How to Choose the Perfect Gauge Size for Your Piercing

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How is body jewelry measured? While you may be aware of the different gauge sizes for body jewelry, if you are new to these measurements, you'll need a lesson in the basics since they're a little counterintuitive. You may be asking questions like, what is the range of gauge sizes? And, why is knowing gauge size important? We asked top piercing experts Cozmo Faris and Brian Keith Thompson these questions and more.

Keep scrolling for their savvy advice on how to find the right gauge size for your body jewelry.

Meet the Expert

  • Cozmo Faris is a professional body piercer based in Atlanta, GA who specializes in body jewelry.
  • Brian Keith Thompson is the proprietor and Chief Piercing Officer of Body Electric Tattoo in Los Angeles, CA who specializes in tattoo designs and piercing services.

What Are Gauge Sizes?

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The word gauge (pronounced GAYj) is used to refer to the overall thickness of a piece of body jewelry— how wide the shaft of a post is rather than how long it is. A gauge size indicates how big a piercing hole must be to accommodate the jewelry. Fun fact: According to Faris, the jewelry gauge system is based on the wire gauge system used by electrical workers.

Gauge is abbreviated "g." Gauge sizes are usually a number followed by "g" or the word "gauge."

"In Europe and Asia, jewelry is measured in millimeters," explains Thompson. "Here [in the U.S.] it’s measured by gauge." Gauge sizes work in reverse, meaning that the higher the number, the thinner the width. So higher numbers (like 16 gauge) are thinner than smaller numbers (like a 6 gauge).

When discussing gauges, references to a "larger gauge" means bigger around, not a bigger number. That is to say that if you're told that you need a larger gauge than 14, you need to look at 12 or 10 which are wider, not at 16.

Gauge Range for Body Jewelry

Standard Piercing Sizes
Standard Gauge Standard Length (inches) Standard Length (millimeters) Common Piercing Type
 18 g  0.04  1.0 Ear, nose
 14 g  1/16  1.6 Tongue, navel, labret, nipple, septum

Body jewelry gauges usually range from 18 g to 00 g. As the jewelry size increases beyond 00 g, the size of the jewelry is then expressed in its actual measurements, such as with 1/2-inch plugs. "Gauge [size] will vary pretty widely based on the client’s anatomy, preferences, and piercing location," Faris explains.

“Standard size is 18 g, which is what I mostly use for all my ear piercings," Thompson reveals. "For piercings in general, 18 g through 16 g is the most common. For nipple or navel piercings, 14 g through 12 g is most common. For larger gauges—like stretched ear lobes—the smallest gauge usually starts at size 8 and goes up from there."

Here is how gauges compare to diameters in inches and millimeters:

  • 18 gauge = 0.04 inches or 1.0 millimeters
  • 14 gauge = 1/16-inch or 1.6 millimeters
  • 8 gauge = 1/8-inch or 3.2 millimeters
  • 2 gauge = 1/4-inch or 6.5 millimeters
  • 0 gauge = 5/16-inch or 8.3 millimeters
  • 00 gauge = 3/8-inch or 9.3 millimeters

How to Find the Gauge of Your Body Jewelry

Unless you request something different, most piercers have a standard size they prefer to use for starter jewelry based on the location of the piercing. If you can't make it to your local piercing studio to determine the right gauge size for your body piercing, you can order a gauge wheel tool online instead. A gauge wheel is a "flat disk with notches cut in it that correspond to gauge sizes," Faris explains. "You simply slide your piece of jewelry into the notches until you find the one it fits perfectly in. The size will be printed on the wheel next to the notch."

If you need to know what gauge size your piercing jewelry is, the best thing to do is go back and ask your piercer.

One thing to keep in mind is that in most cases, larger gauges are going to be your best option for body jewelry. A very small gauge like 18 or even 16 runs a greater risk of migration, causing a lot of pain and possible rejection. As long as it's pierced properly, a larger gauge such as 14 or 12 will be much more stable.

Some will avoid larger gauges because they assume that getting pierced with a 12 will hurt more than getting pierced with a 16. This is really not the case, as it's going to be uncomfortable either way and neither is unbearable. It's also worth it to ensure you won't have to remove a piercing a few months down the line because of migration.

Why Is Knowing the Gauge Important?

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At the end of the day, knowing the perfect gauge size for your piercing is like knowing what size shoes you wear, except for the fact that if you accidentally choose the wrong size, you risk causing physical damage to your piercing. "Jewelry that is too thin of a gauge could cause your piercing to shrink, and may even lead to tearing or cutting of the piercing," Faris warns. "Jewelry that is too thick just might not even go in gently, and if forced could also cause tearing, bleeding, and obviously, pain."

Never force jewelry into your body piercing.

The Final Takeaway

With many different gauge sizes to choose from, and a myriad of measurements to keep in mind, finding the perfect gauge size for your piercing can feel daunting. But don’t worry—with the right tools, professional guidance, and research, you will find yourself on the fastest track to finding the perfect match for your body piercing.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Association of Professional Piercers. Safe piercing FAQ.

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