Surgical steel, also referred to as Implant grade steel is a steel alloy that is the most common body piercing material in North America. It can be polished to a shiny surface, and many people prefer this material to titanium because of its luster.
Allergic reactions, when they occur, are rarely due to the stainless steel but from other factors (most commonly from mechanical irritation or harsh cleaning products). Allergic reactions typically include itching, redness, and swelling, with a discharge of clear fluid that is not lymph. The element in stainless steel that causes allergic reactions in some people is nickel. Polishing the jewelry to a mirror like luster results in a protective layer of chromium oxide which reduces the migration of the Nickel content into the tissue.
One disadvantage of steel is its weight. For larger pieces of jewelry this can be a problem as it can cause tension in the body tissue, and also unwanted stretching or tearing of a piercing. In areas with low blood circulation, such as the earlobe, this can be potentially dangerous. However, with smaller jewelry, there is no need to worry.
Another downside is its tendency to become very cold during winter. This can cause problems; due to this, many change their jewelry to others made of horn, bone, wood, plastics and glass during winter.
The 316 series of stainless has a tendency to work harden and to form a long stringy curl when lathe processed, the use of a chip breaker is recommended. Steel body jewelry may be sterilized in an autoclave.
Specific Gravity 7.95 Melting Point 2550F
Annealing 1850-2050 F (1010-1121 C), followed by rapid cooling. Can only be work hardened, and not hardened by heat.
The two most common standards that apply to body jewelry made of steel are ASTM F138 and ISO 5832-1 which describe the qualities of steel for surgical implants.
The only quality recommended for use by the Association of Professional Piercers is steel that is certified to meet ASTM or ISO standards for surgical implant applications. "Surgical Steel is made of a variety of alloys. Many of them are used for body jewelry, but only a few specific grades are proven biocompatible: steel that is ASTM F138 compliant or ISO 5832-1 compliant"
The following formulations give percentages of material in the mix, single numbers represent maximum values:
Forceps are usually made of 410 stainless (UNS# S41000) which by percentage is composed of: Carbon .15 Manganese 1 Silicon 1 Chromium 11.5-13.5 Nickel .75 Phosphorus .04 Sulfur .03 Note small areas of surface rust are not unusual for this grade of stainless, it tends to be able to be scrubbed off with a wet steel wool soap pad such as Brill-O.
316 Stainless (UNS# S31600), This does not have low carbon content as compared to 316L, 316LM, and 316LVM. Formula Carbon .08 Manganese 2.00 Silicon 1.00 Chromium 16-18 Nickel 10-14 Phosphorus .045 Sulfur .03 Molybdenum 2.0-3.0 Nitrogen .10
316L Stainless (UNS# S31603), the “L” stands for Low Carbon. If any class of steel truly deserves to be called surgical stainless steel these "L" class derivates of 316 would be it, It never develops surface rust and is even resistant to constant salt water exposure. Formula Carbon .03 Manganese 2.00 Silicon 1.00 Chromium 16-18 Nickel 10-14 Phosphorus .045 Sulfur .03 Molybdenum 2.0-3.0 Nitrogen .10 This is the same material as 316LVM only a different process is used in the production of the steel called "Vacuum Melting".
316LM Stainless (UNS# S31653), is very similar to 316L, except with a slightly higher nickel and molybdenum content.
316LVM Stainless has the same elemental composition as 316L, but has been vacuum melted.
Implantanium (trade name)When the EU passed the nickel law, and common forms of surgical steel were no longer an alternative for new piercings, "Implantanium", a new steel alloy with less nickel, was used, with the aim of replacing the surgical steel as the leading healing jewelry.
However, "Implantanium" never became successful, mainly due to its high prices, uneven quality and a limited choice of jewelry. Instead titanium became the leading material.
The alloy consists of less than 0.05% nickel and is therefore compatible with the EU nickel law. It is safe to use in a healing piercing but as stated above, the choice of jewelry is very limited.
TitaniumTitanium body jewelry is often manufactured in either commercially pure grades 1 to 5 or grade 23 Ti6AL4V ELI alloy.
The only quality recommended for use by the Association of Professional Piercers is Titanium that is certified to meet ASTM or ISO standards for surgical implant applications. "Look for implant certified titanium (Ti6Al4V ELI) that is ASTM F136 compliant or ISO 5832-3 compliant, or commercially pure titanium that is ASTM F-67 compliant.".
Pure and alloyed qualities have long been used for both piercings and surgical implants, and very few long-term allergies and other complications have been reported, though as with any material they could arise after prolonged contact with the human body. Ti6Al4V ELI alloy contains aluminum and vanadium.
When the EU Nickel Directive came into force - high nickel bearing alloys were restricted from use in primary (new) piercings. Because of its virtually 'Nickel Free' content Titanium has become one of the preferred materials used in piercing jewellery within the borders of the EU.
Titanium jewellery is lightweight (around 60% the weight of stainless steel given the same volume), it is highly corrosion resistant and less likely to react with body fluids, is not magnetic, it can be anodized to create a layer of colored oxide on the surface. Common colors are yellow, blue, purple, green, and rainbow.
Titanium can be sterilized in an autoclave.
Blackline (trade name)Physical vapor deposition (PVD) coated biomaterials were introduced in medicine in the late 1980s and revolutionized what it was possible to do with materials. It is a technique still used to treat the surface of pacemakers and other medical equipment.
"Blackline" brand jewelry is produced by adding a surface layer of black and highly durable titanium film to a titanium core.
The jewelry is resistant to wear and causes little friction to body tissue.
Allergic reactions to the materials used in "Blackline" are extremely uncommon, which is why it is often used in surgical equipment. Although the surface layer isn't classified as permanent, it is very durable and lasts longer than, for example, anodized titanium, but can not be reapplied in a studio setting.
"Blackline" coated jewelry has been shown suitable for piercings that are still healing, as it is lightweight, safe and durable. However if used where in contact with hard body parts, such as teeth, or if the jewelry is changed frequently, the surface layer can be scraped off. It can be autoclaved.
Zircon Gold / Zircontwo (trade name)"Zircontwo" or "Zircon Gold" were developed as an alternative to gold jewelry. The method of production is similar to that of "Blackline" (PVD), but instead of titanium in the film, a material called zirconium nitride is used. The core of the material is most often a high grade titanium alloy called Ti6AL4V ELI. "Zircontwo", like "Blackline", is used in medical equipment.
"Zircontwo" is better suited to a healing piercing than real gold, since it won't discolor as 18K (75%) gold often does. It is also more lightweight and has a smoother surface so it won't cause as much irritation. It is also cheaper and significantly more durable.
"Zircon Gold" / "Zircontwo" can be autoclaved.
NiobiumNiobium is a metal resembling titanium, but it is softer and heavier. When using niobium in a piercing jewelry it has to be as pure as possible, the threshold value being 99.9% niobium. This is sometimes called "999 Niobium". Impurities in low quality material can lead to allergies.
Pure niobium doesn't react to body fluids, oxygen or cleaning agents. It can safely be autoclaved. It is allowed in healing piercings by the EU nickel law.
Niobium can be heat treated to obtain a permanently dim black surface. A Septum retainer in black niobium is practically invisible.
The selection of niobium jewelry is much smaller than that of titanium and other common metals, mainly because niobium jewelry is more expensive and more difficult to produce.
Jewelry made out of silver, a noble metal, has been common for centuries in all forms of jewelry. It has a certain luster and can also be treated to make certain areas black which gives a nice contrast. However, silver is also one of the most common reasons for nickel allergy.
It should also never be used in new piercings or damaged piercings as blood, sweat and other body fluids as well as cleaning agents can make the silver oxidize which makes the metal black and also releases nickelsalts which can cause severe allergies and also discolor the area around the piercing, a discoloring that will last through life.
The purity of silver is measured in hundreds. The numbers stapled on silver jewelry is what indicates this. For example, 925 means 92.5% silver, and 7.5% other metals, often nickel.
GoldWhen using gold for piercings, a lower purity than 14 or 18 carat (58 to 75%) is not recommended. Neither should gold-plated jewelry be used and even though the EU allows it, gold should never be used in healing piercings.
Gold is about as soft as lead and is easily scratched. These scratches can irritate the body, especially in new piercings. Tongue jewelry made from gold is not recommended as chewing on the beads is common. To avoid the irritation of damaged jewelry from such scratches and flaws, gold colored titanium jewelry is a safer substitute.
Piercing jewelry is often made of a gold alloy, the most common being 18k, with 24k being entirely pure and much softer. 18k gold usually contains 75% gold and the remaining 25% copper, silver and traces of other metals. In lower quality gold, zinc, nickel and other irritants can also be found.
As said, gold jewelry should never be used in healing piercings as body fluids tends to discolor the base metals in the alloy and cause them to tarnish. Allergy to gold is uncommon but it does exist, and then mostly from white gold. In some extreme cases, the copper in the jewelry can tarnish and cause greenish discoloring of the tissue.
Gold can become discolored from autoclaving. It could be several things, reaction to the chemical indicators, residues left from polishing or cleaning products, or corrosion of elements in the gold itself.
Experienced body piercing studios clean the jewelry with a jewelry steamer, and then an ultrasonic process with warm alkaline detergent, followed by a distilled or deionized water rinse, then an alcohol rinse to help remove residues. Use Class 5 or 6 integrating indicators instead of class 1 or 2 chemical process indicators for monitoring autoclave sterilization with gold.
Glass is a common piercing material which has been used for thousands of years. For example, earplugs made of glass have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
If correctly shaped and manufactured, glass is an excellent material: comfortable to wear, tough, and safe for the body. However, cheaper glass beads that are not covered in a metal shell can easily break into shards. If you drop glass jewelry on the floor, you probably won't be able to use it again. Also if you have a cheap bead in a tongue piercing and accidentally chew on it, it can break into tiny shards and cause lacerations.
It is possible to sterilize glass in a steam-autoclave but the heat may cause cracking in cheaper products.
PlasticsPlastics have been used for a long time for both implants and piercings. Early piercers often used it as a healing jewelry. After the piercing was done, a product resembling a thick fishing line was inserted in the hole and its end was rivetted together. When the piercing was healed, the plastic was cut and pulled out, and then a real jewelry was inserted. The method is still in use today, but to a much smaller extent. There are many better and safer ways today.
Plastic is a light material, with an amazing resistance to the body's chemical reactions and safe against most allergies. However, many plastics have tiny pores, which makes it necessary to often take the jewelry out and thoroughly clean it from skinparts and such.
PTFEPTFE or Teflon was invented in 1938 and is used in the medical industry as well as for frying pans.
It is biocompatible, meaning it will not cause allergies. It's a lightweight plastic, it's bendable, autoclaveable, not visible with X-Rays, not magnetic, and very stable. It's well suited for implants and piercings, specially if you want a little elasticity in the jewelry.
It's also a good material to use as retainers, when you need to take out any metal jewelry, like when in surgery or when X-rayed, so that the hole won't shrink.
Wood is a common material for plugs and other shapes. Wooden pieces tend to keep warm in cold conditions, they are lightweight, they often stay in place better than other plugs and also they allow the body to "breathe" so the piercing is less likely to smell as it might with other materials.
The downside of wood as body jewelry is if not cared for properly it may dry out and lose luster. This can be prevented with mineral oil or jojoba oil and avoiding excessive exposure to water.
It should not be autoclaved as that can cause cracking, warping, or splitting.
Wood has grain that will rise if not properly finished, dramatically changing the texture. The porousity of wood and inability to be safely sterilized renders it inappropriate as a material for initial piercings or unhealed stretches.
Some types of wood are strongly discouraged for piercing jewelry as they can cause allergic reactions or otherwise be irritating for the skin. Hardwood is preferable. Correctly treated, it doesn't swell, it's durable, stable, does not absorb a lot of moisture or body fluids, and the surface can be polished to be very smooth.
Wood is also an excellent basis for more advanced jewelry. The flat faces of a plug can be inlaid with gemstones or metals, etc. Wood can easily be shaped and it comes in many colors.
AmberAmber is fossilized tree sap and has a long tradition of use in jewelry. Its most common color is a goldish yellow but it also comes in black, greenish, reddish, white, brown and blue and various blends. It can be found with natural inclusions of small animals, insects and plants which can be amazingly well-preserved.
Amber is commonly used for inlays in metal jewelry or in plugs made of horn, bone or wood etc., but there are also massive amber plugs.
The material has a smooth surface that is kind to the skin, but tends to be a little fragile and can't handle heat very well, so it shouldn't be autoclaved. During winter, it will stay warm.