Types of Large Gauge Jewelry

When I first stretched my earlobes to 0 gauge, the types of available jewelry were confusing to me. There were so many new terms! Plugs, talons, tapers, tunnels, etc. And then there’s the materials: steel, acrylic, bone, etc. I stretched to 00 gauge awhile back, so I was looking at jewelry again, and I figured I’d write the guide I was looking for in the first place. In case you’re curious about all the different terms, too, here’s a glance at the different terms and types of jewelry available for large gauge lobes. Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg where large gauge jewelry is concerned, but this at least gets you started.

Tapers/expanders that illustrate
different gauges

Gauge: Measurement for body jewelry, abbreviated ‘g’ or ‘ga’, which refers to the shaft’s thickness. Low numbers are larger. Regular ear piercing usually starts around 18 or 20 gauge.

Gauging: A term sometimes used to describe stretching a piercing to a larger size. This is an incorrect usage, though, since gauge refers to a measurement. Saying that you’re “gauging” your piercing would be like saying you’re “inching” something or “galloning” something.

Stretching: The correct term for increasing the size of your piercing to accommodate larger gauged jewelry.


Acrylic: A type of plastic used in large gauge jewelry because it’s lightweight, inexpensive, and comes in awesome colors and designs, including UV reactive styles. Acrylic isn’t great for new piercings or if you’re in the process of stretching, because they can irritate newly stretched skin, and some people will always find them irritating. I know some people who can only wear acrylic styles for a few hours, never as their “regular” jewelry. They don’t seem to have that effect on me, but it’s something to be aware of.

Amber: Fossilized resin usually goldish yellow, often used as inlays in metal or organic jewelry.

Bronze: A metal alloy usually combining copper and tin. It can temporarily give a greenish discolor to skin, but if it’s on an open wound it can be permanent discoloration.

Glass: I’m sure you already know what glass is. Glass jewelry is hard and can be transparent and multi-colored.

Gold: A soft rare metal. For body jewelry, at least 18 karat is recommended due to allergic reactions to the other metals gold is mixed with to create different colors and strengths.

Hematite: One of my favorite materials, hematite is the blackish mineral form of iron oxide.

Lucite: A kind of plastic.

Nickel: Nickel can cause allergic reactions, so it’s not ideal for body jewelry, but it’ll sometimes be combined with stainless steel to give the stainless stell strength and prevent corrosion.

Niobium: A heavy, shiny, soft, and bendable metal used in body jewelery since it’s hypo-allergenic.

An acrylic plug with O-rings

Nylon: Used in temporary jewelry, but not for longer term jewelery since it’s absorptive.

Organic: Means any kind of natural material like stone, wood, bone, etc.

Palladium: A silver-white metal.

PTFE (Teflon): Stands for Polytetrafluoroethylene, trade name Teflon. It’s a waxy, smooth texture added to plastic jewelery to make flexible, non-stick styles. Useful for x-rays or during pregnancy.

Pyrex: A heat and chemical resistant glass.

Silver (sterling silver): A white-ish metal, which causes a reaction in many people, so it usually shouldn’t be used for healing piercings.

Stainless steel: An iron alloy containing nickel, other metals, and other elements like carbon. Steel jewelry will not cause an allergic reaction in most people. Surgical stainless steel or surgical steel specifically refers to stainless steel that releases very little nickel and is therefore less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Titanium: A very strong, very corrosion-resistant, light-weight white metal. Used in surgical implants because it is chemically inert. Can be anodized to add colors.

White Gold: An alloy of gold, copper and palladium or nickel. The alloy with palladium is more expensive and often called palladium white gold. When it’s made with nickel, it’s cheaper, and will cause problems if you’re allergic to nickel.

Yellow Gold: An alloy of fine gold, fine copper and silver that ends up a yellow color.

Style terms:

Twister barbells

Barbell: A curved or straight bar with a ball on each end. Can be internally or externally threaded. A barely curved barbell may be called a banana barbell, some are more spiral shaped and can be called a twister. A J-bar or J-post is barely curved with a sharp bend at one end, usually used in navel piercings.

Bull ring: A U-shaped barbell with a ball at both ends typically used in septum piercings.

Captive bead ring: Circular jewelry with a single bead connecting both ends.

Diameter: The size of a ring, measured straight across on the inside.

Orbital: Type of piercing where a ring goes through the body part twice.

O-ring: Round rubber ring, used on piercing jewelry such as retainers or tunnels that  helps keep them in place.

Plug: A generic term for jewelry used in larger gauge piercings, usually in the ear.

Retainer: A piece of jewelry made of clear acrylic, used to make the piercing non-noticeable. These are only for healed piercings.

Taper or expander: Cone-shaped or needle-shaped piece which is often used for stretching a piercing to a larger size. When a gauge is given, it refers to the larger end.

Threading: The ridges that screw together two pieces. This is the same concept as the threading on a screw or bolt. Externally threaded has the ridges on the outside of the shaft. Internally threaded has them on the inside and is usually preferred since the smooth shaft is less likely to hurt the piercing.

Tunnel: A circular piece of jewelry that’s hollow in the middle. This is my favorite kind to wear because it highlights that I’ve got a bit hole there! Also called an eyelet or flesh tunnel.

Okay, that’s enough terms! This actually barely scratches the surface of terminology related to large gauge jewelry, and the styles mostly relate to those for ears. But it’s a start! Any other terms you’ve run across that you’re confused about?