When Daniel Bocchino was 16, he started stretching his ear lobes, expanding them until he had an inch-wide hole in each lobe. But by the time he was 19, he was so over the piercing trend known as ear gauging.
He removed the thick plugs from his lobes and slathered the holes with all kinds of weird ointments and creams, hoping the stretched-out skin would just shrink back up. But that's not how it works -- once that hole is stretched any wider than 6 millimeters, there's no going back.
Bocchino, who's now 20 and lives in Hackettstown, N.J., ended up just walking around with a drooping, flappy hole in each ear for six months, until finally seeking advice from a plastic surgeon, Dr. Brian S. Glatt.
Glatt, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Morristown, N.J., says he's seeing more people -- mostly young people, and mostly men -- who started gauging their ears as teenagers and are now joining the military, seeking a professional job or, like Bocchino, are simply over the fad, and are trying to figure out how to fill that hole back up.
“There is no established way to do it, and each case is different,” says Glatt, who sees about one young guy a month who regrets the hole in his ear. “It’s like a puzzle; you have to figure out how to put these kids back together properly.”
Glatt says he essentially has to reconstruct the whole earlobe. He cuts around the hole -- "you're almost taking out the core," he explains. Then he slices the earlobe into two pieces, trims away excess skin and sews the pieces back together. He says the surgery leaves a scar down the earlobe right to the edge of the lobe.
He adds: "A lot of these kids are smokers, and smokers tend not to heal as well, just to add insult to injury."
To distract from the scar, some of his patients have repierced their ear, which he says is safe to do.
But regauging their lobes is out of the question: "They'd run the risk of literally tearing their earlobe apart. It wouldn't withstand the stretching, and they'd have two little pieces." Eww.
The surgery takes about half an hour per ear, and costs anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000, which Bocchino paid for himself with the money he makes as a tattoo artist. He says he's happy about the results -- the worst part of it all was probably telling his parents he regretted gauging his ears in the first place.
"They were like, we told you so," he says.
Do you have any piercings or tattoos you regret? Tell us about them in the comments.