Young people with large spacer earrings are having their ears surgically sewn up to improve their chances of landing a job.
Police officer Andrew Savage, 27, decided to have the damage mended when he joined the force. He started stretching his earlobes when he was 20 and his biggest earring was 12mm in diameter.
After living "a surfer bum lifestyle" in Gisborne, he decided to join the police force and he was worried about the holes - but not just for looks.
"I didn't want to get in any situation where someone might be able to get their finger in there and rip it open."
His GP sewed up the holes under local anaesthetic, at a cost of about $300. He has a couple of small scars and said it was lucky he had not "gone too big".
North Shore plastic surgeon Dr John de Waal said he had two or three patients a year with second thoughts about their large earring holes, particularly when they were looking for work. Most were males in their mid- to late 20s who want to change career or go to university, he said.
He said plastic surgery could cost between $900 to $5000 depending on how damaged the earlobes were.
Owner of Primal Piercing and Tattoo James Lyon said stretcher earrings were very popular and the studio sold two or three each week. He said it was more popular with guys than girls, but that was changing.
He explained ears could be prepared for spacer earrings either by having a biopsy punch procedure, in which part of the lobe is cut out, or by stretching. He recommended stretching, and refused to do biopsy punching at his studio.
Stretching works by widening a hole with progressively larger studs and Lyon said the lobe was more likely to return to normal when the earring was taken out. A biopsy punch cuts a piece out of the ear and it would not grow back, he said.
"There can be a lot of blood, it's just gross."
He said larger earring sizes such as 14mm or more were less likely to go back when taken out and it also depended on skin types but if the ear was stretched too fast it could also cause permanent change.
He knew of people who had stretched their lobes to 50mm.
"If you're going to stretch it out to 50mm you've got to be prepared for it never to be as it was."