Here at FreshTrends, we love great body jewelry, but more than anything else, we love it when people wear it without running into problems. Healthy piercings are hot piercings, and inflammation and infection is never pretty.
With so many types of jewelry to choose from, we’ve decided to make it easy for you, with this handy-dandy, all-inclusive guide to piercing materials, and how they stack up in terms of being compatible with healing, everyday wear, and allergens.
Before we go into the materials you can get your body jewelry in though, let’s cover an important metal that gets a lot of heat (and for good reason) – nickel.
Nickel is a cheap metal to manufacture, which is why it’s in so many things we wear. It combines well with other metals as an alloy, so a lot of manufacturers use it as a sort of filler metal. However, it’s believed that our intense exposure to this metal has a lot to do with why so many people have allergies to it.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to avoid anything that could so much as have a trace of this metal in it. Allergic reactions are common, and can be quite painful, ranging from a little inflammation on-site, to a full on break out or infection.
In fact, nickel has proven to be such a problem, that the European Union actually passed the Nickel Directive in 1999, with standards and limitations set on how much nickel could be in jewelry coming into contact with your skin. You can read more about the directive here, and exactly what the standards are for jewelry in the EU.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the rest of the materials in your body jewelry collection.
First up, we have an old favorite for people with stretched ears – acrylic body jewelry is inexpensive, comes in a multitude of colors, and is generally the material of choice when it comes to stretching with tapers.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on using acrylic body jewelry:
- It is fragile. This type of jewelry is easily scratched and cracked, so be sure to treat it gently – otherwise, you risk creating little nooks in your body jewelry for bacteria to build, increasing your risk of infection.
- It cannot be autoclaved. This type of jewelry is very sensitive to temperature extremes, meaning that any form of heat sterilization is out. You can rub it down with small amounts of alcohol or peroxide, but keep in mind that these materials are also corrosive, and that plastic is susceptible to breakdown as a result.
Acrylic jewelry is fine for temporary use, but generally, we don’t recommend it for long term wear.
Oh, how I love silicone! If you have any metal sensitivities or allergies, silicone provides a great alternative:
- It’s crazy comfortable
- It’s easy to sterilize
- Its flexibility makes it perfect for piercings that would be under stress with more rigid materials
- It’s biocompatible, and great for healing piercings
However, keep in mind that if you’re stretching your piercing, silicone won’t work for you until your piercing has fully healed – this material is too flexible to mold new sizes.
This is a really cool material, and a relatively new one. BioPlast is a synthetic flexible material, like plastic meets silicone, that is available in a variety of designs and colors, and is completely hypoallergenic and biocompatible.
This material can be sterilized in an autoclave, and is perfect for fresh piercings that need some time to heal. As with silicone, reduces the tension and stress these types of piercings would be under with stiffer materials.
When it comes to metals, you generally get what you pay for – the higher the grade of any metal, the more pure it’s going to be, and the less alloys and potential allergens you’re going to have to worry about. Gold is a strong, durable metal, that tends to work well with our bodies’ chemistry, so long as what you get is nickel-free.
The same is definitely true for gold, with lower grade gold containing as little as 58% actual gold, and the rest of the metal being made up with mystery mixes that can cause inflammation and allergic reactions in many. The gold jewelry here at FreshTrends is nickel-free, whereas stuff you may buy overseas is likely to be impure, and have some significant traces of nickel in it.
If you prefer gold jewelry, always spring for at least 14K gold, especially with new piercings.
Silver is one of my favorite metals, but while it definitely has its appeals, I’m sad to report that this isn’t the ideal metal for most piercings, particularly if you’re prone to allergies.
Silver is one of the more impure metals out there, with most jewelry consisting of a blend of various alloys, which more often than not, contain copious amounts of the notorious metal allergen nickel.
For small gauge nose rings, silver is usually okay, but anything other than that, you carry a pretty significant risk of having an unpleasant reaction.
Surgical steel is a great option for fresh piercings, in that it’s incredibly affordable, and can be sterilized at high heat. However, there is quite a bit of discrepancy in the nickel content of this metal – some surgical steel is more pure than others, but more often than not, surgical steel isn’t the best option for sensitive wearers.
In Europe, surgical steel containing more than .05% nickel is actually illegal to use in fresh piercings, so make sure you identify the exact type of surgical steel and its corresponding nickel content before you decide to use that kind of body jewelry. This means that 316L surgical steel isn’t an acceptable grade for fresh piercings, and can only be used after the healing process is complete.
One step above surgical steel, titanium is one of the highest quality metals you can put in your body, with very few allergens, and a metal purity that makes it perfect for everyone.
Like surgical steel, you can heat titanium and fully sterilize it, so it’s perfect for working through the healing process in. One thing that’s interesting about titanium is that it can be colored in a safe and biocompatible way – even though the color will fade, it will not affect the wearer adversely – it’s all 100% biocompatible.
However, unlike surgical steel, titanium is one of the purest, most nickel-free metals you will find. Though this metal can attract nickel during the manufacturing process, it’s generally considered one of the purest, most allergen-free materials for body jewelry on the market.
If you have dermals, Niobium is a surgical implantation grade titanium, and perfect for these types of highly sensitive piercings. Though it can be harder to find, it’s worth the scavenger hunt for this extremely high-quality metal.
These natural materials are incredibly beautiful, and are a nice organic option for those looking for more eco-friendly alternatives. However, nature-loving hippie though I may be, I can’t recommend any of these materials for a piercing that is still healing.
All of them are porous, so you can’t effectively sterilize them, and this also makes them prone to collecting bacteria. Though they’re a beautiful hypoallergenic option, with few people having allergy issues with them, they’re really best for fully healed piercings.
Glass is actually a really great option for healing piercings – it’s easy to sterilize, and many varieties are tolerant of high heat. Its smooth surface makes it great for healing, and it has a nice soothing, cool feel to the touch.
The only downside is of course, that glass is delicate – this jewelry chips easily, so take extra special care of your glass body jewelry.
So class, what have we learned today?
In short, what type of material your body jewelry is really just depends on what type of piercing you have, and where you’re at in the healing process.
For fresh piercings:
Use biocompatible, sterilizable materials like titanium, surgical steel, BioPlast, silicone, or high-quality 14k gold. Only use acrylic temporarily.
For healed piercings:
Most materials are going to be fine, but certain metals are less pure than others, and could cause allergic reactions. If you’re prone to swelling and other side effects when you wear jewelry, avoid silver and low-quality metals, and look for nickel-free surgical steel.
For the allergy-prone:
Titanium is likely to be your best option as far as metals go, with BioPlast and silicone also being viable options.
**For additional information, please visit safepiercing.org, the authority on piercings.