The weight of the plug is also important, especially for larger sizes.

6. Aftercare

Keep your stretched ears healthy by cleaning the plugs and earlobes regularly. Handle your stretched lobes gently to avoid injury. Some people use massage oils to keep the skin around the piercing healthy.

It’s good to take out the plugs sometimes to let your skin breathe and to clean the area well. Not taking care of your stretched ears can cause infections, bad smells, or the plug might not fit anymore.

7. Consulting a Professional

Talk to a professional piercer before you start stretching. They can give you advice based on your earlobes and past piercings. A professional can tell you how to stretch safely and what to watch out for. Everyone’s body is different, so getting personal advice is very helpful. A piercer can also help you choose the right tools and materials for a safe stretching experience.

Can I Get Fake Plug Earrings?

Of course, as with anything else, there is a fake plug earrings alternative. They are nothing more than standard earrings that are made to resemble earplugs. For example, take a look at these very real looking black plugs or these pair of vera wood fake plugs.

These are easy to wear and give you the hard-core look without the pain and commitment. However, while these look like the real thing, it only takes a second glance to see that they’re not real plugs.

What’s the Difference Between Plugs and Gauges?

This is a common misconception that’s caused a lot of confusion as is evident even by the links we shared above.

A lot of people call plug earrings “gauges” as if the two words are interchangeable – they’re not.

Gauge is the term used to describe the thickness of the jewelry. The word “gauge” can also be used for the stretched earlobes themselves but that’s more of a slang term.

The actual jewelry pieces, however, are what are called plug earrings, earplugs, earspools, or flesh tunnels, but they are not (or shouldn’t be) called gauges.

How to Put In Plug Earrings?

Plug earrings are attached to the holes in your earlobes in a couple of different ways:

  • By their ends being “flared out”. These flesh tunnels have their ends slightly flared outwards in order to keep the earring safely attached to your ear. It’s a very simple and practical design that has only one notable drawback – the fistula, or the ear hole, needs to be wide and elastic enough for the plug to fit in it initially. Once the plug is in, you can rest assured that it will stay in place.
  • With the help of o-rings. These sliding o-rings are attached on top of the plug to make its ends wide and prevent it from falling off the ear. This is a painless and very safe way to make sure your plug earrings stay in place.

Wrapping Up

Plug earrings are a great way to express yourself through body modification. They come in various styles, from simple single-flared plugs for beginners to unique teardrop and glass designs, catering to all preferences and ear stretching stages.

Wearing these earrings not only lets you express your individuality but also connects you to a deep-rooted tradition of body art. It’s important to pick the right style and take good care of your plugs to keep both their look and your ear health in check.

Nadi Alahakoon

Nadisha has been a fashion aficionado for as long as she can remember! From following the latest trends to checking out vintage styles, she’s always curious about what’s in and what’s out! She has a background in Nursing, literature, and English. When she’s not writing about jewelry and diamonds, Nadisha spends her time window shopping, dancing, or traveling the beautiful landscapes of Canada.

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