Go to a local, professional piercer!
Although it may be tempting to reach that elegant, inch-wide look right away, try to look at the process of stretching your ears as a marathon - not a sprint. Be patient. Stretching your ears steadily, consistently, and carefully will help drastically with overall lobe health and can make or break the overall stretching process.
A good rule of thumb for stretching: you should never be in pain during the process. Listen to your body. A little bit of discomfort during the process is normal, but if your ear starts to hurt during the stretching process, you're probably pushing your anatomy too hard.
Most importantly, this is a really good opportunity to start a relationship with a piercer you trust. Explain to them that you're looking to stretch your ears - this will help them choose the correct size gauge needle to pierce you with and will also help them with placement. Professional piercers are licensed and qualified to give you the best possible medical advice.
What to Know Before Starting the Stretching Process:
Once your ear is ready to start the stretching process, you'll most likely start with an item that is 16g (most "regular" jewelry is 18g).
Everyone’s body is different as far as elasticity and healing times are concerned, but either way, you'll need to make sure your initial piercing is fully healed before you start stretching which may take anywhere from three (3) to four (4) months.
From there, it is a general rule of thumb to wait at least six (6) weeks before stretching your ears to the next size. For the best possible results, waiting a few extra weeks or months to stretch to the next size will give your ears the optimal amount of time to adjust to the new size.
If you stretch too quickly, you may experience what is known as a "blowout." A blowout occurs when the healed tunnel of flesh (aka the "fistula") is forced out of the piercing. If a blowout is not properly dealt with, it will leave a patch of extra skin around the piercing, which is uncomfortable, unhealthy, and unsightly.
If you think you're experiencing a blowout, don't panic! First thing's first - contact your piercer immediately. They can give you helpful and qualified medical advice on how to deal with your injury. As tempting as it may be, DO NOT continue to stretch through a blowout. You will not have a good outcome. To help a blowout heal, size down one (1) to two (2) sizes to allow your ear to swell and heal. From there, you can slowly work back into stretching your ears again. BE PATIENT. It’s a little extra time, but it is absolutely worth it to maintain the long-term health of your earlobes.
One last time - patience is key! If you're not sure if your ear is ready to stretch up, don't rush the process. If you are confused or wondering what's next, it's best to contact your professional piercer and schedule an in-person consult.