jewelry materials FAQ.
We get a lot of questions about is X material okay for Y piercing, can you be allergic to X material, is X material okay for initial piercing, and so on and so forth. So, here’s an in depth run down list of the most commonly used jewelry materials and what they mean for you.
Jewelry materials can generally be split into two categories: Organic, and non-organic. That pretty much speaks for itself!
Non organic jewelry: Steel, titanium, niobium, glass, silicone, plastics, and precious metals, such as gold and silver.
Organic jewelry: Wood, horn, bone, and stone
So, those are our two categories, let’s delve deeper into these materials.
Name: Surgical Steel
Extra uses (apart from jewelry): Needles and clamps, trays, bins.
Can you have an allergy to this material? Yes, surgical steel contains nickel which you can be severely allergic to! Some premium brands such as Industrial Strength and Anatometal’s Surgical Steel has a very low nickel content, which is very useful for those who want a high shine with little chance of allergic reaction. It is possible to develop an allergy to nickel, but it’s more likely to be caused by something other than your jewelry!
Extra Information: Surgical steel is used globally for jewelry, and piercing tools. It’s illegal to use surgical steel as initial jewelry in the EU due to the high nickel content, meaning titanium is used instead. In the rest of the world, however, it’s fine to use surgical steel as initial jewelry, however if you have a known nickel allergy, let your piercer know! It’s shinier than its counterpart titanium, with a more silver look, compared to the shiny gunmetal grey that titanium exhibits. There are three kinds of SS commonly used in jewelry, 316, and 316L, with the L standing for ‘low carbon’. Finally, 316LVM stands for low carbon vacuum melting, which reduces the contamination and generally produces pure steel, which significantly reduces the nickel content. Your premium brands, like the ones listed above, use this.
Uses: jewelry (initial and otherwise)
Can you be allergic to this material? It’s incredibly rare, and is generally considered the only material not to react to the body, so, whilst you can, it’s virtually unheard of.
Extra Information: Titanium’s awesome. It’s practically hypoallergenic, and it’s what’s going to hold your bones together if you ever need it! This, in many people’s opinions, makes it the optimal material for initial and post-piercing jewelry. It’s non porous, and you can easily clean it with warm water and a non-scented soap. Because it’s non porous and virtually hypoallergenic, it’s also super good for freshly stretched ears. Titanium can also be anodized, which is another positive, as you end up with really nice colours! Using an electrical current and a solution, the current causes a very thin metal coating to form on the titanium, and the colour depends on what voltage is passed through. Anodisation can sometimes rub off or fade over time, but this doesn’t affect the integrity of the material, simply the aesthetics.
Can you be allergic to this material? Niobium and its alloys are inert and therefore hypoallergenic.
Extra Information: As niobium is a very soft metal, it can’t be lathed to be threaded, meaning it is only generally used for CBRs and other jewelry with no threading. It’s also more expensive than titanium and surgical steel, and is also the heaviest of the three, which can cause irritation to some wearers. Like titanium, it can also be anodised, just not to the wide range of colours that titanium can be.
Name: Precious metals, Gold and silver.
Can you be allergic to this material? You can be allergic to the nickel present in some of the alloys
Autoclavable? No, making them unusable for initial piercing.
Extra Information: Lower carats of gold are unsuitable for body jewelry as they are very soft and just wouldn’t withstand the pressure that body jewelry goes through on a daily basis. It’s also easily scratched, so low carats = no bueno. If you’re so desperate for initial gold coloured jewelry, use gold coloured titanium. Avoid gold plating because it’s often easily chipped and will expose your piercing to a maybe dangerous metal underneath. Stick to 14 and 18K! Silver: Generally marketed as sterling silver, and is safe for jewelry. Silver can, however contain nickel, and a high nickel content can cause problems. Silver is not safe for initial stretches or piercing, as it can tarnish and cause a dark mark around the piercing, sometimes called a ‘silver tattoo’. Save your silver jewelry for those special occasions, it’s definitely not for long term wear like the three main metals.
Name: Plastics (Acrylic, dental acrylic, delrin, Bioplast, Bioflex, PTFE)
Can you be allergic to this material? Not necessarily allergic, but it can be severely irritating in some aspects.
Autoclavable? Only Bioplast, bioflex, PTFE and dental acrylic are autoclavable.
Extra information: The body jewelry industry freaking loves acrylic. It’s cheap, cheerful, comes in bright colours and is easily lathed and moulded. This doesn’t however, always make it your material BFF. It’s very porous, which can irritate your ears/nose/wherever you put it. It’s not autoclavable meaning it’s a no-no for initial piercing and stretching jewelry. Dental acrylic is slightly different, autoclavable, and good for long-term use as balls and backs in oral piercings. PTFE (Teflon), Bioplast and Bioflex (all very similar materials, same properties, different names) are also autoclavable, and suitable for long term usage, and initial piercing. Some piercers swear by it for industrials as less pressure is exerted on the holes, however some others dislike it. It’s all down to your piercer, and your personal preference. These flexible plastics are commonly used in oral piercings (less tooth and gum damage) and are used as flexible retainers, such as for pregnancy and high impact sports. You can clean non-autoclavable plastics with warm water and non fragranced soap.
Can you be allergic to this material? Yes
Autoclavable? Yes, however only the higher, medical grades. If you stick a $1 silicone tunnel in the autoclave, you’d probably end up with a nasty gooey mess.
Extra information: There’s two grades of silicone you’ll find in body jewelry, industrial, and medical. Steer well clear of industrial grade silicone. It’s in the name, it’s not meant to be in the body! I’ve seen examples of cheap silicone jewelry react even badly to plain old soap. If it’s going to disintegrate when it touches water, what on earth is it going to do when it’s in your ear? Another important tip: do not, under any circumstances, use silicone as jewelry in a fresh stretch. It’s not okay, nor is it okay to fold up a ¾” tunnel into your 5/8” lobes because you’re lazy. It’s going to ruin your ears. One more thing, recently, there’s been incidents of industrial strength silicone being marketed under the name ‘Kaos’ or ‘Softwear’. Kaos Softwear is the only silicone brand that works with medical/implant grade silicone, and you should only buy if you are confident that it is that brand. Before wearing any silicone, wash them well with warm soapy water to remove any dust or lint.
Name: Glass (pyrex, borosilicate, soft glass)
Can you be allergic to this material? Nope (although it can cause ‘wet ear’)
Extra information: Glass is arguably the most awesome material. Ever. You can use it for initial jewelry, plugs, tunnels, everything. And there’s hundreds of different things you can do to it for it to be awesome. It’s totally safe for long term wear, too. That’s all there is to it, it’s awesome.
Now, we can move onto organics. There’s only four materials in this category, and they’re pretty similar care wise, so it should be easy to read through!
Can you be allergic to this material? No reported cases!
Extra information: Stone is probably the most amazing natural material, purely for the sheer diversity of the types of stone, the polishes, and cuts available. It’s most likely to be shaped into the double flare saddle shape, as this gives the stone the most integrity. Stone’s a pretty heavy material, and not suitable for really long term wear. There are hundreds of different types, to cater for all tastes, which really does make it versatile. It cannot be autoclaved, meaning it’s not suitable for initial piercing jewelry. It can be cleaned with warm soapy water, or dusted with a microfiber cloth.
Can you be allergic to this material? People can react to certain types of wood
Vegan? Yes, however some woods are finished with beeswax
Extra information: To quote a favourite jewelry company of mine, ‘Wood is Good’. It’s versatile, easy to wear and available in many different designs. Wood can warp if it’s left in water, so no swimming, showering or soaking with wood jewelry in! Wood needs to be oiled with an oil of your choice every 1-2 weeks (depending on wear) to prevent it from drying out, and in some cases, cracking. As it’s not autoclavable, it’s obviously not okay for initial piercing wear/initial stretching wear. It shouldn’t be exposed to extreme temperatures either.
Name: Horn and bone
Can you be allergic to this material? they can cause irritation in rare cases
Extra information: If you’re going to buy horn or bone, always make sure that it’s been ethically sourced and gathered. They are animal products, and many people don’t agree with it. Personally, I don’t wear them because I just don’t like the materials themselves, but that’s my own prerogative. They need to be cared for much like wood (they both, as well as wood, come under the umbrella of porous organics) They should be cleaned very lightly with a damp cloth as when desired, as to prevent cracking and warping. They are both very fragile and should be treated carefully, no exposure to water, extreme temperatures. Rub a little coconut or jojoba oil onto them to help retain shine, and make sure you don’t use wood treatment oils on them. Store them away from light if possible, as they are fragile materials and do need to be treated with respect.