Does it really matter what materials I wear in my body?
Yes! It is vital that you understand the differences in piercing jewellery materials and quality to make sure you are not risking your long-term health, and also risking your appearance (some materials can permanently discolour the skin or cause a nasty reaction which can lead to extensive scarring).
Do manufacturers or suppliers really vary that much?
Sadly, Yes! A lot of manufacturers or retailers produce or sell the cheapest product to get the biggest possible profit out of you. This often means they use cheaper metals or alloys to produce a product that looks similar to a more expensive metal that they can offer at the same or lower price and sell more at a greater profit margin. Be sure you know what you are buying! Buy from a reputable supplier who cares about your health as well as their own reputation to ensure a happy relationship for years to come. At Holier Than Thou, all of our jewellery is carefully selected to ensure the very best quality, at a reasonable price, that is also ethically sourced from Fairtrade and sustainable suppliers. We have brand name jewellery such as Anatometal, Neometal, Industrial Strength, LeRoi BVLA, Body Gems etc. but we also have some beautiful non name brand pieces that are excellent quality without such a price tag. We would advise you to always ask what you are buying! A supplier could have some beautiful handmade jewellery, but the makers could have been in developing country where they simply do not understand the risks of some materials – e.g. beautiful handmade jewellery can actually be made of pewter or another dangerous alloy – if you do not know what it is, do not buy it or put it in your body through a piercing!
What could go wrong if I wear low-grade body jewellery?
The most common negative result to wearing jewellery in a piercing is discoloration of the skin (sometimes permanent), dryness or soreness, allergic reaction, or in serious cases, metal poisoning. Allergic reactions can happen for two reasons: either the material is of good quality and you are simply allergic to it (as can happen with any material, even the best, though this is rare) or you have worn cheap jewellery made of materials that simply are not designed to be worn in the body and your body is reacting as it should to try to get the toxic product out of your body – this type of reaction is common.
Symptoms of Material Allergies:
Usually within 24 hours an allergy will become apparent. Contact dermatitis is the main symptom – the skin around the piercing will become red, swollen and itchy. In more severe cases, the skin can blister, crack and break leaving you open to infection. If the material causing the allergy is removed, the reaction should cease and the skin should heal in time.
Why does some jewellery Regularly cause Allergic Reactions and others Do Not?
An allergic reaction is where your immune system over-reacts when your skin touches a particular material. This can happen with any material. Sometimes the material may not be harmful at all (in the case of titanium, for example) but your body can simply be allergic to it and has an unnecessary reaction – such reactions are very rare. Allergic reactions to more harmful materials such Lead or less inert metals such as Nickel are much more common as most people’s bodies will be trying to “fight” the metal. Reactions to these materials are very common.
What is a Pure Metal or Material?
This term is thrown around loosely in regards to metals as most truly ‘pure’ metals are either too chemically reactive or brittle to be used for anything. However, some ‘pure’ metals that are very unreactive (thus they do not corrode or oxidise easily) such as titanium or niobium can be very useful indeed for making safe, inert body jewellery.
What is an alloy?
A metal alloy is a mixture of two or more elements that are mainly metals. For example, Brass is an alloy of Copper and Zinc. Steel is an alloy of Iron and Carbon. Stainless Steel is a complex alloy of Chromium, Iron, Molybdenum, Carbon, and sometimes contains Nickel or Titanium depending upon its intended use.
Jewellery suitable for initial piercings or fresh stretches
Titanium is the one of the best choices for initial piercing, though it is very expensive by comparison to Steel. It is a chemical element, as strong as steel and around half as dense. Titanium has very useful properties in that it is has the highest strength to density ratio of any metal element and is highly corrosion resistant – thus it does not react readily with oxygen or body fluids. Most people, even those who are sensitive to metals, can therefore wear Titanium without any problems. Titanium is non-magnetic, will not set off airport scanners and can also be fully autoclaved (sterilized).
Titanium suitable for use in initial piercings must be of the highest medical grade, also known as ASTM F136 or ISO5832 compliant. This is the same material used by the NHS to make bone pins and joint replacements suitable for implant into the body.
Titanium has a natural silver coloured lustre and can be highly polished, and there are a number of other finishes available that alter the appearance of the metal without compromising its safety to be worn in the body. Anodizing is a simple process that creates a thin oxide layer on the outside of the jewellery by passing an electronic current across the metal– this changes the colour of the jewellery (different voltages applied gives different colours). Because there are no dyes or plating involved, the surface itself it altered, thus it cannot chip off in the body like a plated product could. Another way to change the colour of titanium is to coat it with PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition), usually to give it a black or gold finish. PVD coatings are used commonly in the medical industry to coat surgical instruments safely as it changes the surface of the metal without altering the metals properties or affecting its biochemical safety.
Niobium is very similar to titanium in properties but is heavier and softer (therefore useful if you need to bend a ring, for example a heart shaped daith ring). Niobium is very pure, at least 99.9% pure (often called 999 Niobium) and just like titanium, it can be anodised to different colours and autoclaved and does not react with bodily fluids, cleaning chemicals or oxygen, it is therefore ideal for use in initial piercings. Niobium is much more expensive and difficult to produce than titanium, therefore is used less commonly.
Borosilicate glass (more commonly known as Pyrex), lead-free soda-lime glass or fused quartz glass are all excellent materials for initial piercings or freshly stretched piercings. Glass is completely inert and biocompatible, therefore it can even be implanted under the skin without problems. Care should be taken to purchase glass jewellery from a reputable supplier to ensure cheap recycled glass has not been used in the manufacturing process, which could enable impurities, or, more worryingly, Heavy Metals such as Lead to find it’s way into the mix. If in doubt, purchase only borosilicate glass from a name brand supplier such as Gorilla Glass or Glasswear Studios.
**NOT ALL SURGICAL STEEL IS SUITABLE FOR INITIAL PIERCINGS**
– The type of steel suitable for initial piercings is significantly different from the majority of ‘surgical steel’ jewellery products advertised for sale. Surgical Steel will not set off airport scanners and can also be fully autoclaved (sterilized).
The only surgical steel recommended for use in initial piercings is of surgical implant grade certified to meet ASTM F136 or ISO standards – these are the only grades biocompatible for use in a fresh piercing. For this reason most reputable body piercers stay clear of steel for initial piercings as it is difficult to guarantee top quality and grade. Be wary if your piercer uses steel but cannot explain the grade or source quality of it, as it would probably by fairly low value steel and contain nickel which most people are allergic to.
Most surgical steel used to make body jewellery is of 316L grade which is safe for healed piercings only, and for people who do not have a nickel allergy – however it is not ideal for initial piercings. There is no formal definition on what is considered to be ‘surgical stainless steel’, so manufacturers can apply the term to any grade of steel as long as it is corrosion resistant, no matter how impure (nickel-containing) it may be! If in doubt – do not put surgical steel in a fresh piercing or stretch.
**NOT ALL POLYMERS OR ACRYLICS ARE SUITABLE FOR
INITIAL PIERCINGS OR FRESH STRETCHES**
Plastics have been used for many years for piercings and implants as they can be lightweight, inert, they can be made to not react with bodily fluids and most people are not allergic to most plastics. However, not all polymers are made equal, some have a porous surface which can harbor bacteria and cause an infection, or the material is slightly reactive which may not be safe for wearing in the body – choose your polymer wisely!
PFTE – also known as Teflon, was made especially for the medical industry. It is flexible, suitable to be autoclaved, lightweight, inert, biocompatible, not magnetic, and invisible in x-rays. It is suitable for initial piercings and has a fantastic ‘non-stick’ property (natural secretions from piercings do not stick to PTFE) but it is not ideal for some fresh oral piercings as people sometimes chew the flexible bars which can cause issues. PTFE is most commonly used as a retainer, especially for navel piercings during pregnancy.
Bioplast – this product has all the benefits of PTFE, but also has the added benefit of being available in many sizes, shapes and colours. Care must be taken to ensure any additives haven’t been included.
PMMA (polymethyl-methacrylate) – this brilliantly clear plastic is a shatterproof alternative to glass and is suitable for initial healing stretches.
Acrylic (also known as Plexiglas amongst other names) – this is one of the most popular materials for making plugs, tunnels and tapers though it is not strictly suitable for initial piercings or healing freshly stretched skin as it contains a slight chemical irritant which can result in acrylic monomer dermatitis as the material degrades over time. It also cannot be autoclaved and is prone to collecting dents and scratches, which collect body fluids that can harbor bacteria and can cause infection. It is advisable to wear acrylic only in healed piercings or stretches for a short duration of time only.
**NOT ALL JEWELLERY SOLD AS ‘GOLD’ OR ‘SILVER’
IS SUITABLE FOR INITIAL PIERCINGS**
All gold, platinum and silver jewellery are alloys, which contain base metals, which can react with body fluids in a fresh piercing. Having said that, some specific companies make solid gold jewellery that is specifically designed to be biocompatible and does not contain harmful metals in the mix or metals that commonly cause allergic reactions such as nickel. Gold is a very inert and soft metal, with a beautiful lustre making it ideal for body jewellery for a fresh piercing as long as it is no less than 14k (which will contain too many impurities) and no more than 18k (which would be too soft and scratch easily, which could harbour bacteria). Manufacturers such as Anatometal, BVLA, Body Gems, LeRoi etc. make beautiful gold jewellery that is absolutely suitable for initial piercing. If you find gold jewellery that is not from one of the above suppliers, and especially if theres a chance it would be gold plated, it is likely NOT safe for an initial piercing. These materials contain an extremely high percentage of impurities and metal plating wears down very quickly which can then harbour bacteria and presents an infection and allergic reaction risk. !
NEVER wear gold or silver ‘plated’ jewellery in a fresh (or healed, for that matter) piercing as the plating will quickly flake off and harbor bacteria (risking infection) and expose the underlying cheap base metal which can cause reactions and irritation and prolong healing time.
Silver should never be worn in a fresh piercing, and ideally should not be worn in a healed piercing either (rather it should be restricted to general jewellery worn on the body, such as necklaces, rather than in the body, in piercings). The purity of silver is measured in hundreds, so 925 silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% other metals – usually a high percentage of nickel.
Silver should not be worn in the body as silver oxidizes quickly when it contacts body fluids or tissue – in a healed piercing it will turn the skin black which can be permanent, and in a fresh piercing the result can be dangerous (silver reacts with body fluid to form silver salt which is toxic). Long term silver exposure in a porous body tissue such as mucosal membrane (septum, nostril, oral area or genital areas) can result in Argyria – also known as Silver Poisoning. Though this condition is rarely life threating, the discoloration to the skin can be permanent and it certainly makes silver a poor choice as a metal to be worn in the body. If you must wear silver, ensure it is in a very well healed piercing for a very short
Gold coloured anodised titanium is a much safer (and affordable) alternative if you want a gold jewellery appearance in a fresh piercing.
Jewellery Suitable for Healed Piercings
All jewellery materials suitable for initial piercings are very much also suitable for healed piercings and are very much recommended. We will discuss alternatives as follows:
316L Surgical Steel
Whilst this does commonly contain a very small amount of Nickel, most people can comfortably wear good quality surgical steel in a healed piercing with no ill-effects.
Good quality solid precious metals are fine in healed piercings as long as the wearer does not have a nickel allergy (if in doubt, buy from a high end or name brand manufacturer only). High karat gold jewellery is soft and can tarnish easily so look after gold jewellery well and get it polished professionally to a mirror finish regularly. Silver really is not ideal to be worn in piercings, and if the wearer chooses to do so they should ensure it is not worn in a mucosal area (e.g. septum, nostrils or genitals) and is only ever worn in very well healed piercings for very short duration only.
Non-porous stones such as rose quartz, amethyst, onyx, obsidian, bloodstone, unakite, jasper, malachite, opalite, agate etc. etc. are wonderful to be worn in healed piercings, most commonly in stretched earlobes. Stone jewellery can be quite heavy which is useful for ‘naturally’ stretching the ears to the next size, and is a welcome alternative to acrylic or silicone if anyone has sensitive ears – organics are a great option! The natural chemistry of stone also helps reduce odour associated with stretched ears. Most stone would be suitable for an initial stretch however natural materials contains natural flaws which can be very small but still harbor body fluid and risk infection, therefore is better for healed stretches. Stone is also usually double – flared which makes it difficult to wear if you have just stretched to a new size as the flare is too big. Stone is fragile therefore could break or chip if dropped so the owner needs to take good care of their stone jewellery. Stone can be worn in water and is easy to keep clean and hygienic by washing with mild antibacterial soap and water.
Glass is non-porous and very smooth therefore is ideal for fresh or healed stretches. Solid glass isn’t as heavy as stone but can still be used to help naturally stretch to the next size. Glass is fragile and could chip if dropped so they do need to be looked after. Just like stone, glass can be worn in water and is easy to keep clean.
Amber is a beautiful material to be worn, it is fossilized tree sap and comes in a variety of colours and occasionally contains the remains of insects ‘frozen in time’. Amber is inert and can be polished to be very smooth and is therefore suitable to be worn against the skin of a healed stretch. During winter it will stay warm and pleasant to wear. It cannot be autoclaved and is fragile and contains tiny natural notches in it’s surface so isn’t suitable for a fresh stretch and needs to be well looked after, but can be worn in water and is easy to keep clean, and is perfect for healed lobes.
Wooden jewellery is porous and cannot be autoclaved and should therefore only be worn in well-healed stretches. It is brilliant to help reduce odour, is lightweight, and it allows the skin to ‘breathe’ – most people find wood the most comfortable material to wear in a stretched lobe. Wood has the benefit of being unlikely to break if dropped but it must not be submerged in water or subjected to any extreme changes of temperature or humidity else it may swell or crack. It is beneficial to oil your lobes and your wooden plugs to keep them supple and in good condition. Jojoba oil or Bio Oil or any vitamin E oil will work very well indeed. Hardwoods are the best type of woods to be used to make body jewellery, as they can be correctly treated and therefore don’t tend to swell or absorb body fluids and can be polished smooth. Some woods (pine, for example) should be avoided as it is acidic, very porous and can irritate the skin.
Fauna including Horn, Bone, Shell, Coral and Ivory (e.g. mammoth ivory)
From an ethical perspective, ensure your supplier purchases fairtrade jewellery from sustainable and ethical sources. Most fauna jewellery products can be purchased from animal-friendly sources and ensure that no suffering was caused to produce the jewellery.
Fauna cannot be autoclaved and is porous, therefore is not suitable for initial stretching but is great to be worn in healed stretches. Most fauna products are sensitive to extremes in temperature and humidity, therefore should not be worn when swimming or bathing. Fauna products should be oiled regularly with Bio or Jojoba oil to keep them in their best condition. Fauna products are lightweight and allow the skin to breathe and reduce odour in a similar way to wood and are nice and ‘warm’ to wear in winter months. Always buy top-quality fauna products from a supplier who can trace them back to manufacturer to ensure the products are properly cleaned (to protect your health) and ethically sourced.
Silicone to be worn in the body should be certified biocompatible to EN30993 or ISO10993. As silicone is fairly pure, most people wear it comfortably and don’t have any adverse reactions, but occasionally the dye in silicone products can cause an allergic reaction. If this occurs, try a clear silicone, and if the problem persists try only medical implant grade silicone. Silicone tunnels should never be used to stretch.
Jewellery that should Never be worn In the Skin,
(or only for very short duration)
Lead is an extremely toxic heavy metal that does not break down and can accumulate in the human body. Lead stops a number of body processes working properly and affects the bones, heart, kidneys, intestines, nervous system and reproductive system. Because of the interference with the nervous system it is particularly dangerous to children and can cause learning and behavior disorders. Lead poisoning symptoms include pain, headaches, irritability, confusion, and can even lead to coma and death in severe cases. Lead is often used in cheap jewellery to make the piece heavier and ‘fill out’ a more expensive metal or to brighten the colour or stabilize acrylic or plastic jewellery. Do not ever wear lead, or something you suspect may contain lead in a piercing.
Copper is not recommended to be worn in piercings directly against the skin. It is very reactive and can cause allergic reactions and turn the skin green immediately around the piercing site (this can be permanent). Copper is an essential micronutrient in our bodies but too much copper (i.e. metal applied into skin rather than soluable copper ingested via food) can be seriously toxic. Copper can build up in the body and damage the liver, bone growth, nerve conduction and secretion of hormones, and can also affect how other nutrients are used and absorbed.
Zinc is not recommended to be worn in piercings directly against the skin. It can be reactive and can cause allergic reactions. Excess zinc can build up in the body and suppress the absorption and use of other nutrients.
Tin is not recommended to be worn in piercings. Tin will react in the body and can cause poisoning as it oxidises to produce‘tin salts’ which can include organotin compounds which are almost as toxic as cyanide. Tin can also contain trace amounts of lead.
Brass is a mix of copper and zinc – both of these metals can cause metal poisoning (hence the skin often turns green around brass jewellery). Brass alloys can vary widely and may cause irritation and negative reactions. If you choose to wear brass you should ensure it is not worn in a mucosal area (e.g. septum, nostrils or genitals) and is only ever worn in very well healed piercings for very short duration only.
Bronze is not recommended to be worn in piercings directly against the skin. It is an alloy containing copper and tin. Bronze can be reactive and can cause allergic reactions. Bronze alloys can vary widely and may cause irritation and negative reactions. Some bronze mixes can contain arsenic, which is extraordinarily toxic. Because it contains copper it can discolour the skin (this can be permanent).
If you choose to wear bronze you should ensure it is purchased from a reputable supplier (and you are certain it does not contain arsenic) and is not worn in a mucosal area (e.g. septum, nostrils or genitals) and is only ever worn in very well healed piercings for very short duration only.
Silver should never be worn in a fresh piercing, as silver oxidizes quickly when it contacts body fluids or tissue – it will turn the skin black (in a fresh or healed piercing) which can be permanent, and in a fresh piercing the result can be dangerous (silver reacts with body fluid to form silver salt which is toxic). Long term silver exposure in a porous body tissue such as mucosal membrane (septum, nostril, oral area or genital areas) can result in Argyria – also known as Silver Poisoning. Though this condition is rarely life threating, the discoloration to the skin can be permanent and it certainly makes silver a poor choice as a metal to be worn in the body. If you choose to wear silver you should ensure it is not worn in a mucosal area and is only ever worn in very well healed piercings for very short duration only.
Iron or steel that is not surgical stainless
Iron is a very reactive metal that oxidizes (rusts) easily – steel is primarily made of iron and both products can rust and turn the piercing site septic creating a huge problem. Do not wear anything iron or steel based in a piercing unless it is implant grade surgical stainless steel.
Plated metal or metals containing Cadmium
Cadmium is a heavy metal that has been used for over 100 years in fashion and fine jewellery. It was often used to bulk out more expensive metals but primarily it is found in plated jewellery. Cadmium is toxic and carcinogenic, and cadmium poisoning is a serious condition that can damage the liver and kidneys. Aside from the risk of Cadmium poisoning, the plating on metals often lifts off when worn in the skin and bacteria can harbor underneath this, causing an infection risk. Do not wear plated jewellery of any kind in body piercings (this doesn’t include PVD coatings, which are safe).
A significant amount of costume jewellery contains lead.
Be very wary buying fake gold to be worn in the body. This will be made from unknown base metals (see the list above) which can cause a whole host of health problems.
Pewter is an alloy of tin, copper, antimony, bismuth and sometimes silver. Many pewter alloys also contain lead. Almost all of these compounds are toxic. Do not wear pewter in a piercing.
Chromium is toxic and carcinogenic and can be absorbed into the body – do not wear jewellery containing chrome parts in your body piercings.
If you have ANY concerns, questions or queries PLEASE get in touch.
If you are ever in any doubt in regards to your piercing (regardless of where it was done or what advice you have been given) please pop in and see us! We will always help as much as we can. 🙂